Jose Zepeda and Regis Prograis are prepared to collide for the vacant WBC junior welterweight title.
Their handlers, however, weren’t as prepared to close a deal for the ordered fight.
BoxingScene.com has confirmed that the WBC has scheduled a purse bid to determine promotional rights for the aforementioned title fight. The Mexico City-based sanctioning body will conduct a session on Tuesday, which is open to all WBC-registered promoters.
The development comes as a 30-day negotiation period expired without the two sides able to come to terms for what was the second fight ordered to crown a new WBC 140-pound titlist. Zepeda was previously due to meet former WBC/WBO titlist Jose Ramirez, who bowed out of the process due to family conflict which will leave him out of the ring for the remainder of the year.
The belt became vacant on July 1, when Scotland’s Josh Taylor (19-0, 13KOs) relinquished the crown in lieu of a mandatory title defense against California’s Zepeda (35-2, 27KOs). Taylor fully unified the division following a 12-round win over Ramirez in their undisputed championship last May 22 in Las Vegas, but has fought just once since then—a disputed split decision win over Jack Catterall on February 26 in Glasgow.
Taylor is now down to just the WBO title, having vacated the WBA, WBC and IBF belts, in that order. The WBC vacancy came after dragging out talks with Zepeda and calling for multiple purse bid delays which left Zepeda waiting nearly three months before having to enter a fresh round of talks with the next highest available contender.
Zepeda 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 and a stay-busy affair in March before heading into talks with Taylor. 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