By Charles Bruns: WBC Diamond light welterweight champion Regis Prograis (23-0, 19 KOs) faces WBA 140 lb champion Kiryl Relik (23-2, 19 KOs) in the main event, while WBA Super World bantamweight champion Nonito Donaire (39-5, 25 KOs) will be defending against alternate Stephon Young (18-1-3, 7 KOs) as the chief support tonight on DAZN at the Cajun Dome, in Lafayette, Louisiana.
Prograis, 30, and Relikh are fighting it out in the semifinal of the World Boxing Super Series light welterweight tournament. Donaire is fighting Young in the WBSS bantamweight tournament. Prograis, who originally comes from New Orleans, Louisiana, but now lives in Houston, Texas, will have the home advantage tonight against Relikh. The crowd will be on Prograis’ side. As good as Prograis is, he would still be the favorite to win even if he were fighting Relikh in his home country of Belarus.
The winner of these two respective WBSS tournament fights will move forward to what is expected to be much tougher fights in the finals.
“It’s a big fight. I am a native of Louisiana and I am very happy to be able to fight here. There is nothing stopping me from getting that belt. It’s on! I’mma knock his ass the f— out,” Prograis said about his opponent Relikh.
Tonight’s tournaments are a mere appetizer for what comes later for the winner of these contests. The Relikh-Prograis winner will be fighting the May 18th winner of the Josh Taylor (14-0, 12 KOs) vs. Ivan Baranchyk (19-0, 12 KOs). Those guys are both arguably more talented fighters than Relikh, and they can both punch as well as box. The Donaire-Taylor winner fights the winner of the Naoya Inoue (17-0, 15 KOs) vs. Emmanuel Rodriguez (19-0, 12 KOs), which also takes place on May 18 at the SSE Arena in Glasgow, Scotland.
“I have always traveled abroad, being the visiting boxer. So, I have no problems fighting Regis here,” Relikh said.
Relikh is going to need to start out quickly in this fight, and make sure that he doesn’t fall behind going into the second half of the contest. In Prograis’ quarterfinal fight against former World Boxing Organization lightweight champion Terry Flanagan (33-2, 13 KOs) on October 27 last year, Prograis built up a wide lead in the first six rounds of the contest. Prograis than milked his lead and cruised the rest of the way without really pushing hard for a knockout. He let Flanagan have his moment in the last six rounds, knowing that he had a big lead. Relikh has a bad habit of fighting passively at times in this fights, and letting the fight get away from him. We saw that in Relikh’s losses to Ricky Burns and Rances Barthelemy. Those were both winnable fights for Relikh, but he didn’t start fighting hard until the last four rounds. By that time, he had given away too many crucial early rounds.
Donaire, 36, was set to face WBO bantamweight champion Zolani Tete in a unification fight, but the British fighter suffered an injured shoulder while training for the fight and had to pull out this week. Thankfully, the World Boxing Super Series had an alternate waiting to step in and take the place of Tete in 30-year-old Young. He’s a good basic fighter that should give Donaire a good test, but ultimately come up short of the mark. If the alternate was Luis Nery, Donaire have his hands full and might lose the fight. Young lacks the punching power and talent of Nery, so he shouldn’t give Donaire too many problems.
“I am ready for anything, that is the mentality that I have,” Donaire said. “We work on the adaptation to be able to adapt to the situation. So here I am, ready to go. I am grateful for Stephon coming in and making this fight happen.”
With Donaire, you don’t know what you’re going to get from him from fight to fight. He can look great like he did in his quarterfinal fight in stopping WBA Super World bantamweight champion Ryan Burnett last November, but then he can look shot to pieces in his losses to Carl Frampton and Jessie Magdaleno. You can argue that Donaire’s problems in those fights were due to him competing in weight classes that weren’t well above his ideal division. Donaire was at his best when he was competing at bantamweight many years ago. Now that Donaire is back at 118, he can get the most mileage out of what’s left of his skills. If Donaire were to try and capture and hold down a world title at super bantamweight or featherweight now, he would have a hard doing so.
Donaire was beaten two fights ago by Carl Frampton by a one-sided 12 round unanimous decision in April of last year in Belfast, Northern Ireland. The fight took place at featherweight. Going into the fight, a lot of boxing fans saw Donaire as a shot fighter, but he held his own in losing to the younger, more energetic Frampton. It was clear that Donaire did not belong at featherweight, even though Frampton was recently fighting at super bantamweight. The 126 lb weight class isn’t a good one for Donaire. He belongs at 118, and needs to stay there for the remainder of his career. Donaire started his career out at super flyweight [115 lbs] in 2001. If he could get back down to that weight class, he would be able to get fights against the likes of Juan Francisco Estrada and Srisaket Sor Rungvisai. That would be interesting to see Donaire taking on those guys.
“It was a dream coming true. When I heard I was fighting for the world title I was like ‘yeah it’s my time’. And I believe I’m going to win,” Stephon Young said.
Young is a good fighter, but he’s the sacrificial lamb here. He was soundly beaten two fights ago by Reymart Gaballo in March of last year. That loss should have been enough to rule him out as an alternate, but here he is fighting for a world title against a boxing legend in the WBSS semifinal. If Young wins, he’ll move onto the finals to face the Taylor vs. Baranchyk winner.