By Thomas Gerbasi
Ace publicist Bernie Bahrmasel has a way of getting attention for his clients, and he caused a bit of a stir when he started attaching #ModernDayDuran to his tweets about 140-pound star Regis Prograis. Now that could be an albatross or a motivator for a fighter. Either way, it’s high praise for the New Orleans native to be compared to “Manos de Piedra.”
“That’s definitely high praise,” said Prograis, who returns to the ring on April 27 to face Kiryl Relikh in the semifinals of the World Boxing Super Series junior welterweight tournament. “I told Bernie that’s one of my favorite fighters and one of my idols; him and Mike Tyson and Pernell Whitaker and Marvin Hagler. But somebody I probably watched more than anybody is Duran. I wanted to be somebody like that, just a mean, knockout savage type of fighter. So that’s a whole lot of high praise right now, but Bernie took it and ran. That’s some big shoes to fill, but I’m gonna try my best to do my thing.”
Now at the beginning stages in the meat and potatoes part of his career, the 30-year-old Prograis has the talent to do big things in the sport, but more importantly he has the attitude, so he doesn’t run away from such lofty comparisons to the greats of the past and it doesn’t give him an inflated ego. Instead, it gives him something to shoot for.
“That’s my idol, so if I can be like one of my idols or at least try, then yeah, I’m comfortable with it,” Prograis said. “Of course I’m a southpaw, so I can’t fight exactly like Duran, but I think I have a similar style when I want it to be and I know I have big power in both hands, so I’m comfortable with it.”
But does “Rougarou” have the Duran mean?
“I definitely got the mean,” he laughs. “The thing is, I’m real nice outside the ring. I can’t even kill things – my son and daughter were just in the house playing with a little spider and I can’t even kill little things like bugs. But of course once I get inside the ring, it’s a big difference.”
That difference has allowed Prograis to sail to the top of the junior welterweight division, and while the 23-0 (19 KOs) record is nice, it’s more the way he’s won that has fans excited about his future. There’s a desire to finish from the time the opening bell sounds, and if an opponent is tough enough to stay in there, it’s going to be a painful night.
And when it comes to picking opponents, Prograis isn’t picky. He’ll fight anyone, and the bigger the name, the better. It’s why he was quick to sign up for the WBSS tournament, where he won his first bout by decisioning Terry Flanagan. But when the tourney began to show cracks in its foundation, Prograis had to face the reality that his quest for the Muhammad Ali Trophy was going to come to a premature end. Prograis wasn’t going to let his dream go that easily, though.
“At one point, everybody around was telling me that most likely we’re not gonna fight in the tournament,” Prograis said. “I guess they were having some issues and I told my manager, ‘Look, I want to fight in the tournament.’ That’s my main thing. Of course if they didn’t have the money or whatever, then if I have to pull out, that’s what I would have to do. But my whole thing it that I want to fight in the tournament. I stuck with it, I stood my ground and now it’s happening.”
If Prograis beats Relikh, he will take the WBA title. Then there’s only three belts left for the Louisianan. That’s where it gets interesting, like it usually does in boxing. Prograis could have made a run for Ivan Baranchyk’s IBF belt, but as of earlier this month, Baranchyk was out of the tournament and a semifinal bout against Josh Taylor. That situation could change, leaving the other half of the 140-pound bracket in question. As for the other champions, there’s WBC titlist Jose Ramirez and WBO titlist Maurice Hooker. And Prograis wants all of them. But his reasoning for entering the WBSS tourney was to pick up two of them immediately.
“For me, it’s not just about the money; it’s about legacy and the belt,” he said. “I knew that if I would have went somewhere else, I probably would have got the same money, but I would have fought somebody different and I wouldn’t have fought for the belt. If I went the ESPN route, they’d probably try to feed me three or four fighters before I could get to Jose Ramirez. And three or four fights might be another year. The same thing on the other side. If I would have went with DAZN and the Maurice Hooker way, they wouldn’t give him to me first. My next fight is for an official title, so I stood my ground and now it’s happening. I really want to fight for the belt and I really want to be considered a world champion. That’s why I stuck with it.”
Prograis also paid attention to Oleksandr Usyk’s run through the WBSS cruiserweight tournament, one that didn’t just get Usyk all the belts, but earned him several Fighter of the Year awards and notoriety he didn’t have when the tourney started.
“Exactly,” said Prograis. “Just looking at him (Usyk), he was basically unknown before the tournament, and now he’s pound-for-pound and he got all the belts. This thing just blows your career up. Of course, it is higher risk, but there’s definitely a bigger reward. I like tournament-style, it is the best people fighting the best, and that’s what I like about it. So after Usyk did that, I was at the finals in Moscow, and just seeing how he did that, of course I want to follow in those footsteps.”
He also knows that even though Ramirez and Hooker aren’t WBSS participants, if he can leave with two belts, those other two fights are a lot easier to make. And then the Prograis plan for world domination will have hit its mark.
“I don’t have a major belt yet,” he said. “I have the WBC diamond championship at super lightweight, but I want an official title, so this next fight’s for the WBA and my whole thing is to pick up all the belts and I won’t be able to pick up all the belts if I don’t fight anybody for them. I want to be champion. Undisputed. The money, you’ll spend that, but you’ll be a world champion forever.”
All he wants is an opportunity. Or he’ll make his own. Duran-style.
“I want to be at the top of the mountain and I want to stay there,” Prograis said. “Right now, there are people saying it, but I really want to be able to prove that. You’ve got a lot of good champions right now, but I want to be known as the best. Basically, they’re all good, but I’m top of the top and I feel that if I take over the division like I want to take over at 140, I can be on the pound-for-pound list, and that’s definitely what I’m going for.”