There were more than a few bumps along the way, but New Orleans native Regis Prograis is getting his title shot against WBA super-lightweight champion Kiryl Relikh at the Cajundome in Lafayette on April 27. The bout will be streamed worldwide by DAZN.
A bantamweight unification bout between WBO champion Zolani Tete and WBA titleholder Nonito Donaire is the feature bout on the card. They will be the first world title fights to be held in Lafayette.
The official announcement from Comosa AG, the Swiss-based parent company of the World Boxing Super Series, of which the Prograis-Relikh fight is a semifinal, will be made after Mardi Gras when tickets go on sale. But the deal is in place, ending weeks of negotiations between the WBSS, the participants, and, ultimately, local tourism and arena officials.
“This is really a prestige event for us,” said Ben Berthelot, president and CEO of the Lafayette Convention and Visitors Commission. “These fights could have been held in any city in the world, but they’re going to be here.
“There’s already so much positive energy about that weekend (the fight coincides with the Festival International de Louisiane). And now this.”
Prograis (23-0, 19 KOs) said, for his part, he is glad the deal is done, even if Lafayette wasn’t his first choice of venue.
“It was my goal to have this fight in New Orleans,” he said. “But at least it’s in Louisiana.”
For a time, it appeared that the fight wouldn’t be held in the U.S., or maybe anywhere else, much less Louisiana.
Financial disputes plus the usual multiple interests involved had put the WBSS, which is staging eight-man tournaments in the super lightweight, bantamweight and cruiserweight divisions in jeopardy.
After last fall’s quarterfinals, the plan was for the semifinals to be held at six sites in February and March. But the shows to delayed and consolidated into three doubleheaders. Glasgow, Scotland, and Riga, Latvia, were picked as the other two sites.
Prograis, the No. 1 seed in the 140-pound tournament despite not being a titleholder, reportedly was to meet Relikh (23-2, 19 KO) on May 18 in Glasgow as the feature bout to the other super lightweight semi between IBF champion Ivan Baranchyk and Josh Taylor.
But Baranchyk pulled out, citing unhappiness with the WBSS finances and, and Prograis’ management team threatened to do so as well.
That issue was resolved as was compromising on a date — Prograis wanted mid-April and Relikh mid-May. But April 27 conflicts with JazzFest, and in part due the high cost of securing 500 hotel room nights during the week, to New Orleans was deemed out by Leon Margules, a Miami-attorney who handles promotions along with legal issues in the U.S. for Comosa (and is a co-promoter of Relikh). Poor attendance at Prograis’ WBSS quarterfinal, which was held at Lakefront Arena in October, was a contributing factor as well.
Houston, where Prograis relocated after Hurricane Katrina and in which he continues to live and train, was considered, but there was no suitable arena available for April 27.
Eventually, Margules and longtime Acadiana boxing figure Kerry Daigle, came up with a proposal for Lafayette. The Prograis camp finally accepted after pushing for Atlantic City, New Jersey and Fresno, California, among other alternatives.
“All fight promoting is a risk, and we still have some unanswered questions,” said Sam Katkovski, Prograis’ Los Angeles-based manager. “But Regis is staying in the tournament and we’ve worked out an arrangement where we feel comfortable.
“Let’s let it play out and come out of it with a title.”
Margules agreed that there were a number of compromises involved but pointed out that is the nature of boxing.
“The delays made us review our locations,” he said. “And then we were down to trying to accommodate everyone within reason.
“We were never really off track, and a lot of the rumors you may have heard weren’t true. I think everyone is going to find out that Lafayette is a great venue.”
Daigle, who has been involved in Lafayette-area boxing for more than 40 years, added that the city’s location and history of support for boxing will make the show a success.
“We’re right on the I-10 corridor between New Orleans and Houston, so Regis’ fans from both cities will have an easy drive,” he said. “And then this is the level of boxing we’ve always dreamed about having in Lafayette.
For Prograis, Relikh presents the toughest test of his career.
The 29-year-old native of Belarus claimed the WBA title in March of last year with a unanimous decision against Rances Barthelemy, whom he’d lost to by a similar margin in May 2017.
In the WBSS quarterfinals against Eduard Troyanovsky Relikh advanced via a close decision.
“Kiryl is a very busy fighter,” Margules said of Relikh, who is training in Miami. “He throws a lot of punches and he’s also a technically-skilled fighter.
“He may be fighting on Regis’ home ground, but he expects to and he’ll be coming to win. Regis is going to be challenged like he never has before.”
Prograis, 30, advanced to the semifinals with a unanimous decision against Terry Flanagan on Oct. 27. It was only the fourth time a Prograis fight had gone the distance and his first which had exceeded eight rounds.
“I could have probably knocked him out,” Prograis said. “But I wanted to go 12 rounds.
“When you’re fighting like Relikh, you’ve got to be prepared for that. Relikh is a champion.”
Donaire-Tete presents a highly anticipated bout.
Donaire (39-5, 25 KO), known as “The Filipino Flash,” is a four-division world champion who dropped down from featherweight to bantamweight to participate in the tournament despite not having fought in the division since 2011, defeating Ryan Burnett in his native Scotland in the quarterfinals.
Tete (28-3, 21 KO) is a South African who fights out of Great Britain. He traveled to Ekaterinburg, Russia, for the quarterfinals where he decisioned Russian Mikhail Aloyan.
The winners of the two bouts in Lafayette will advance to the WBSS championship bouts for the Muhammad Ali Trophy sometime in the final with the exact dates and venues to be announced — that is if finances allow the tournaments to continue.
Margules said that if Baranchyk does not agree to return to the tournament a substitute would be found to fight Taylor.
Prograis said he is not concerned with what happens to the WBSS after his right with Relikh, citing that either way he will have a world title — providing he wins the fight.
After some Mardi Gras appearances in New Orleans next week, he will begin training both in Houston and Los Angeles.
“People may have worried that all of these delays and the other stuff has affected me negatively, but that’s not so,” Prograis said. “I never lost faith in sticking it out to help make it happen.
“I’m looking forward to getting in the gym and training hard like I always do and then winning a world championship in Louisiana.”