The gap between belief and knowledge can be vast. Or it can be 12 rounds. Last Saturday night, the World Boxing Super Series junior welterweight final on DAZN produced a compelling case study in what the difference looks like. American Regis Prograis entered the bout eager to test himself so that he could find out, finally, what was really lurking at his core. What he found was courage and resilience in troves that displayed his excellent skill and profound determination to the delight of everyone in attendance and viewing from home. Unfortunately for him, his opponent already knew those things about himself, and that knowledge channeled through a more diverse array of weaponry was enough to earn Scotsman Josh Taylor a majority decision victory in a bout that was as high on skill, speed, and emotion as any we’ve seen this year.
To reduce such performances so deeply feels unjust, but there it is. After the scores were announced, Prograis admitted he felt that the decision was fair and the better man had won. It was as classy a gesture as you’ll see in a ring, and to have been able to articulate it after having laid yourself bare for all the world to see and come up short in the process is a testament to the man himself. What it showed also is that Prograis knew he hadn’t been outmanned, merely outfought. The gap between the two combatants was solely one of skill, and now Regis Prograis had the answers he’d sought since the first time he laced up a pair of gloves. That knowledge will be a powerful thing.
The night belonged to Josh Taylor, but it was a collection of moments that accrued to make it so. When two fighters of such similar talent and skill meet, it is often the man who piles up the little victories who comes away with the win.
The bout began cautiously. For the first minute and change, there were only pockets of action as each man circled and periodically probed, but it didn’t last long. Prograis began lashing Taylor with hooks to the body, and the Scotsman lit him up with left hooks inside. Prograis immediately responded, and we had the fight that we’d been promised.
The 2nd round was a continuation of the end of the 1st. Prograis seemed intent on making Taylor wilt, while Taylor popped his jab and answered any taken punch with something of equal nastiness, changing distance and angle constantly. Always moving, even when he wasn’t.
The 3rd felt different as it started, and it was. Suddenly, Prograis had found a range he liked, and it was right in the middle. Taylor likes to work outside or inside, and every time he’d begin to dart in, Prograis met him with a heavy jab. They may not have hurt Taylor, but they were disrupting his attack at every turn, and Prograis confidence swelled with the success. Then, right at the bell, Taylor landed a vindictive left cross that snapped Prograis’ head. It was the American’s round, but Taylor had gotten his attention. This scenario extended into the 4th, as Prograis led, and Taylor made adjustments on the fly. They traded at and through the bell, and if you weren’t enjoying yourself by then, you should find another sport to watch.
The middle rounds shifted, as Taylor took back calling the play, dancing at range before screaming in and starting a ferocious exchange. When the fighters warred on the inside, Prograis pounded Taylor’s abdomen with a determined body attack, but Taylor was playing magic tricks with his hands and body. If there’s a book with every subtle and quasi-legal tactic available to prizefighters, there’s a good chance that Josh Taylor and trainer Shane McGuigan have a thoroughly dog-eared copy. Taylor’s shifts of weight, changes of angle, and the baffling array of punches thrown were keeping Prograis always playing catch up. When Prograis made up the distance though, he did so with force, countering ferociously, then charging after Taylor landing hurtful punches. They were the kind of punches that knocked out 20 of Prograis’ first 24 opponents, and even though Taylor was in control, these were the moments that burnished Prograis’ belief in himself. He didn’t wilt and confronted with a man he seemingly couldn’t KO, Prograis simply adapted and fought harder. These tidal surges occurred many times through the fight, often several times per round, but after each of them, Josh Taylor answered. Vengefully. He was simply unwilling to be denied having the last word.
Late in the 7th round, an accidental butt hurt Taylor’s right eye. It began to puff immediately, but he recovered quickly and in the 8th, just as before, he was in the middle of the ring, leading and being closely followed. Then, just as Prograis began to look lost, he landed a crushing left cross that should’ve made Taylor go full Exorcist, but it didn’t. How Taylor ate a punch that hard and that clean without so much of a wobble is beyond me. If Prograis were going to lose heart at any time, it should’ve been then. Taylor took his best punch and kept coming. Prograis just bit down and kept fighting.
The 9th and 10th were more of the same. Every second of every minute was contested. Prograis was fighting as well as you can without actually winning, but for every moment of success he had, Taylor would answer with lashing hooks and uppercuts on the inside and then teleport out of range before landing something equally destructive. That’s the thing that makes Taylor so special, everything is available to him at all times. He has a mental acuity that feeds his prodigious physical gifts, and he doesn’t just out-punch or out-move or out-think you. He out-everythings you.
Prograis said after the fight that he’d wanted to go into deep waters, and by now he should’ve been drowning, but he wasn’t. If Prograis didn’t know what was inside him by this point, he proved it to himself and everyone else in the final rounds. He started the 11th bouncier than he’d been since the opening bell, taking the lead, and targeting Taylor’s nearly shut right eye. They fought on equal terms throughout the round, but it was Prograis’ turn. He stormed out in the 12th, looking for the knockout he must have known he needed. Taylor was blind and hurt but still retaliating with venom.
The fight was beautiful in every possible way. The scorecards (114-114, 115-113, and 117-112 both for Taylor) were excellent and reflected the reality that every round and every moment within it were disputed. TQBR scored the bout 116-112 for Taylor.
As to where each fighter goes from here, that’s a bit more complex. If I had my druthers, and I seldom do, they’d run it back and have a rematch after they fully recover. That’s not the most likely scenario. Mikey Garcia is the lineal junior welterweight champion, and Jose Carlos Ramirez holds a couple of alphabet straps, which he’s defending against Viktor Postol in February (Taylor gave Postol a whipping in 2018). After the display of craft, athleticism, and grit we saw from Taylor and Prograis Saturday night, I’m loath to make anyone at 140 the favorite over either man. They could one or both test the waters at welterweight, but at 28 and 30 respectively, they are unlikely to need the weight making cushion, and junior welter is just as deep. You don’t get the sense that immediate needs control either as much as the implicit drive to be the best.
We’re lucky to have them.
(Photo by Mark Robinson)