By Keith Idec
Regis Prograis acknowledged Wednesday that there’s more pressure on him than usual entering his fight Saturday night.
The powerful Prograis will fight in his hometown of New Orleans for the first time as a professional fighter. The card he’ll headline at Lakefront Arena is built entirely around Prograis and he has the opportunity to box before the biggest viewing audience of his six-year career on ESPN.
“There are way more distractions [fighting at home], but it’s part of the game,” Prograis said. “You gotta do it. It’s part of my job.”
Juan Jose Velasco feels no such stress.
The unknown Argentinean contender will fight for just the second time in the United States. He’s a huge underdog against Prograis (21-0, 18 KOs), unbeaten but just the type of low-profile opponent who’s supposed to help Prograis look good before his hometown crowd.
It’s a role Velasco (20-0, 12 KOs) is enjoying as he prepares to pull off an upset in their 12-round, 140-pound championship match.
“The pressure is not an issue for me,” Velasco said. “The pressure is on Regis. I’m not expected to do much, which is fine by me. I’ll prove the experts wrong.
“I feel like everyone is pulling for him, that it’s a gimme fight for Regis. Everyone can talk, but on Saturday, he’ll have to fight.”
Prograis fought very well March 9. That’s the night he knocked down former IBF/IBO/WBA champ Julius Indongo four times on his way to recording a second-round, technical-knockout victory and winning the WBC’s interim 140-pound championship in Deadwood, South Dakota.
His homecoming is emotional for the 29-year-old Prograis because he and his family evacuated New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina in September 2005. He relocated to Houston, where he still resides.
The defending WBC interim super lightweight champion grew up near Lakefront Arena, a venue he visited for various events when he was a kid. A spot in the World Boxing Super Series’ lucrative 140-pound tournament also is at stake in the Prograis-Velasco clash.
ESPN’s two-bout broadcast is set to start Saturday at 7 p.m. ET/4 p.m. PT. In the opener, highly touted lightweight prospect Teofimo Lopez (9-0, 7 KOs) is scheduled to box Brazil’s William Silva (25-1, 14 KOs) in a 10-rounder.
Following ESPN’s main event between Prograis and Velasco, ESPN+ will stream two more fights live, beginning at 9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT. In that main event, Argentina’s Lucas Matthysse (39-4, 36 KOs, 1 NC) will defend his WBA world welterweight title against Filipino legend Manny Pacquiao (59-7-2, 38 KOs) at Axiata Arena in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.