By Thomas Gerbasi
Unbeaten junior welterweight prospect Regis Prograis has a pretty cool nickname already with “Rougarou,” which is, in the words of the New Orleans native, “like a Louisiana swamp beast.” But if he ever has a change of heart, “No Fun” might be a decent substitute to describe his current situation.
Well, not exactly.
“I won’t say I have no fun,” he laughs. “But New Orleans is too much fun.”
You can hear the love in the southpaw’s voice when he talks of his hometown, but it’s that love that has kept him living in Houston for the last decade.
“For me personally, I think Houston is a better fit for me right now,” said Prograis, who faces veteran Aaron Herrera in Friday’s ShoBox main event in Miami, Oklahoma. “I have too many friends, too much family out there and there’s always something to do and always a party. It’s just too fun for me. Every time I go back, my grandma’s gotta watch my son and I’m in the street until 7 or 8 o’clock in the morning. And I’m pretty sure if I lived there, that would be my lifestyle. So I stay away from that stuff because I know what’s good for me.”
It’s a necessary mindset in this toughest of sports, where talent is often not enough if that talent isn’t willing to make the sacrifices necessary to succeed. Prograis refuses to be one of those folks distracted by life outside of the gym.
“If you want to go to the top, you’ve got to be willing to do anything and that’s what I’m willing to do,” he said. “I grew up with a lot of people that are way more talented than me, but hard work always wins. That’s what America is built on. I saw a goal and a dream, and I’m going after it.”
And he’s doing it in Houston, a state that may have saved him back when Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in August of 2005. It’s hard to believe that it’s been over ten years since the city was ravaged by the storm, and that disbelief goes double for Prograis.
“Time just goes so fast, I don’t know where it goes,” he said. “It doesn’t seem like ten years, but it has been.”
Back then, Prograis had been boxing for around three months, but it wasn’t anything too serious. And as the school year was starting, the 16-year-old soon had other things to think about, as an epic storm was heading his city’s way. For most of the city’s natives, it was business as usual, as these warnings were commonplace during hurricane season.
“We weren’t gonna leave,” Prograis said. “In New Orleans, almost every hurricane season before that, they were saying evacuate. Then you fill up your car, you spend all this money on water bottles and taping up everything and bolting everything down, then nothing happens.”
But when then-Mayor Ray Nagin compared Katrina to Hurricane Betsy, which hit New Orleans hard in 1965, Prograis’ grandmother – who lived through that storm – said that it was time to leave. The ensuing drive, which should have taken five to seven hours, instead took 17 because of traffic, and the family eventually settled in Houston, where they were able to watch Katrina from afar.
“You’re kind of excited to get out of the city,” Prograis said. “I was 16. Then you’re watching the news and seeing the city underwater, but you really don’t see your house. But they had a thing on the computer where you could type in your street, and our whole neighborhood was water. It was like a lake. All you could see was a couple of rooftops. That’s when it hit me. It was a vivid picture. Just seeing it, it was like ‘damn, we’re not going back home. That’s it.’”
Ten years later, everything has changed. New Orleans has been largely rebuilt, Prograis has a new home and a new purpose, and it’s as if everything has happened the way it was supposed to, especially as it pertains to him and boxing.
“I have an incredible gym and we have a lot of competitors,” he said of life in Houston. “I feel like you won’t get better in anything unless you compete with somebody that’s better than you or close to you. There’s not too many people that are better than me at my weight, but I fought a lot of people that are way bigger than me and they push me. That’s why I know Houston is right for me now.”
The proof is in Prograis’ perfect 16-0 record, one that includes 13 knockouts, and if he can send Herrera (who has only been stopped once in 34 fights) home early, he will continue to stay on the fast track at 140 pounds. That’s when it gets interesting, as Prograis has to walk the line between ambition and caution.
“I feel like I can beat a lot of the big names right now,” he said. “But at the same time, I’m 16-0 and I feel like I’m moving pretty fast for 16 fights. So it’s kind of 50-50, and that’s why you have a manager to slow you down and tell you what to do. As a fighter, I’ll fight anybody. You could put George Foreman in front of me and I’ll fight him. So that’s why you have a manager, to calm you down.”
Picking on Big George, eh?
“It’s just that there’s no man that I’m scared of, no man that I wouldn’t fight. I love Big George. I study him and I watch him a lot.”
Someday, young boxers may be studying and watching Regis Prograis, trying to decipher what has made him a special fighter. But extensive study may not be necessary, as the secret might just be in his own words.
“I want people to bring a fight to me,” he said. “That’s my favorite thing. I love to fight, so bring it on and we’ll see how I react to it. They (opponents) can put a target on my back all they want, I’m gonna bring it every time I fight, and I hope they bring it too. And may the best man win.”