A month ago, junior welterweight contender Regis Prograis considered withdrawing from the semifinal round of the World Boxing Super Series tournament because organizers were having all sorts of problems, mainly financial, but now he is happy to have remained in the field.
"I think the WBSS is a real good platform for boxers because it's the best fighting the best," Prograis said at his media day this week. "You can't run around or hide behind managers and promoters, and I want to fight world champions, former world champions and undefeated fighters in order to show I'm the legitimate best at 140."
Junior welterweight titlist Ivan Baranchyk, on the other side of the bracket from Prograis, had pulled out over financial and scheduling issues. Others involved in the junior welterweight tournament, as well as the bantamweight and cruiserweight tournaments also at the semifinal stage, had complained about late payments and other issues.
But although the semifinals were pushed back a couple of months later than they were supposed to commence, Prograis was determined to stay in the tournament. His manager, Sam Katkovski of Churchill Boxing, and tournament owner Comosa AG worked out a deal in which Prograis, the No. 1 seed in the 140-pound tournament, and his team felt assured they would be paid on time and that they would also get the semifinal bout close to his home.
Prograis said he was very pleased to work things out and thrilled to remain in the tournament with a chance to win a world title when he challenges Kiryl Relikh for his belt on April 27 (DAZN). The fight will take place at the Cajundome in Lafayette, Louisiana, which is about halfway between Prograis' hometown of New Orleans and his adopted hometown of Houston, where he relocated after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina.
"I'm very excited to be here," Prograis said. "It's like perfect here in Lafayette because it is the middle ground between New Orleans and Houston, my two homes. I just can't wait to get it on. Hopefully, we're going to fill this stadium up and it's going to be one of the biggest events this city has ever seen. This is not a city, state, national -- this is a world event. This show will be all over the whole world."
Prograis (23-0, 19 KOs) advanced to the semifinals on Oct. 27 in New Orleans with a dominating decision win over England's Terry Flanagan, a former lightweight world titlist, by scores of 119-108, 118-109 and 117-110. Relikh (23-2, 19 KOs), of Belarus, retained his title for the first time by decision, 115-113 on all three scorecards, over former titlist Eduard Troyanovsky, of Russia, on Oct. 7 in Yokohama, Japan.
Prograis said one of the reasons he was so determined to see the tournament through, besides the chance to win a world title, was because of how impressed he was when he traveled to Moscow to attend the final of the first-season cruiserweight WBSS in July and watched as Oleksandr Usyk was crowned as undisputed world champion and awarded the Muhammad Ali Trophy that each tournament winner receives.
"To be around the final in Moscow was very inspiring," Prograis said. "The Ali Trophy is huge. I am a student of boxing, I am a student of the game, and to me, Ali is a boxing god."
Said Katkovski: "I went to Moscow last year with Regis and his trainer, Bobby [Benton], to watch the cruiserweight final of the World Boxing Super Series and saw the presentation of the Muhammad Ali Trophy for the first winner, Oleksandr Usyk. I don't think I have seen a trophy that incredible. If you don't know who Muhammad Ali is, I don't know where you been the last 50-60 years. But the fact [his family] was able to give his name to this trophy and the fact that we are fighting for it is an honor for myself and Regis, to be fighting for a trophy of that caliber."
The April 27 card will also feature the first bantamweight tournament semifinal in which Philippines native and four-division titleholder Nonito Donaire (39-5, 25 KOs), of Las Vegas, and South Africa's Zolani Tete (28-3, 21 KOs) will meet to unify their world titles.