Wednesday, June 21, 2023

Prograis Retains Title, But Was Zorrilla Victimized By Scoring?

With the landscape of the 140lb. Jr. Welterweight division in the process of transition as well as recently crowned WBO Jr. Welterweight world champion Teofimo Lopez inexplicably retiring in the days following his championship winning victory over longtime champion Josh Taylor, subsequently relinquishing the title, the storyline for Regis Prograis' defense of the WBC world championship on June 17th at the Smoothie King Center in his native New Orleans, LA against  Danielito Zorrilla represented not only a homecoming for the two-time world champion, but in light of the recent events in the division, a chance for Prograis to make a case for himself as being the top Jr. Welterweight in the world.  If the opening of this column seems like a long-winded run-on, it is, but in fairness, it may be the best way to describe the current state of the Jr. Welterweight division that frankly has seemed like a ride on a rollercoaster in recent weeks.

The tongue and cheek attempt at humor of this observer aside, the recent events, did nevertheless make a title defense for Prograis, the first defense of his second reign as a world champion, more interesting. One could surmise that if Teofimo Lopez had not retired, something which will probably be debated as to whether it is legitimate, the storyline of this defense for Prograis might have been whether he could be headed towards a unification bout with Lopez, and as a result, this fight likely would have been viewed at least by some as an afterthought. Although this appeared to be an ideal scenario for a homecoming title defense for Programs, the actual fight itself turned out to be both competitive and anything but an ideal scenario or afterthought.

Zorrilla was able to establish himself earlier in appearing to drop the champion with a right hand in the first round where Prograis grabbed on to Zorrilla as he was falling in an attempt to hold on. Despite the appearance of a clear knockdown, confirmed via video replays, this would be incorrectly ruled a slip by Referee Ray Corona. While some cynics might try to argue that the missed call of a knockdown against Prograis was in some way influenced by where the fight was talking place, I believe Corona, who has officiated over 733 bouts as a referee and nearly 400 as a judge, many of which were world championship bouts in both capacities, simply missed the call. It does happen and it is important to keep in mind that referees and judges, like the rest of us, are all human and are as prone to human error as anyone.

The call of a slip in the first round notwithstanding, Zorrilla was nevertheless able to show that he was there to fight and not to partake in what may have been intended to be a showcase for the champion. In round three however, Prograis would respond by dropping the challenger with a flush overhand left that nearly resulted in Zorrilla flipping backward as he went down to the canvas. This was a hard knockdown that this observer briefly wondered whether Zorrilla would be able to continue upon getting to his feet. To the challenger's credit, he was able to get himself together and the fight went on.

It was from round four on where frankly the pace of the fight while still competitive slowed and neither fighter seemed able to clearly take the initiative or land many punches. This can be attributed to Zorrilla being more tactical than had been the case in some of his previous fights and looking to play the role of a strict counter puncher and Prograis not being able to land consistently. When such a scenario occurs it does not produce the most entertaining of fights from a fan's perspective, but more importantly, creates what more often than not can prove to be a conundrum for judges in terms of scoring because it will often be based on particular moments during a particular round as opposed to which fighter is able to dictate how the fight is fought. Without the benefit of potential knockdowns during rounds that are fought in this way, it can indeed be difficult to determine who is ahead.

An illustration of this from this observer's point of view was that after ten rounds, I had the champion Prograis only slightly ahead on my unofficial scorecard due largely to the official knockdown in round three. If it had not been for that knockdown, my scorecard likely would have been even. It was simply the kind of fight where plenty of punches were thrown between two fighters, but not many landed. 

At the conclusion of the twelve round world championship bout, I felt it could go either way based on what I observed and it was certainly no surprise to hear a split decision rendered. What was surprising however, was to hear the disparity in the scoring. Judge Craig Metcalf turned in the closest score of the three official judges in having Zorrilla up by a single point 114-113. This is what I felt was an accurate scorecard simply based on how close the fight appeared to be. The difference in my unofficial scorecard and that of Metcalf's is I had the same one point difference, but I ended up with Prograis as the victor on my card. Despite Craig Metcalf and I appearing to see a similar fight, though ending up split in the outcome, judges Robert Tapper and Josef Mason turned in significantly wider scorecards of ten rounds to two (118-110) and nine rounds to three (117-110) in favor of Prograis giving him the split decision victory to retain his title. Before diving into a possible explanation of why the two deciding scorecards were wide, I will point out for clarification purposes for readers who might be curious that the scorecard of judge Josef Mason 117-110, is one point wider than a standard nine rounds to three scorecard of 117-111. Mason's score being slightly wider is a direct result of the knockdown against Zorrilla in round three, which was scored 10-8 in points on all three official scorecards.

As for why the scores were wider than what appeared to be the consensus of a close fight that could go either way, only the judges themselves can say what they saw and what they based their scoring on. Although not many punches were landed between the two fighters throughout the twelve round bout, which turned out to be just 84 between Prograis and Zorrilla, setting the record for the fewest punches landed in the historical of CompuBpx, which has tracked punching statistics for thousands of fights on every level of the sport since the 1980's, an educated guess from yours truly would be that Prograis was the fighter generally coming forward and trying to force the action throughout much of the fight. While both fighters obviously did a great job in making each other miss with the vast majority of their offense, Prograis appearing to press the action more than Zorrilla could perhaps be the basis of what judges Tapper and Mason based their scoring on, but this is only an observation on my part based on decades of experience covering the sport and scoring countless fights unofficially as well as one that has a clear understanding of how Boxing on all levels of the sport, amateur, professional, and professional Bareknuckle is scored based on clean punching, effective aggressiveness, ring generalship, and defense. Though clearly the element of defense proved to be a focal point in this fight, evidently Zorrilla did not do enough in the eyes of Tapper and Mason.

Ultimately, this proved not to be the type of homecoming that Regis Prograis or his supporters were likely looking for, nor was he able to produce the type of performance in this fight that will likely put him as the top fighter in the Jr. Welterweight division. Sometimes however, styles do make fights and a win is a win. Even though I felt that Prograis did just enough to retain his title here, I do feel that Danielito Zorrilla fought well and that it was a closer fight than two official judges saw it. While this does not mean that Zorrilla was in some way victimized by how this fight was scored, nor does it means that a possible corruption took place, though some fans may point in that direction given the circumstances of the fight being held in Prograis' hometown. Perhaps Zorrilla upon getting the chance to watch the fight will be able to see what he may have been able to do more of, which may have turned many of those close rounds his way. If nothing else, Danielito Zorrilla has established himself as a player in the 140lb. Jr. Welterweight division. A division that as we near the end of June 2023 remains one in transition with no clear consensus as to who is the top Jr. Welterweight in the world.

"And That's The Boxing Truth."

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