When Regis Prograis and Josh Taylor meet at the O2 Arena in London on October 26 for a host of junior welterweight belts and the World Boxing Super Series’ Ali Trophy, it’s the fight boxing needs, and not just for the usual reasons, though those reasons are still pretty good.
“It’s very important,” said Prograis. “You’ve got two undefeated fighters in their prime, not just undefeated fighters but champions in their prime, ranked number one and number two in the world and they’re fighting each other now. This is a huge fight and I’m glad to be a part of it. It’s history. It’s a dream fight.”
A dream fight in the midst of a sport’s latest nightmare phase. The deaths of Maxim Dadashev and Hugo Santillan in July, last week’s automobile crash involving Errol Spence, and last weekend’s Charles Conwell-Patrick Day bout that left New York’s Day in a coma. All instances that make you wonder where the light is in so much darkness.
And that’s just how those of us on the sidelines feel. How does a boxer get ready for an upcoming fight not only knowing the risks involved like he or she always has, but to have such risks staring them in the face more intently than usual? Most will simply tune it out, sending prayers and best wishes to the fallen and steering clear of the subject until after their own time in the ring is over.
Even Prograis, an avid reader who has been devouring two works of the great Donald McRae – Dark Trade and A Man’s World – won’t delve into the darker parts of his profession as his fight draws near. That doesn’t mean he avoids such realities, though, because he is a firm believer in the adage that knowledge is power.
“Reading books like that and seeing how much death is involved in boxing and seeing all the dirt in the business of boxing, it’s real hard, but I like to be knowledgeable and try to prepare for myself for anything,” he said. “I don’t want to be faced with nothing that can surprise me. I want to know everything there is in boxing. The sport is so complicated that you can be in it forever and you’re still not gonna know everything about it. But as long as I keep learning more and more, that’s the important thing.”
In many ways, the 30-year-old southpaw is one of the most intriguing figures in the sport today. A late starter in the sport, Prograis has gone from unknown to world champion in the space of 24 pro fights, and he’s done it in his own unique style both in and out of the ring. His appreciation for those that came before him is evident, his fighting style will keep him on the fans’ good side for years to come, and his ability to focus on the task at hand while still taking time to enjoy the ride is a rare one.
“I started boxing at a real late age,” he said. “I started when I was like 15, 17 years old. Most of the fighters I’m competing against, they started when they were eight or nine years old. And to get this opportunity now, it’s the opportunity of a lifetime. This is huge for me and I’m just glad to be a part of it and I can’t wait to go out there and do my thing. And I’m taking it all in. My life changed dramatically in the last two years. I remember working a real job and I don’t think most of the champions had real jobs. I had a job and had to support a family, so I take it all in.”
Maybe part of that desire to embrace the journey comes from knowing he almost lost it all back in 2016 when he was thumbed during a sparring session and broke his orbital bone. Owner of an 18-0 record at the time, Prograis was starting to garner some buzz, but the injury put a halt to that. What was worse was that the first doctor he visited told him he should never fight again.
“Of course, that was real bad news,” said Prograis. “I was crying in the car and stuff like that and I didn’t know what was going on.”
Prograis’ manager at the time told him they were going to get a second opinion, even a third if necessary. Then the news started getting brighter.
“I went to a couple different doctors, and after the first one, I went to a doctor a week after that and they told me I needed to sit out for a while. I let it heal up more and more, then the last doctor I went to, he said, ‘It’s fine, you’re okay. It’s gonna heal back up.’ This was actually a specialist in that field. He told me to give it four months and you’ll be okay and that’s what I did.”
After nearly eight months out, Prograis returned to the ring and he never looked back. I joke with him and say that if the first three doctors said no, he would have kept going until he found one to say yes.
“Exactly, I would have went to everybody,” he said. “At that time, I was desperate. I wasn’t taking no for an answer. But the third time was the charm.”
What if the injury didn’t heal up, though? Where would Regis Prograis be today if he didn’t get cleared to resume his career?
“I don’t know,” said Prograis, who was a trainer at LA Fitness in Houston at the time. He assumes he would have left Texas and gone back to his home in New Orleans, but as he ponders the question, he’s stumped, seemingly because there was never any doubt that he would return to the ring.
“It’s hard to say where I would have been. I don’t if I would have been training people or did something else with my life and my time. The whole reason I stayed in Houston was because of boxing, so if somebody took that away from me, I don’t know.”
What we do know is that Prograis probably would have been miserable to be around.
“Yeah, I’d probably be real, real bitter.”
That’s what makes Prograis and his peers different from most people. For anyone who doesn’t fight for a living, the idea of thinking more about your career than your health doesn’t register. But that’s why we admire and respect those who are willing to do things in the name of sport that most won’t. So it should also be no surprise that Prograis was willing to fight Scotland’s Taylor in the UK later this month. It’s just what guys like “Rougarou” do.
“I’m pretty sure they’re gonna be booing me and stuff, but to give you the real perspective on things, you’ll have to ask me after the fight how I felt,” he said. “Right now, I feel like I’m not gonna be nervous because I don’t think I’m gonna have no pressure on me. The pressure is gonna be all on Josh Taylor because all his fans from Scotland are coming and he’s gonna have to impress them. For me, I’m going out there to do my job and have fun and go fight. Everybody he’s ever known is gonna be at that fight watching him and I think it’s so much pressure on him.”
You can almost see Prograis smile through the phone lines when he talks about the fight. Yeah, it’s a tough one, probably his toughest to date, and Taylor certainly has the talent to pull off the win. But if Prograis has learned anything from reading about boxing history, it’s that to be great, you have to think big and take risks. And whether he wins or loses in the process, it’s all about the attempt. And if he leaves it all in the ring in that attempt, he can sleep well at night.
“There’s not gonna be no regrets with me,” said Prograis. “I never want to be that old man in the barbershop saying, ‘Oh I could have been this.’ You hear that all the time. If I am an old man sitting in a barbershop one day, I can say, ‘I was a world champion.’”