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Prograis begins WBSS journey against Flanagan

When the participants in the second season of the World Boxing Super Series junior welterweight tournament gathered in July for the draft, Regis Prograis, by virtue of being awarded the No. 1 seed in the eight-man field, had the right to pick his opponent from the four unseeded fighters.

Prograis selected former lightweight world titleholder and fellow southpaw Terry Flanagan, whom he will fight in a 12-round bout in the 140-pound tournament quarterfinals on Saturday (DAZN, 10 p.m. main card with preliminaries streaming at 7 p.m. ET) at the University of New Orleans’ Lakefront Arena.

Flanagan’s previous fight on June 9 was his first since moving up in weight from 135 pounds and resulted in a split decision loss in his hometown of Manchester, England, to Maurice Hooker for a vacant junior welterweight belt.

Prograis comes into the fight as the favorite. He is, after all, the top seed and hand-picked Flanagan as his opponent.

“He probably didn’t think I was going to pick him first, but he went into it to get paid and to try to grab those two belts [involved in the tournament] like all the rest of the people in there,” Prograis said.

Prograis is also bigger and faster than Flanagan and is regarded as a much better puncher. Though Prograis lives and trains in Houston, he is from New Orleans and also has the advantage of fighting at home, while Flanagan will be fighting outside of his country for the first time.

With everything seemingly in his favor, Prograis is one of those rare fighters who admitted to feeling the pressure to perform.

“I think it does, I really think it does add way more pressure, but I think it’s the same pressure as last time, and I kind of folded under the pressure a little bit last time, so I think this time I learned from my mistakes,” Prograis said.

He is speaking about his eighth-round knockout of Juan Jose Velasco on July 14, also at Lakefront Arena, in the first home fight of his career. Although Prograis scored three knockdowns and eventually stopped Velasco in what was supposed to be a tune-up fight before his entrance into the tournament, he was not happy with his performance.

“I did some things I wasn’t supposed to do last time. That’s [why] I say I didn’t perform the way I should have performed,” Prograis said. “But this time, that’s all out the window and I’m going back to being me. I went eight rounds, but I got hit way too much. I looked at my face after the fight, and it was all marked up. I wasn’t supposed to get touched by somebody like that.

“Then, after the first knockdown he was supposed to be out of there. So I’m glad I did go eight rounds, but that fight wasn’t supposed to go eight rounds. It should have been over way before that.”

Flanagan (33-1, 13 KOs), 29, who defended his lightweight title five times before vacating to move up in weight, knows he has an uphill battle ahead of him.

“It’s going to be a tough fight. I know I have to beat the favorite to win it. It’s going to be tough, I’m not stupid,” he said. “It will be a good fight, and we will see what happens Saturday night.

“It will be a great night. Regis is going to bring it from what I’ve been reading in the press the last 24 hours. He’s going to put it on me. I’m expecting a good fight. I feel fit and mentally prepared and physically prepared. I’m thinking I’m going to do it Saturday night.”

Because Flanagan lost his last fight and was willing to come to enemy territory for Saturday’s fight, Prograis (22-0, 19 KOs), 29, said he believes Flanagan will be at his best knowing that a second loss in a row would be a serious blow to his career.

Prograis said he is by no means looking ahead to the semifinals, where Saturday’s winner will challenge world titlist Kiryl Relikh (23-2, 19 KOs), 28, of Belarus, who advanced with a unanimous decision over former titlist Eduard Troyanovsky on Oct. 7 in Yokohama, Japan.

“To me, I think he’s going to come back hungry,” Prograis said of Flanagan. “Off the loss, I think he’s going to come back even hungrier. Sometimes a loss can be detrimental; sometimes it could be good for a fighter. I saw an interview where he said he didn’t perform the way he should have performed in that fight [against Hooker], and I know he’s going to come out even hungrier.”

But that said, Prograis said he feels confident and especially excited to have another fight at home, one even bigger than the one in July.

“I’m super pumped up. Just like last time, I’m excited,” he said. “What they trying to do with me is turn me into a franchise. I’m definitely pumped up and excited to be going back to fight there in the World Boxing Super Series against a former world champion. In this tournament, it’s perfect because you get paid a lot and you get two belts if you win the whole thing.”

Prograis and Flanagan both hope to claim those two belts as the tournament progresses, but first they have to bump off the other, and both predict victory.

“The fans can expect me back at my best and giving Prograis a boxing lesson,” Flanagan said. “He looks like a very dangerous fighter, and I like his style, but he has not boxed anyone like me before. I see the fight against Prograis as 50-50, with us both having our own strengths, but I just think my assets stop his, and therefore I win. I think what I bring to the table neutralizes his strengths, and that is the difference. I expect to get the credit I duly deserve after winning this fight.”

Prograis made his prediction in simpler terms.

“I’m gonna win by knockout,” he said. “I definitely think I’m gonna win by knockout. I think I’m gonna win, and the corner is going to stop the fight. He’s gonna take a beatin’.”

The co-feature will begin the other side of the bracket as Ivan Baranchyk (18-0, 11 KOs), 25, of Russia, and Anthony Yigit (21-0-1, 7 KOs), 27, of Sweden, square off for a vacant world title and also aim to move a step closer to winning the Muhammad Ali Trophy, which will be awarded to the tournament winner. The Baranchyk-Yigit winner will advance to the semifinals to face the winner of the fight between Josh Taylor (13-0, 11 KOs) and Ryan Martin (22-0, 12 KOs), of Cleveland, which takes place on Nov. 3 in Taylor’s hometown of Glasgow, Scotland.

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