BY THOMAS GERBASI
Regis Prograis is in a good mood. You might not expect that from someone who has to weigh in the day after Thanksgiving, but for the “Rougarou,” some things are more important than turkey and pumpkin pie.
“Boxing is my job, my career, and Thanksgiving comes every year,” said Prograis. “Would I fight for the second chance to get my belt again every year? Probably not. So, for me, I won’t miss Thanksgiving at all. Even if it was Christmas, I won’t miss Christmas. Even if it was my birthday, I won’t miss my birthday. This is way bigger.”
It’s been three long years since the New Orleans native held championship gold, an eternity in a sport where the window for a fighter’s prime is a short one. But on November 26, he will get his opportunity to earn another world title when he faces Jose Zepeda for the vacant WBC belt at 140 pounds. Getting that title again is good for Prograis’ wallet, but he wants to win for more than that.“Just being at the top, that’s the thing,” he said. “It felt like when I was a champion, I was number one in the division, number one in the world, I was a world champion, and I was at the top. And now for the last three years, it’s like nobody mentions my name. I know it’s a high-risk, low-reward type of thing, but once I get the belt again, people will have to say my name again because I’ll be the champion.”
Prograis likes to say the word “champion.” As an old school fighter, it means something to be known as the best in the world in his weight class, and after feeling the sting of defeat for the first and only time in his 28-fight career after a 12-round majority decision loss to Josh Taylor in 2019, hearing “former champion” in front of his name stings just as much.
“I’m in boxing not just to make money, but I want to be number one,” he said. “That’s my main thing, to be number one in the world, be a champion, and to say I’m a world champion. They say a champion will always be a champion, but when people introduce me, it’s as a former champion. So when I get introduced, I want them to say, he IS the champion. That’s one of the biggest things that I miss.
Since the competitive and close loss to Taylor, Prograis has been the man whose name should not be mentioned at 140 pounds. He’s tried to stay busy, That’s pretty much the state of the game these days, and a puzzling state in his case, as he’s an action fighter and a former world titleholder who is willing to face all comers. Yet all we’ve seen from him in three years are three fights; knockout wins over Juan Heraldez, Ivan Redkach, and Tyrone McKenna. Impressive? Yes, but has he been tested?
“I do feel like I have because of what I do in the gym,” said Prograis, who makes his home in Houston. “That’s the main thing. I spar with top people in the gym, way bigger people than me and they keep me sharp. As far as the fights, of course, the level of opposition hasn’t really been there, but all you can do is just fight who they put in front of you. For the last three years, I’ve been calling out everybody and their mama, and just because you call out people, that don’t mean you get the fights. So I fought who they put in front of me and in the last three years I haven’t really even been hit, haven’t been tested, and I went 3-0 with three knockouts.”
In Zepeda, Prograis is expected to get a test. Unbeaten in six fights since a majority decision loss to Jose Ramirez in 2019, Zepeda has seen it all in recent bouts, from getting into a memorable war with Ivan Baranchyk in 2020, to scoring decision victories over Jose Pedraza and Hank Lundy and blasting out Josue Vargas in less than two minutes last October. So while it’s been over a year since his last bout, the previous two years have him more than battle-ready. But Prograis believes he’s just as prepared to get in a dogfight at Dignity Health Sports Park as Zepeda is.
“I’m a fighter, I’ve been doing it a long time, and it comes natural to me,” he said. “I’m not really worried about that stuff. I can’t really say I went any rounds with those guys, but the main thing is the gym work. Everything is done in the gym and I feel confident about that. I know Zepeda’s coming to fight, but skillwise I feel I’m a little more elite.”
Does that mean a clean and neat victory, or will Prograis have to get his hands a little dirty to get a portion of the championship back?
“I learned so much from the Taylor fight and I feel like I bring a different style,” he said. “Now, it’s just about being more defensive. In the last three fights, I haven’t really been touched at all, so there’s no punishment, and I’ve been defensive, but at the same time I still knocked all three of them out. I want to bring that in the ring but, of course, the dog can always come out. We’re working on being smart and being defensive. I have power in both hands, so naturally, when I touch somebody, it’s gonna hurt them, no matter what, so I don’t have to bull rush and beat people up. If Zepeda comes in for that, then we can definitely do that. He’s a dog, I’m a dog, and if we need to lock horns and fight each other, then we can do it.”
And when it’s over, if Prograis leaves with the title, all of a sudden everything is there for the taking, and at 33, he’s still young enough to take advantage of getting into some big fights. Will those fights be as super lightweight or north of 140 pounds?
“It could be both,” he said. “I could stay at 140 for the rest of my career and try to be like an Aaron Pryor and just dominate. But honestly, I can’t see myself going up to 147. There’s one person that will make me go up, and that’s Josh Taylor. That’s it. And maybe we do a catchweight and after that come back down and stay at 140 and defend my belts. There’s no telling right now. It all depends on what happens after I win the belt.”