“The kid is special. You know?” said Bobby Benton, trainer to Regis Prograis, about his fighter’s steady march toward superstardom.
Benton has been around the sport long enough to know that the chance to train fighters as talented as rising junior welterweight star Prograis are pretty rare. Benton, who owns the Main Street Boxing & Muay Thai gym in Houston with former heavyweight contender Lou Savarese and MMA coach Bob Perez, told NYFights.com he expects his fighter to defeat WBA junior welterweight champion Kiryl Relikh on Saturday night at the Cajun Dome in Lafayette, Lousiana.
“After that, we’re winning the whole thing.”
Prograis, 30, from New Orleans, is the heavy favorite per online bookmakers to defeat Relikh, 29, of Belarus, in the semifinals of the World Boxing Super Series.
“By far, it’s his toughest fight,” said Benton. “But every fight he takes is his toughest fight. That’s what he wants. He’s a competitor. He doesn’t want to fight the fights that would be considered easy for him.”
Indeed, Prograis came up through the ranks the hard way. A talented amateur who competed in the 2012 Olympic Trials before turning pro in 2012, the pressure-cooking southpaw started his journey to world title contention by competing in local Houston-area shows promoted by Savarese.
“I kept telling them to put me in with guys they thought could beat me,” remembered Prograis at a recent media day in Houston. “They never found anyone.”
By 2015, Prograis had punched his way into being recognized as a top prospect. On Saturday, which also happens to be trainer Benton’s 41st birthday, Prograis will attempt to win his first world title.
Benton shared the strategy he and Prograis use to prepare for fights. Prograis doesn’t watch any film of opponents, while Benton admitted he’s borderline obsessed with it. In fact, Benton said he even watches upcoming opponents hitting the mitts and such on YouTube in order to gain every possible edge he can find.
“I’m crazy,” laughed Benton.
Benton said he mostly looks to see if the opponent does anything during training that’s similar to what he does during fights. He looks for tendencies to exploit, including how the fighter steps forward and back and the rhythm to which he bounces on his toes.
Of course, he wouldn’t share anything specific he’s seen in watching Relikh, only saying he was a really good fighter and tough as nails.
“He’s a world champion. They don’t just give those belts away.”
Benton said the overall plan for Prograis’ career was to win the WBSS tournament, then unify the junior welterweight division. If the brackets hold as they are now, winning the WBSS would likely mean Prograis would become a two-belt champion.
That’s because the winner of Prograis-Relikh is scheduled to face the winner of Josh Taylor vs. IBF champion Ivan Baranchyk. Taylor-Baranchyk is scheduled for May 18 in Glasgow, Scotland.
And if Prograis wins the WBSS, Benton said there were already plans already in place for Prograis to face WBC titleholder Jose Ramirez. He said the fight almost happened before and that both sides have already agreed to meet up again after the WBSS was over.
“For me, Ramirez is our easiest fight,” said Benton. “Just style-wise…he’s tailor-made for Regis.”
Finally, it all could culminate with an all-Texas showdown between Prograis and WBO champion Maurice Hooker who lives and trains out of Dallas. For his part, Benton said he expects Prograis to become the first undisputed junior welterweight champion since Terence Crawford in 2017.
Perhaps fittingly, Prograis told me last week that Crawford was his ultimate dream fight. The 30-year-old takes another step toward making that a reality on Saturday against Relikh with Benton in his corner.