Regis Prograis stops Jose Zepeda to win vacant WBC crown

Regis Prograis stopped Jose Zepeda in brutal fashion in Round 11 on Saturday in Carson, California, to capture the vacant WBC junior welterweight title.

The 140-pound bout was a mostly tactical affair until Round 10, when Zepeda delivered a three-punch combination that stunned Prograis. The following round, Prograis (28-1, 24 KOs) buckled Zepeda with a left hand and followed up with two more that sent him reeling to the ropes.

With Zepeda (35-3, 27 KOs) pinned, Prograis unloaded with quick, powerful punches until the referee stepped in as Zepeda was crashing to the mat.

Prograis was up 98-92, 98-92 and 97-93 at the time of the stoppage, which came at 59 seconds of the penultimate round. ESPN scored it 98-92.

"I wanted to come out and box him but then maybe in the second or third round I started to catch my rhythm," said Prograis, who fights out of Houston. "I felt like 'just take him to the deep waters and drown him.'"

The 33-year-old Prograis, who entered the bout rated No. 4 by ESPN at 140 pounds, is now a two-time champion in the weight class. Jose Ramirez, a former champion who is rated No. 3, is the mandatory challenger for Prograis' new title. That fight is due next and could take place in the first quarter of 2023.

Another future challenger for Prograis' WBC title will be determined on Dec. 10, when Teofimo Lopez meets Sandor Martin in New York. But for now, Prograis was looking forward to a Christmas vacation in Brazil.

"Now [other fighters] come to me," he said. "I'm not going to say nobody's name anymore. ... Now I'm a two-time world champion, everyone going to say my name."

Prograis has indeed encountered trouble landing marquee fights since he lost his title in a unification fight vs. Josh Taylor in 2019. He fought just three times since then, picking up stoppage victories over domestic-level opposition.

But when Taylor vacated three of his four titles, the opportunity presented itself for Prograis to once again land a fight that mattered. And he capitalized with a dominant performance stamped with an emphatic finish.

Prograis showed off all the tools that made him a top-flight fighter during the action: speed, excellent head movement and a busy southpaw jab. His defense was tight, too: Zepeda didn't land double-digit punches in any round, per CompuBox.

Zepeda, meanwhile, appeared hesitant to engage for most of the fight after he started strong. The 33-year-old was cut over the right eye by Prograis' jab in Round 4 and didn't seem to find his footing until Round 10.

Even after Zepeda buzzed his foe, Prograis rallied down the stretch of Round 10 before he finished matters the following frame.

Zepeda, who was challenging for a title for the third time, ended a career-long, nearly 13-month layoff. And that last fight lasted all of one round. His previous two title bids were also unsuccessful.

He suffered a dislocated left shoulder vs. Terry Flanagan in a 135-pound title fight in 2015. Zepeda, who fights out of the Los Angeles area, dropped a controversial decision to Ramirez in a 140-pound title bout in 2019.

The following year, Zepeda scored a fifth-round KO of Ivan Baranchyk in the consensus 2020 fight of the year. And now, Zepeda must wait for a fourth crack at a title, one he hopes will turn out different.

Prograis, meanwhile, will wait to see if he can close a deal with Ramirez, who bowed out of the rematch with Zepeda for the vacant title to focus on his wedding.