VERONA, N.Y. – When Regis Prograis was 16 years old, he and his family fled New Orleans the day before Hurricane Katrina. The greatest natural disaster ever to hit the United States mainland, Katrina struck their hometown on Aug. 29, 2005, turning much of the below-sea-level city into a fetid swamp and international symbol of despair.
Nearly 12 years have passed since Katrina wrought almost unimaginable damage, some evidence of which is still visible in the hardest-hit neighborhoods, like New Orleans East, where the Prograis family resided. But while other relatives eventually made their way back to the Big Easy, Regis, now 28, opted to remain in Houston, the better to hone the boxing skills he believes will someday enable him to return to the city of his birth as a conquering hero.
If his performance here Friday night at the Turning Stone Resort Casino is any indication, Prograis has become a hurricane instead of a former victim of one. In obliterating the formerly undefeated Joel Diaz Jr. (23-1, 19 KOs) in the main event televised via ShoBox: The Next Generation, Prograis (20-0, 17 KOs), did so much more than defend his fringe NABF super lightweight championship. He made a loud and unmistakable announcement that he is ready to step up to elite status in the division, higher ground now held by such high-profile fighters as Terence Crawford, Adrien Broner and Viktor Postol.
In registering his 13th stoppage in his last 14 bouts, Prograis, a southpaw with major power in his left hand, floored Diaz four times in the second round, obliging referee Mark Nelson to step in and wave off the onslaught after an elapsed time of 2 minutes, 55 seconds. And so what if the first knockdown was more the result of Prograis stepping on Diaz’s foot than from a punch? The other three were not only legitimate, but enough to make a much-acclaimed former world champion sit up and take notice.
Sergio Martinez (the onetime WBC middleweight titlist) said, “In some ways, he reminds me of me.” Lou DiBella, who promoted Martinez and now has Prograis, noted in the winner’s dressing room, “It’s a valid observation. There are certain abilities, athletic abilities, that very few fighters have. Roy Jones had them, Sergio Martinez had them. This kid has them, too. I’m not saying he’s at that level yet. He has to prove himself. But there are things he does that you are not taught to do. His angles are weird, his movements very agile, and his reflexes and unbelievably powerful but compact punches are God-given.”
Prograis’ early professional career included the sort of blowouts one might expect of a fighter taking a few baby steps as he learned his trade. Among his victims were Aaron Anderson, whom he beat twice and is now 3-47; David Green, now 2-21-1, and Malteze Logan, now 26-70-2. But as he progressed he also dispatched Amos Cowart (11-0-1 with nine KOs at the time he faced Prograis) and Abel Ramos (14-0-2 with nine KOs). To that list you can now add the name of Diaz, who, with seven knockouts in a row coming in, had hoped to make a statement of his own in a fight some had considered to be a tossup.
“This guy was 23-0, a big puncher, tough,” Prograis said. “But I ran through him, just like I’ve been running through everybody else. I’ve been destroying everybody they put in front of me.”
It won’t be so easy to run through or destroy the elite fighters in the 140-pound weight class, but Prograis figures he’s as ready as he needs to be. “I feel like this is my real graduation fight,” he said.
Interestingly, ring announcer Jimmy Lennon Jr. made a point of stating that Prograis is from New Orleans, but now fighting out of Houston. So to which city does he most consider himself to be a part of?
“It’s like a gumbo, all merged together,” he said, a wide smile on his face. “I’m New Orleans and Houston.”
In the two other ShoBox-televised fights, super middleweight Steve Rolls (16-0, 9 KOs), from Toronto, scored an eight-round split decision over Demond Wilson (17-2-1, 16 KOs), the margin of victory likely owing to the first-round knockdown scored by Rolls, and lightweight Jon Fernandez (13-0, 11 KOs), of Spain, kayoed Juan Reyes (14-4-3, 2 KOs) with a chopping right hand to the temple that put Reyes down and out for several minutes.
Super welterweight Charles Conwell (3-0, 3 KOs), a 2016 U.S. Olympian from Cleveland, made short work of Jeffrey Wright (4-7-1, 4 KOs), of Libertyville, Ill., in registered a second-round stoppage, and Spanish welterweight Kerman Lejarraga (22-0, 18 KOs) also needed just two rounds to score a TKO of Jose Abreu (13-2, 8 KOs), of San Juan, Puerto Rico.
Photo credit: Tom Casino/SHOWTIME
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