From the O2 in London, Regis Prograis vs Josh Taylor lives up to expectations as the Ali trophy is claimed in enthralling fashion
Rarely does a fight come along that has all the ingredients, but Regis Prograis vs Josh Taylor can certainly be classified in that category. Not only were the two southpaws unbeaten and around their physical prime, each held a major world title at 140lbs and they were meeting in the final of the World Boxing Super Series, competing against each other to become a unified title-holder and capture the coveted Ali Trophy reserved for winners of the superb tournament series.
Predictions ahead of the O2 main event were unsurprisingly split, with some observers giving Taylor the edge due to his greater physical size, exemplary amateur pedigree and relative home advantage, the London venue being a lot closer to his Prestonpans, Scotland home than New Orleans, the city Prograis hails from. That said, Regis appeared to boast the greater one-punch power, more experience as a pro and had arrived in the UK several weeks before the fight, always a positive sign. Everything was aligned for a stunning duel and they did not disappoint, with a superb spectacle that featured skill and will in abundance. It could have gone either way, the judges ultimately scoring 115-113 and 117-112 for Taylor, against a 114-114 draw. The Brit triumphed by majority decision.
IBF champ Taylor edged the tense opener thanks to a couple of sharp left hands but both spent most of their time feinting and moving. This was a high-level chess match, each top-level operator loath to make a pivotal mistake. Taylor, the taller, longer man, tried to outmuscle Prograis inside in the second, shouldering his opponent off and targeting the body. The American remained patient, using the perimeter and probing for openings. Prograis began to focus downstairs himself in the next, now on the front foot as Taylor circled. The Louisiana fighter was adept at using upper-body movement to avoid shots.
It was not a brutal slugfest but an intelligent and compelling watch, replete with smart moves and entertaining exchanges; more De La Hoya-Mosley (1) than Gatti-Ward. Prograis had acquired a certain swagger by the fourth, showing a dazzling jab while making himself a compact target. Taylor still landed some hard blows, but was in danger of letting Regis take the play away. The Scot upped his workrate in the fifth but the way Prograis switched angles was impressive. It was a closer round, however, and Taylor needed the foothold it afforded him. Taylor built on this in the next, increasing his lateral movement and popping off fast punches. Prograis still could not miss with his lead but Taylor’s relentless assaults had forced him to largely neglect the rest of his offensive output. At the halfway point it was anyone’s fight and an enthralling one.
By the seventh Taylor’s intention to use his physical strength was obvious. He muscled Prograis back and the WBA ruler, who’d had to strip naked to make the 140lbs limit, just began to look a little jaded. Taylor was taking shots on the way in but planted his feet more as he looked to take over down the stretch. Prograis’ nose was smeared with blood, Taylor nicked by the right eye and the latter continued to walk his man down in round eight. Taylor belatedly began to block and slip the Prograis jab, which had slowed a tad. Prograis was pot-shotting effectively from range when he was given the space, and landed an eye-catching left near the end of the session. Josh took it well in a fight where both boxers showed good chins. Into the ninth and while Prograis had proved he could match Taylor for ability, the crucial factor was how well he could keep his boxing together under pressure and as he tired. He was exceptionally courageous and took some heavy shots, retaliating under fire.
Without knowing the judges’ scores at this stage, the championship rounds appeared as if they would be vital and the momentum was with Taylor. While Prograis connected with plenty of clean leather, Taylor was ’making’ the fight and scored with the punch of the round, a jolting left that Prograis nonetheless shrugged off. Regis came back with fast feet and hands in the 11th as the two warriors showed exemplary fitness. Prograis landed some excellent body shots when space was limited. I had him narrowing the gap to a single point with a round to go.
As cliched as it sounds, they both gave all they had in the last. With the end in sight, Prograis found an extra gear and Taylor had to dig in to stay with him. Taylor was under real stress, retreating and holding as if he only needed to survive to emerge victorious. He roared back in the final 30 seconds but it was Prograis’ round and, for me, a draw, 114-114.