Regis Prograis left his WBC title win over Jose Zepeda pressed with having to honor back-to-back mandatory defenses.

The two-time champ is no longer under such obligation and can now face the contender of his choosing for his next outing.

A ruling rendered by the WBC confirmed that Prograis (28-1, 24KOs) is officially in the voluntary phase of his WBC junior welterweight title reign. The verdict came in the wake of mandatory challenger and former unified titlist Jose Ramirez declining to proceed with their ordered title fight, due to his team’s displeasure over the final purse split.

“The WBC has received official confirmation that Jose Carlos Ramirez has decided to withdraw from fighting against WBC champion Regis Prograis, a fight which was mandated,” the sanctioning body wrote in an official ruling on Wednesday. “The WBC will give Regis Prograis a voluntary defense until we can analyze the future steps to be taken in the division.”

Prograis—who lives and trains in the greater Houston area—claimed the WBC title in an eleventh-round knockout of Jose Zepeda on November 26 in Carson, California. The belt was available after Scotland’s Josh Taylor relinquished the crown earlier this summer in lieu of a mandatory title fight versus Zepeda (36-3, 28KOs). It marked the second of three titles he gave up in 2022 after fully unifying the division in a twelve-round win over Ramirez last May.

Taylor also beat Prograis via majority decision in the October 2019 World Boxing Super Series 140-pound tournament final, defending his IBF title while claiming Prograis’ WBA belt in the unification clash. Neither title is any longer with Taylor, who currently only holds the WBO title along with designation as the division’s lineal champion.

Prograis’ win was prepared to next face Ramirez for his first title defense, as previously confirmed during the annual WBC convention earlier that month in Acapulco, Mexico.

Ramirez was originally due to face Zepeda as the number-two challenger, but unable to proceed with such a fight due to a family conflict. The former champ from Avenal, California was already due to wed his longtime girlfriend, with their wedding ceremony already scheduled for this fall. Ramirez agreed to step aside and allow Prograis-Zepeda to take place, with the promise of getting the winner.

The WBC ordered Prograis-Ramirez, with such negotiations always figuring to be problematic.

Prograis is promoted by Probellum and managed by Sam Katkovski. Ramirez—a 2012 U.S. Olympian and former WBC/WBO 140-pound titlist—has been with Top Rank and manager Rick Mirigian throughout his pro career. Top Rank founder and chairman Bob Arum and Probellum co-founder Richard Schaefer have sordid history, which has slowed the flow of their two companies doing business together unless absolutely ordered to do so.

Even then, it still doesn’t take.

Ramirez’s team immediately lobbied for a more favorable split than what is traditionally offered in mandatory title fights. The request came in lieu of actual negotiations, with Ramirez seeking at least 40 percent of a potential winning bid. The WBC met the request halfway, agreeing to up the split to 65-35 from 70-30. It still wasn’t enough for Ramirez, who confirmed to the sanctioning body that he would instead head in another direction—likely a fight with former IBF lightweight titlist Richard Commey next March in Fresno, California.

“The WBC has supported Jose Carlos Ramirez for many years both in boxing and outside of the ring as he is an ambassador of good will with exemplary social responsibility programs as a leader of his Community,” noted the WBC. “We wish him good luck in his future both inside and outside the ring.

“It is important to outline that The WBC followed its rules and had Ramirez won the title vs Zepeda and faced Prograis as champion the split would have been 70-30 in his favor. The WBC supported him and appointed him mandatory contender and also modified the split to 65-35. His decision to withdrew is respected.”

A second ordered WBC eliminator saw former unified and lineal lightweight champion Teofimo Lopez (18-1, 13KOs) edge out Spain’s Sandor Martin on December 10 at Madison Square Garden in New York City. Presumably, Lopez would be next in line to challenge for the title. However, such negotiations would involve the same promotional parties and likely producing similarly failed results.

It is a matter for the WBC to sort out, with the sanctioning body taking a proactive approach in allowing Prograis to resume his career. While no longer under pressure to honor a mandatory, his next fight still must come versus a WBC-ranked fighter or an opponent—whether another titlist or a fighter in a separate weight division—approved by the sanctioning body.

Jake Donovan is a senior writer for Twitter: @JakeNDaBox