Junior welterweight Regis Prograis, considered by many to be No. 1 in the weight class, did nothing to dissuade anyone of that notion as he dominated Juan Jose Velasco on Saturday night.
Prograis knocked him down three times with body shots en route to an eighth-round knockout before 3,615 at Lakefront Arena on the campus of the University of New Orleans.
Fighting for the first time in his hometown, Prograis, who fled New Orleans to Houston in the wake of Hurricane Katrina but has always wanted to return home to fight, got his chance in the main event of the Top Rank Boxing on ESPN card, and with the victory earned a spot in the eight-man World Boxing Super Series tournament that begins this fall.
"It was super special," Prograis said of fighting at home. "My goal was to bring big-time boxing back to New Orleans, and now you have it."
Velasco was game, but Prograis (22-0, 19 KOs), a 29-year-old southpaw, won handily. He landed numerous combinations, worked the body very well and showed fast hands and good movement to keep Velasco off balance. Velasco landed a few decent shots, but even though Prograis fought for long stretches with his hands down, Velasco couldn't do much.
"This dude came in unknown and he's going to go down to be known. I'm not gonna lie. He was one of my toughest opponents," Prograis said. "I kept dropping him. He was super tough. He was actually really strong, but I pushed through. I couldn't lose in front of my hometown."
In the fourth round, Prograis forced Velasco, who was facing his first recognizable opponent, to the ropes and landed a powerful combination that did damage near the end of the round. In the fifth round, Prograis dropped Velasco with a left hand to the body. He barely beat the count but survived the final 45 seconds of the round.
Prograis landed another brutal left hand to the body late in the seventh round to drop Velasco (20-1, 12 KOs), 31, of Argentina, again. He wanted to quit on his stool after the round, but his trainer, Herman Caicedo, talked him into continuing.
He didn't last much longer. Prograis knocked him down with another left to the body early in the eighth round, but when Velasco got up he got extra recovery time because he had spit out his mouthpiece and referee Laurence Cole called timeout to have it replaced. But when the fight resumed, so to did Prograis' attack, and about 30 seconds later Caicedo threw in the towel, prompting Cole to wave off the fight at 1 minute, 59 seconds.
Prograis was heavily favored against Velasco and is also the favorite to win the World Boxing Super Series that will also include world titleholder Kiryl Relikh (22-2, 19 KOs), of Belarus, and former world titlist Eduard Troyanovsky (27-1, 24 KOs), of Russia, who will meet in a mandatory bout in one of the quarterfinals; Russia's Ivan Baranchyk (18-0, 11 KOs) and Anthony Yigit (21-0-1, 7 KOs), of Sweden, who will meet for a vacant world title in another quarterfinal; Scotland's Josh Taylor (13-0, 11 KOs); and Cleveland's Ryan Martin (22-0, 12 KOs). There is still one other open slot that could go to former lightweight titlist Terry Flanagan (33-1, 13 KOs), 29, of England. The pairings for the non-mandatory bouts will be unveiled on Friday.
"I'm going in the World Boxing Super Series [but] maybe the [Manny] Pacquiao fight," Prograis said of what he would like in the future. "I would love to have that fight, or if [pound-for-pound king and lightweight champion Vasiliy] Lomachenko wants to come up to 140, I'll take that fight also. But as far as right now my plans are to go into the World Boxing Super Series."
Prograis also would like a chance to fight titlist Jose Ramirez, whom he was mandated to fight but instead gave up the interim title to face Velasco and then go into the tournament as part of a deal their sides made to put the fight off. They said they will revisit the fight if Prograis wins the tournament and Ramirez also keeps winning.
"One day me and Jose Ramirez will probably fight," Prograis said. "I wanted it now, but we have different paths now. I'm gonna go in the World Boxing Super Series and hopefully pick up two belts."
Lopez destroys Silva
Mega lightweight prospect Teofimo Lopez, 20, predicted he'd knock out William Silva in the fifth round. He was close. He went a few seconds into the sixth round before stopping Silva in a one-sided demolition.
Lopez (10-0, 8 KOs), in his first scheduled 10-round bout, nearly ended it in the first round when he dropped Silva (25-2, 14 KOs) with a clean left hook on the chin with about 20 seconds to go. Although Lopez didn't finish Silva then, he dominated every round. He was much faster and landed numerous hard shots to bloody the outclassed Silva, 31, of Brazil, and knock him back.
In the fifth round, Lopez scored another knockdown just before the bell. He landed a series of clean punches before flooring Silva with another left hook.
The Las Vegas-based Lopez, a 2016 Olympian for Honduras (his parents' home country), continued to pound Silva in the sixth round, landing three left hooks and a right to knock him down again, causing referee Bruce McDaniel to stop the fight 15 seconds into the round.
Lopez came into the fight with a heavy heart, having had his dog -- whom he called his best friend -- die a few days ago. He also said he injured his right hand.
"Set him up with the jab, don't let him hit you with jab, you play with his mind," Lopez said of his strategy. "I was setting him up so I could surprise him with a big shot. I'm [covered] with blood, but it's his blood."
Silva, 31, of Brazil, had only lost once previously, a lopsided decision to Felix Verdejo, then one of boxing's top prospects, in February 2016. Silva won his next two fights before facing Lopez.
"It's a takeover," Lopez said. "What else can I say? I'm no Felix Verdejo."
Detroit lightweight Erick De Leon (18-0-1, 10 KOs), 26, survived a first-round knockdown and a shoulder injury to dominate Adrian Young (25-5-2, 19 KOs), 25, of Mexico, in a unanimous decision win. The judges scored it 98-91, 97-92 and 97-92 for De Leon, a southpaw trained by Robert Garcia, who was coming off a hard-fought majority draw with fellow unbeaten up-and-comer Andy Vences on March 10. Young, in his first fight outside of Mexico, dropped De Leon with a left hook in the first round but did little else the rest of the bout. "He caught me a little bit cold with a good shot in the first round. He came to fight," De Leon said. "I basically fought the whole fight with one arm. I dislocated my right shoulder in the first round, but we made it work and got a good win against a tough opponent."
Junior middleweight Charles Conwell (8-0, 6 KOs), 20, a 2016 U.S. Olympian from Cleveland, knocked out Travis Scott (19-4, 5 KOs), 37, of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, in the second round of their six-rounder. Conwell appeared to have lost the first round but came out extremely aggressive in the second. He was taking it to Scott when he landed a hard left hand to the body. Johnson went down to a knee and took the full count from referee Bruce McDaniel at 1 minute, 38 seconds. Scott lost his third fight in a row and for the fourth time in his last five fights. "I knew I could get him out of there, so I did," Conwell said. "I definitely want to step up my level of competition. I'd like to fight [world titlist] Jaime Munguia in the future, 100 percent. He's perfect for me."
Puerto Rican featherweight prospect Jean Carlos Rivera (14-0, 9 KOs), 22, of Orlando, Florida, stormed past Angel Luna (11-5-1, 6 KOs), 28, of the Dominican Republic, stopping him in just 82 seconds of their scheduled 10-rounder. Rivera nailed Luna with a clean left hook in the opening seconds of the fight and he never recovered. Rivera continued to pound him until he went down under heavy fire and referee Kevin Babineaux waved it off. "The fight went way easier than I expected," Rivera said. "I was prepared to fight 10 hard rounds, if necessary. I've been training very hard and now I want to take on bigger challenges. I want to face world-ranked fighters. I'm ready to step up my competition."
Lightweight Fazliddin Gaibnazarov (5-0, 2 KOs), 27, a 2016 Olympic gold medalist from Uzbekistan, took over in the second half of the fight to outpoint fellow prospect Kevin Johnson (5-1, 4 KOs), 25, of Las Vegas. All three judges score it 78-74 for Gaibnazarov, a southpaw, who found himself in a tough fight through five rounds before taking over. In the seventh round, he pinned Johnson along the ropes and landed many hard punches, and he also won the eighth round against Johnson, who had never been past six rounds and appeared to be tiring. "He was a very tough, young fighter," said Gaibnazarov, whose left cheek was swollen. "He saw very good what I was trying to do. I hit him very hard in the liver and to the head, but he took all of my punches very well."