Regis Prograis: Boxing’s Rising Superstar
Photographs by Chad Griffith
Styling by Melina Kemph
At 22-0, with 19 knockouts, there aren’t many super lightweight fighters eager to step In the ring with Regis “The Rougarou” Prograis. Now fighting out of Houston, the New Orleans-born prizefighter built a fast reputation for himself by moving forward with relentless power against a steady stream of quality opponents on Showtime’s ShoBox series. In March, Prograis TKO’d Julius Indongo to win the interim WBC super lightweight belt. And in July, Prograis defended the belt with a TKO of Juan Jose Velasco. On a recent trip to New York, Prograis stopped by the AQ studio to share his journey from street fighting in New Orleans to championship prizefighter.
In the beginning, there were fists
I just grew up rough in New Orleans. I grew up on the street fighting. I did karate when I was young, played football, all kinds of sports. But I was real rough all the time. When I played football in high school, we used to always fight in the locker room. We’d put on boxing gloves. And I can remember that I was just winning, winning, winning, beating everybody up. Everybody was bigger than me. One time, a coach came in, I think he was the offensive coordinator or something like that. He watched me fight, and after we finished, he like pulled me aside and said, ”Look, you don’t think you have a future of football, but you do at boxing.” Literally, the next day, I quit. I turned in my equipment for football, and I wanted to start boxing. That was in the 10th grade. I was 16 at the time. I started going to a gym, but then my grades started dropping, so my mama took me out. When summertime came around, that’s when I started. I really started training hard, but it was like in a garage gym. And that was the only for three months. Because then, Hurricane Katrina hit.
A lot of people think of New Orleans as Bourbon Street and Mardi Gras and all of that, but it’s a tough place to grow up. When you grow up in a rough environment as a kid, you don’t know how rough it is. To you, it’s normal, until you get old, and then you realize, damn, I really grew up in this. I was street fighting with grown men when I was 15. I tell my little cousin all the time, he’s 15, when I was your age, I was beating the shit out of a grown man. Iron sharpens iron and growing up, this was normal, but it wasn’t normal. But you got this sort of toughness from that.
Finding footing in the ring and in life
After Hurricane Katrina, I had to stop for a long time, probably almost a year. And then I moved around to all kinds of different places. It was my 11th grade year when Hurricane Katrina hit. I went to five different high schools that year. We left the day before the hurricane hit, because the mayor at the time, Ray Nagin, said it’s gonna be like Hurricane Betsy. Betsy happened during my grandma’s time. We were actually going to stay, but she remembered that, and she said, “No. We’ve got to go.” From New Orleans, Houston is a five and a half-hour trip. It took us 18 hours to get there. And so we got there. I think we moved around probably 17 different times. We stayed in hotels. We stay with family friends. I wasn’t with my mom or my dad. I was with my grandma and some cousins. My mama, she stayed because she was working in the French quarter at the time. So she stayed by daddy. I think he went to Detroit because he was from Detroit. So we were just moving all around, staying in people’s garages. We moved to Houston, and after that, we moved to Mississippi, then to Slidell, Louisiana, and then finally I moved back to Houston. My mom finally moved to Houston, and that’s when I got settled there. I discovered Savannah Boxing Gym, and that’s when I really started my amateur career.
When I got to Houston it was crazy because, as a kid, you see all these famous people on TV, and you just don’t think it’s achievable. So when I got to Savannah Gym about two years after I moved to Houston, all these guys are training there. Juan Diaz was at his peak. Rocky Juarez was at the top, Rául Márquez, Erislandy Lara, Guillermo Rigondeaux, Evander Holyfield—all those dudes are at the gym. I remember I’m hitting the bag, and Holyfield is right there, sparring. So it just does something to you, when you that when you young. Now, I’m thinking I can do it too.
I didn’t have a good amateur style. Amateur boxing is a way different sport. I was always built for the pros. I always came forward in the amateurs. I put my chin down, and we’re going to fight. I don’t care how many times you hit me, I’m going to hit you. I’m going to hurt you. That was my style of emphasis. Now I’m a little more defensive. I can move my head and things like that. I can box. I can do so many different things now. But my two favorite fighters are Mike Tyson and Roberto Duran, so that’s just my same mindset. Just go and impose your will the whole fight, 12 rounds, just try to kill him.
The birth of the Rougarou
I was 4-0 or 5-0, and I needed a nickname. My daddy and my manager at the time, they were going back and forth, texting each other with nicknames. And then my dad said, what about the Rougarou? (The Rougarou is a mythical character in Louisiana similar to a werewolf. It symbolizes a man who becomes a beast.) My manager at the time said, “That’s it!” And I really like didn’t like it. Honestly, I’m from New Orleans, but I didn’t even know what it was. I think it was my 10th fight in Houston, and that was my first time coming out with the mask on, and everybody went crazy about it. And I’ve liked it ever since.
The future according to Regis
Honestly, I always felt like I could do be a champion. I always believed in myself. Even when I was young, I felt like I was going to be like a superstar at something. Even before boxing, whether I was playing sports or being on TV, I just always felt like I will be there. I can walk in a big place, like a mall, and I feel like I’m different from all these people. I always felt like that. As far as boxing, I always thought that about myself. But you just never know if it’s gonna happen, you know? Sometimes, some things just don’t happen. It can be all kinds of things. A family member dies, or you have circumstances. you Life just happens to some people. It happened to a lot of people. I’m just one of the lucky ones that I always stuck to training, no matter what. I had to work, and no matter what, I always had a goal.
When my mama left me and my sister in Houston, that was one of the best things that she ever did for me. I think I was maybe 21 years old, and she went back to New Orleans. Never came back. And at that time, it was like sink or swim, you know? And it was just me and I have a younger sister, she’s two years younger than me. We were standing together. I had to work, but I always stuck to my goal and that’s how it happened. And it’s not an easy goal when you start now. You’re not making any money. You’ve got to train and its expensive. I felt like my first 10 fights, I probably fought four or five of those fights for free! Like zero money! Like real free. Me and him (Bobby Benton, Prograis’ trainer), we drove to Monroe, Louisiana for a fight. We drove from Texas; it was five or six hours. So we got to the fight, had the weigh in, make weight, now we can go out and finally eat. The next morning, the promoter calls and says the whole show is off. Not just your fight, the whole show is off. So we drove five hours for nothing. It’s just a part of the game, you know, it’s a part of the game though that most people don’t get to see.
I was supposed to fight the winner of the Jose Ramirez/Amir Imam fight. (Ramirez won the fight at Madison Square Garden.) for the official WBC super lightweight belt. I don’t think either one of them will fight me, but we’ll see where it goes. I think Mikey Garcia and me, would probably be one of the biggest fights in boxing, maybe in the next 18 months. Boxing is a lot of politics and whatever. It’s like everything else. I’m not going to stop until I’m on top.
Regis Prograis takes on Terry Flanagan in the World Boxing Super Series super lightweight quarterfinals at the UNO Lakefront Arena in New Orleans on October 27th at 10 p.m. ET. You can watch it live on DAZN.