That sigh of relief heard across the United States came from Regis Prograis and Eddie Hearn.
Fighting in front of a home crowd in New Orleans, Louisiana, for the first time since 2019, Regis “Rougarou” Prograis (29-1, 24 KOs) didn't have an easy time in the Big Easy with Danielito Zorrilla of Puerto Rico (17-2, 13 KOs) as expected.
Instead, Prograis won a nailbiter by split decision over a cagey Zorrilla. Scores were all over the place. Two judges scored it 118-109 and 117-110 for Prograis, with the third scoring it 114-113 for Zorrilla. Zorrilla looked shocked. Prograis looked relieved.
Prograis extended his win streak to five but ended his knockout streak after his only professional career loss to Josh Taylor in 2018 in the World Boxing Super Series.
Prograis: ‘I was nervous'
Prograis was refreshingly honest about his less-than-impressive homecoming performance, apologizing to the New Orleans fans and admitting he was nervous fighting at home.
“You know, hometown fights, they make you so nervous,” said Prograis. “I was in my hotel room. I was nervous. So, just the hometown fights are the worst,” smiled Prograis.
“It was a tough one. It definitely was eye-opening. I felt like I deserved the win. It was a tough one,” said Prograis.
Zorrilla Pops Prograis
In the first round, Zorrilla landed a straight right hand on Prograis. As Prograis lost his footing, he grabbed and held Zorrilla. Both went down on the canvas. Referee Ray Corona ruled a push. Had Zorrilla stepped out of the way, a knockdown would have been scored. It wouldn't have changed the fight's outcome. Watching the replay after the fight, Prograis admitted it looked like a knockdown to him. Judge for yourself.
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Digging out of a hole, Prograis looked to make it an early night in the third round, dropping Zorrilla with a big left hand to the bridge of Zorrilla's nose, sending him back and over backward. Zorrilla rose and ended the round without too much difficulty.
Although Prograis got his payback, the early narrow escape set the tone for the rest of the fight. Instead of the banger in the center of the ring fans anticipated, Prograis showed respect for Zorrilla's power. It made him gun-shy. Working with new trainer Hector Bermudez, Zorrilla employed more movement around the ring than in previous fights. Prograis struggled to cut off the ring, finding himself chasing Zorrilla.
Zorrilla won rounds with bursts of activity in the final minute. Prograis chose to fight carefully, and the nervousness he said he felt at home showed in the ring. Trainer Bobby Benton asked Prograis to “land some heavy shit,” but Prograis struggled to do it. He tried to bait Zorrilla into coming forward, but the Puerto Rican wasn't buying what Prograis was selling.
Prograis Recovers, Regroups In Late Rounds
Prograis finally gained some ground starting in the ninth round. He began landing solid body shots, though none enough to seriously hurt Zorrilla. But they won him rounds, and at this point of the fight, winning the rounds seemed to be the strategy for Prograis instead of trying to wipe Zorrilla out.
“He ran around the whole time,” said a frustrated Prograis. “I definitely have to go back to the gym and work on some things because, you know, he ran. He just he tried to survive. But he definitely, you know, he was strong. I thought he caught him with some punches, but he just ran around. It was kind of hard to get to him.”
Bill Haney, the trainer and father of undisputed lightweight division champion Devin Haney, sat ringside and smiled like a Cheshire Cat. When Prograis and Matchroom Boxing chairman Eddie Hearn were asked who Prograis might face next, Haney's name came up.
“I saw Bill Haney at the hotel earlier,” said Prograis. “If me and Devin could do it next – I think after my performance, they might feel a little more confident. But I'm gonna go into gym, I'm gonna work my ass off, and correct my mistakes.”
Hearn expressed disappointment not in Prograis but in Zorrilla for running instead of engaging. He said Prograis' next opponent was his call, but he likes the fight with Haney, a promotional free agent.
“We'd love that fight. You know, we're offering him the fight as champion, if everyone wants to move up to 140. If there's a positive from tonight, it's that I think people will be more willing to fight Regis Prograis.
“Now you'll probably hear tonight, tomorrow, people start to mention Regis. We love that. Bill Haney is here tonight. Obviously, we've got Jack Catterall in the UK,” said Hearn, who also named Rolly Romero, Subriel Matias, and Teofimo Lopez, who Hearn alleged has not relinquished his WBO title. “There are plenty of options. He's still World Champion. It's a frustrating night but a big one next.”
Prograis said no to Romero (thank you), but said he'll face anyone. The Haney fight offers the best risk versus reward for Prograis. While Haney is skilled, he's not a power puncher. After Prograis struggled on Saturday, a bout with Haney may be his safest path forward.