NEW YORK — The closest that junior welterweight world titleholder Jose Ramirez and interim titlist Regis Prograis will get to each other for the foreseeable future is fighting one week apart on the same television network.
On July 7 at the Save Mart Center in his home region of Fresno, California, Ramirez will defend his belt for the first time when he meets Danny O’Connor in the main event of a Top Rank Boxing on ESPN card.
One week later, on July 14 at the Lakefront Arena at the University of New Orleans, Prograis (21-0, 18 KOs) will fight in his hometown for the first time in the main event of another Top Rank Boxing on ESPN card. He will face Juan Jose Velasco as long as Velasco wins a fight he has scheduled for Friday night in his home country of Argentina and comes away uninjured.
After Prograis, 29, won the vacant interim belt by stopping former unified titlist Julius Indongo in the second round on March 9, and Ramirez (22-0, 16 KOs), 25, of Avenal, California, outpointed Amir Imam for the vacant full title on March 17, they were supposed to fight next based on a ruling at last year’s WBC convention ordering the winners of the two bouts to meet on a 50-50 split if the fight went to a purse bid.
However, Ramirez promoter Todd duBoef of Top Rank and Prograis promoter Lou DiBella told ESPN on Thursday that they have agreed to forgo the fight for now with the hope of having it take place perhaps next summer when they believe it can be much bigger commercially.
“It’s a great fight now. We want it to be a great event as well,” duBoef said. “It’s back-to-back weekends, back-to-back hometowns. The scenario we like is two young guys building momentum and using the upcoming fights to showcase themselves and make their fight much bigger. We want it to be more than just a great fight. We want it to be a big fight, which is what the sport needs.”
There’s always a risk one of them will lose along the way. Ramirez figures to fight a few times before the potential meeting, and if Prograis wins his summer fight, he is headed to the World Boxing Super Series eight-man single-elimination tournament, which will begin in September but has not yet been formally announced. If he wins the tournament — and he’ll be favored to do so — he could emerge with two major titles as well as the WBC’s symbolic diamond belt and a date with Ramirez.
“We’re banking on the skill sets of both fighters and the marketability of what we can do behind them to create a bigger match down the road,” duBoef said. “This is collaborative between both sides. We’re not hiding from anybody. Lou communicated his needs, and we communicated our needs, and then we figured out a solution that works for everybody, and that was good collaborative behavior.”
DiBella and Prograis wanted the Ramirez fight next and could have pushed for a purse bid and forced Top Rank’s hand. But Top Rank could also have delayed the bid long enough or delayed scheduling the bout to the point where Prograis would not be able to go into the tournament. In the end, they agreed it made the most business sense to find another plan.
“We know this fight can be built into something,” DiBella said. “There’s an interest in doing the fight right now and we had backing from Showtime (where Prograis has been fighting). We could have gone to purse bid, and the fight could have been delayed. Ramirez isn’t going into the tournament, but Regis wants to be part of it, and he couldn’t have both — the fight right away and then the tournament. So with this scenario, Regis can go into the tournament. The tournament will be over in less than a year. Regis will get exposure in the tournament, and Todd can keep building Ramirez on his ESPN platform. If these kids keep winning the fight won’t be smaller in a year. At that point they’ll be much bigger.”
Prograis’ July 14 fight will air on ESPN and be used to help promote the fight between Manny Pacquiao and secondary welterweight titlist Lucas Matthysse. Pacquiao and Matthysse will meet on a pay-per-view that Top Rank and ESPN are putting on later that night live from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
Ramirez, who is a major draw in California’s Central Valley, is happy to go home for his first defense.
“It has been my dream to become a world champion. It’s now my duty to defend this belt at home for my city, fans and everything I fight for,” Ramirez said Thursday. “I’m blessed to have this opportunity. I dedicate this fight to the immigrants that contribute to and make our society a better place. I’m pro-immigrant and proud.”
O’Connor (30-3, 11 KOs), 33, a southpaw from Framingham, Massachusetts, has won four fights in a row since suffering a horrific first-round knockout loss to Gabriel Bracero in October 2015. Velasco (19-0, 11 KOs), 31, will face Jorge Marin Garcia in an eight-rounder on Friday night in Buenos Aires.