2022 has felt a bit like a reset for the Jr. welterweights.
The division is still hot. It can't help but be. There is too much depth, too many possibilities, for it to be otherwise. It’s just hard been hard to top what occurred through 2021.
The World Boxing Super Series gave us roughly half of the division’s then-top ten unifying two titles on the waist of Josh Taylor. On the other side of the division, Jose Ramirez dealt with Jose Zepeda, Maurice Hooker in a unification bout of his own, and then Viktor Postol to set up a showdown.
Taylor-Ramirez, for all the marbles, gave fans a well-built and satisfying conclusion to several years of action in May 2021. Taylor added to the growing ranks history’s four-belt undisputed champions and it’s been a little lowkey since. Taylor and Ramirez have fought just once since that night, both in 2022. Taylor remains the true champion of the class but, after a debatable decision win over Jack Catterall, gave up two of his four alphabet straps.
Other pieces have started to reshuffle. Former lightweight champion Teofimo Lopez is now in the mix. Gary Antuanne Russell has emerged as a serious threat to anyone. Alberto Puello now holds the WBA strap and the WBC title will be decided Saturday (PPV/FITE, 8 PM EST) between two respected veterans.
Former WBA tiltist Regis Prograis, the runner-up to Taylor in the WBSS, has fought just three times since their excellent 2019 battle. All those wins have come by knockout. Jose Zepeda is 5-0 with one no contest since his closely contested loss to Ramirez. Among those wins was Zepeda’s survival of what might be the fight of the decade so far, the eight-knockdown epic in 2020 with Ivan Baranchyk. Zepeda has never won a major title. Could this be his moment? Or does Prograis remind everyone that he’s still just a round or two from being the best Jr. welterweight in the world?
Fans will find out in one of the best matches on paper that could be made at 140 lbs.
Let’s get into it.
Stats and Stakes
Previous Titles: WBA super lightweight (2019)
Weight: 139 lbs.
Hails from: New Orleans, Louisiana
Record: 27-1, 23 KO
Press Rankings: #1 (Ring), #2 (TBRB), #4 (ESPN), #7 (BoxRec)
Record in Major Title Fights: 1-1, 1 KO (2-1, 2 KO including interim title bouts)
Last Five Opponents: 99-9-3 (.905)
Notable Outcomes, TBRB and/or Ring Rated Foes: Julius Indongo TKO2; Kiryl Relikh TKO6; Josh Taylor L12
Additional Current/Former Titlists Faced: Terry Flanagan UD12
Title/Previous Titles: None
Weight: 139 ½ lbs.
Hails from: La Puente, California
Record: 35-2, 27 KO, 1 KOBY
Press Rankings: #3 (TBRB, Ring), #5 (ESPN)
Record in Major Title Fights: 0-2, 1 KOBY
Last Five Opponents: 113-13-1 (.894)
Notable Outcomes, TBRB and/or Ring Rated Foes: Jose Ramirez L12; Jose Pedraza UD10; Ivan Baranchyk KO5
Additional Current/Former Titlists Faced: Terry Flanagan RTD by 2
The Pick: Some fights are better on paper than they are in the ring. This one might turn out to be one of them. Zepeda is a skilled, savvy veteran but there are physical realities in this fight that could really work against him. The most significant in this battle of southpaws is speed. Zepeda and Prograis are roughly the same height with Zepeda holding a slight edge in length. Zepeda will need every centimeter and deft timing in this one to combat the speed of hand and foot Prograis brings into the fight. Zepeda can crack with both hands so any defensive irresponsibility from Prograis must be exploited. If it isn’t, Prograis has the sort of sudden explosiveness that will result in Zepeda being caught with shots he doesn’t see coming against a fellow dangerous puncher. To date, Prograis is also the man with the sturdier chin so the guess is he is more likely to handle the incoming better. This has the potential of being a statement fight where Prograis reminds the world just how good he is. The thinking here is Prograis will do that inside eight rounds.
Additional Weekend Picks
Zach Parker Dec. John Ryder
Evelyn Bermudez Dec. Yokasta Valle
Rold Picks 2022: 53-14
Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene, a founding member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board, a member of the International Boxing Research Organization, and a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org