Jose Zepeda now has a new rival and deadline for which to negotiate terms for the vacant WBC junior welterweight title.
BoxingScene.com has confirmed that the WBC has instructed Zepeda to now enter talks with Regis Prograis to vie for their 140-pound title. The fight was formally ordered on Sunday by the Mexico City-headquartered sanctioning body, with the two sides given until August 30 to come to an agreement and avoid a purse bid hearing.
Zepeda is represented in talks by promoter Fernando Beltran and manager Rick Mirigian. Handling matters for Prograis are longtime manager Sam Katkovski and promoter Richard Schaefer.
The ruling cancels out the previously ordered fight by the WBC on July 1, which called for Zepeda to negotiate a rematch with former WBC/WBO 140-pound titlist Jose Ramirez. The two met in February 2019, with Ramirez claiming a hard-fought twelve-round decision as part of his three-plus year title reign before losing the WBC/WBO titles to Josh Taylor (19-0, 13KOs) in their May 2021 undisputed championship clash in Las Vegas.
Taylor has since relinquished the WBA and WBC titles, the latter move coming after a lengthy delay which in turn affected plans for Ramirez (27-1, 17KOs) to even challenge for the title this year.
The WBA belt was vacated after Scotland’s Taylor was unable to comply with the terms of a purse bid hearing won by TGB Promotions to face mandatory challenger Alberto Puello. Personal developments in his life—a wedding and subsequent honeymoon—left him unavailable to be ready in time for a targeted July 16 title defense, instead giving up the belt and focusing on his next move.
The WBC was next up, ordering the unbeaten Scot to face Zepeda (35-2, 27KOs), who earned his way back to the mandatory challenger position during his current six-fight unbeaten streak. His ascension to the top contender spot came after surviving four knockdowns to score four of his own in a sixth-round knockout of Ivan Baranchyk in October 2020, prevailing in the universal pick for 2020 Fight of the Year.
Two more wins have followed, including a first-round knockout of Josue Vargas last October 30 in New York City.
Zepeda was forced to wait more than two months after the fight with Taylor was ordered by the WBC earlier this year, including several delays during the ordered purse bid procedure. It proved to be a giant waste of time for all involved, as Taylor ultimately gave up the belt, the lengthy wait even angering the WBC.
“The WBC has just received a letter from Josh [Taylor’s] attorney in which he confirms his decision to relinquish The WBC super lightweight championship,” WBC president Mauricio Sulaiman confirmed on July 1. “The WBC truly regrets having lost so much time and having mandatory contender Jose Zepeda frozen as well as other fighters in the division.”
The sanctioning body moved swiftly to order the next fight, with Ramirez ranked number-two in the WBC 140-pound division. The former unified titlist worked his way back to contention following a twelve-round win over Jose Pedraza in March, with hopes of next facing Zepeda for what he anticipated to be the vacant WBC title by this summer. The wait-out ultimately left him unavailable, as he is due to marry his longtime girlfriend, Marisol, later this year.
The development led to a stall in talks with Zepeda, by which point Ramirez agreed to step aside and with the intention being the first challenger in line for the new titlist.
Prograis (27-1, 23KOs) was the number-three contender, reaching that point after scoring a sixth-round knockout of Belfast’s Tyrone McKenna in March. The former WBA titlist from the greater Houston area by way of New Orleans was also in the hunt for the vacant WBA title, only to lose out on the opportunity as Dominican Republic’s Puello (20-0, 10KOs) will now face Batyr Akhmedov on August 20.
All was not lost for Prograis, who prior to Sunday was by far the best junior welterweight in the world to not be in the title mix.
That changed with Ramirez’s graceful exit from the ordered WBC fight, as the 33-year-old southpaw has a chance to become a two-time titlist. He previously held the WBA title, claiming the belt in a sixth-round knockout of Kiryl Relilkh in April 2019 during the semifinal round of the World Boxing Super Series 140-pound tournament. Prograis lost the belt to Taylor via majority decision in their October 2019 WBSS final in London, having since won three straight.
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox