SANTA MONICA, L.A. – Homeward bound to Houston, Texas, for the remainder of training camp, Regis “Rougarou” Prograis spent the final days of his routine start in California to discuss his April 27 bout with WBA junior welterweight titleholder Kiryl Relikh – a fight the 30-year-old contender is certainly grateful to have.
“Mentally, this is the biggest fight of my career,” Prograis told The Ring Thursday afternoon at the Churchill Boxing Gym. “This is the biggest fight of my career because it’s for an official title. After this fight I’m going to be an official world champion so I just feel that nothing is gonna stop me from getting this belt.”
Set for The Cajun Dome in Lafayette, Louisiana, and streamed live on DAZN, the contest is the semi-final of the World Boxing Super Series junior welterweight tournament. Last October, Prograis (23-0, 19 KOs) outboxed Terry Flanagan to a dominant unanimous decision win in the first-round of the eight-man single-elimination tourney.
“It was the most relaxed fight I had ever been in,” Prograis recalled. “It was the funniest fight I had ever been in. I went out there and boxed 12 rounds. In the eighth round – that’s when I dropped him and that’s when I hurt him – I felt like I could’ve got him out of there. Sometimes I just love to fight, I love to brawl, but I wanted to go out there and box and show that I don’t have to get hit if I don’t want to. I can go out there and box the whole 12 rounds, and I still felt like I could do another six or seven rounds if I needed to. I wasn’t gassed at all. It was my pace. I set the tone the whole time, and it was a real fun fight.”
A few weeks earlier, Relikh (23-2, 19 KOs) defeated Eduard Troyanovsky by unanimous decision in what was his first defense of the WBA belt he won from Rances Barthelemy.
“To be honest, nothing,” said Prograis when asked what he thought about the come-forward style of Relikh. “It’s like I say about all my opponents, I don’t study anybody. I let my coach Bobby (Benton) do all that. He does the studying and all that type of stuff. I just go in and spar and do what he tells me to do.
“I can change. I can do whatever. If I feel like I need to box him, then I’ll do that. If I feel I need to fight him, I can do that. If I feel I need to walk him down, then I can do that. I can do so many different things in the ring, and it all really depends on what I want to do that day.”
Bettering his chances at landing a world title shot was one of the main factors in Prograis joining the WBSS last year, however, rumors of the tournament being in jeopardy were not exaggerated.
“I never wanted to pull out,” Prograis stated. “I wanted it to go through because, no matter what, I felt like I wouldn’t fight for the belt next. I got offers from other places; I got seven-figure deals on the table, but would I get that shot at the belt next? Probably not.
“If I went to ESPN, I’d probably get (WBC titleholder Jose) Ramirez, but most likely they would try to run me around and get me two fights before I fight him. Or if I go to DAZN with (WBO titleholder Maurice) Hooker, it’s the same thing. Anything can happen in two fights; that might be a whole year. That’s why I wanted to stay in this tournament because my next fight is for an official belt. Of course, if it did fall apart, then I would have no choice.”
It’s on the other side of the WBSS junior welterweight bracket that things are still murky. Josh Taylor is scheduled to face IBF junior welterweight titleholder Ivan Baranchyk on May 18, but the latter’s manager remains adamant his fighter has pulled out of the tournament. Prograis, the tournament’s No.1 seed, doesn’t have that problem, but if Baranchyk is to exit, the WBSS winner will not be unified champion and that hinders Prograis’ overall goal.
“For me, it’s the belts,” Prograis explained. “I want to do the same thing (Terence) Crawford did. He took all four belts and, to be honest, I think that if I do get all four belts at 140, it’s gonna be better than when Crawford did it. If you look at the competition he fought to get the belts, it won’t be the competition I’m fighting. You still got Ramirez, Hooker, Baranchyk and Relikh. I feel like this batch of 140 with the belts is a better batch than when Terence Crawford took all the belts. That’s my whole goal – to take all the belts at 140. But, of course, if I get a big offer at 147, then, after I get a few belts at 140, I go up to 147.”
Moving up to welterweight is inevitable, but there is other business to take care of for the New Orleans southpaw. According to manager Sam Katkovski, Prograis will be a network/platform free agent after the tournament concludes. Winning the Muhammad Ali trophy only bolsters his position at the negotiating table ahead of an eventual leap into arguably the most talent-rich division in boxing. With the current three-headed political divide in the sport, a fresh, viable face could make way for competing offers to Prograis regardless of what weight class he’s in.
“I think it’s a real good platform for boxers because it’s the best fighting the best,” Prograis said of the tournament format. “You can’t run around or hide behind managers and promoters – it’s just like, you have to do it. It’s the best fighting the best in a tournament style and that’s why I wanted to stay in.
“Me and Relikh are two top-5 people and we fighting each other. You look at Hooker, who has he fought? You look at Ramirez, who is he fighting? For me, it’s the best fighting the best. It’s all about the legacy. I feel like some people look at me as the best at 140 because of the competition. I fought two former world champions (Julius Indongo and Flanagan). One of them unified (Indongo) and I stopped him in two rounds. Flanagan is a former world champion and I just dominated him. Maurice Hooker, he fought Flanagan and it was a struggle, but I dominated.”
Ramirez, who’s with Top Rank and fights on ESPN, declined to join the WBSS last summer, while Hooker revoked his initial agreement to join before signing with Matchroom Boxing on DAZN. There was a point in time when this iteration of the WBSS was shaping up to unify three of the four world titles in the junior welterweight class. Now, it could conceivably come down to just one, although it’s very likely the vacant Ring title will be at stake in the final. That being the case, there is still plenty on the line for Prograis heading into the Relikh bout.
“I don’t want to be a world champion and just fighting nobodies,” Prograis declared. “I want to fight world champions, former world champions and undefeated fighters.”
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