It was exactly 18 years ago that Regis Prograis first laced up a pair of boxing gloves. To the coaches on his high school football team in New Orleans, that was the natural progression. The speedy running back/cornerback had already shown a propensity for pugilism in unsanctioned bouts with teammates – taking out everyone from defensive backs to linemen.
“You may not have a future in football – but you might have one in boxing,” they told him.
Hurricane Katrina hit just a couple months later, forcing Prograis’ family to abruptly abandon his childhood home, start a new life and pursue his boxing career in Houston. But “Rougarou” never forgot his roots and will return to New Orleans a two-time world champion when he defends his WBC super lightweight title against Danielito Zorrilla at Smoothie King Center (7 p.m. ET, Saturday, June 17, DAZN).
Regis Prograis Enthused About Battling in Big Easy
“You’ll have to ask me after the fight, but right now I think it will be an amazing feeling (fighting in New Orleans),” said Prograis, 28-1 (24 knockouts), who will be making the first defense of his second 140-pound title reign and the first in the ‘Big Easy.'
“You see Manny Pacquiao and Tank Davis smiling when they enter the ring – I think that’s how I’ll feel.”
The 34-year-old Prograis reiterated his standing in the division in November, when he won the vacant WBC crown with an impressive 11th-round knockout of tough Jose Zepeda. It was protypical Prograis, moving in and out, using his speed and skills to beat the fellow southpaw to the punch and finally take him out late.
If there were people who were unsure of “Rougarou’s” ability in light of his crushing unification loss to Josh Taylor in 2019, he announced his return with a commanding performance.
It will be Prograis’ first fight with Matchroom Boxing, the Britain-based promotional company that signed him to a three-fight deal last month. Being proud of his roots, Prograis negotiated a stipulation into his contract that will ensure his friends – specifically Louisiana fighters – appear on his undercards.
“The new deal I have with Matchroom gives me leverage to put some of my friends on,” Prograis said. “And who better than the fighters who are in the gym with me all the time?”
Louisiana Has A Rich Boxing History
Prograis is well aware of his state’s boxing history. When asked who the best fighters to emerge from the Bayou State were, he quickly said Willie Pastrano, the 1960s light heavyweight champion from New Orleans. And he mentioned Tony Canzoneri, the 1920-30s-era three-division champion from Slidell.
He also mentioned the Muhammad Ali-Leon Spinks rematch in 1978 and the 1980 return fight between Sugar Ray Leonard and Roberto Duran – the “No Mas” fight – as the two biggest fights ever in Louisiana – which is right on.
“I know my boxing history,” he said.
Next, he hopes to make his own history.
Regis Prograis Future Foes…Haney? Josh Taylor?
With his star again on the rise, Prograis has a host of intriguing options on the horizon. Former multi-division champ Adrien Broner recently mentioned Prograis’ name, as has lightweight champ Devin Haney, who outpointed Vasiliy Lomachenko on May 20.
But what Prograis really wants is revenge.
“I want Josh Taylor,” he said. “A rematch. That’s what I want. But if he goes to 147, that’s on him. But I want the big fights. Jack Catterall would be a big fight. Maybe go to Australia and fight Liam Paro. That would be a big fight. Do like my idol Sugar Ray Robinson did, traveled the world.”
But first things first. Taylor takes on Teofimo Lopez Saturday in New York City. And Prograis, of course, has the 29-year-old Zorrilla, 17-1 (13 KO’s).
Zorrilla is a replacement for Paro, who withdrew in May with an Achilles injury. It’s been something of an adjustment, as Paro is a southpaw and Zorrilla is orthodox.
Zorrilla is also good. Though “El Zorro” only got notice a little more than three weeks ago – the native of Toa Baja, Puerto Rico insists people will know who he is come June 17. His only loss was a close decision to undefeated Arnold Barboza last July.
Not Looking Past Zorilla, Though
Similarly, Prograis insists he is not overlooking Zorrilla, having learned to overcome nerves and distractions when he first fought in New Orleans in 2018.
“One of my worst fights was against Juan Jose Velasco at Lakefront Arena,” he said. “There was a nice sized crowd there and, to me, that was a lot of people. So I was nervous. Because everybody is there for you. So then I fought right after that, at the same place, I had to change my mindset. I reversed it and was loose and totally different. Now I feel I am mentally ready. I feel like I know how to reverse the nervousness.”
With three young children – ages nine, six and two – Prograis says his time is now. Yes, he may have a future as a promoter or businessman (Matchroom’s Eddie Hearn has agreed to mentor him), but he’s full-time fighter now.
He’ll never forget that day he had to leave New Orleans believing he’d never return. He’ll never forget seeing his old house and old neighborhood under water. And he’ll never forget the people who helped mold him into the man he is today.
That’s why he’s returning to New Orleans, to give back to the city he loves.
And he wants to know these aren’t Las Vegas prices. They are prices adjusted for the people of Louisiana.
“There are tickets as low as $20,” he said. “That allows a lot of people to attend a championship boxing match.”
Matthew Aguilar may be reached at [email protected]