Legend of the Rougarou: Regis Prograis interview
Regis Prograis has one of the more exotic nicknames in boxing, taken from a mythical creature that struck fear into the hearts of Louisiana natives. John Evans talks to the man whose fists are striking fear in the 140lbs division...
It is a frightening prospect. A fast and agile figure with bone-breaking power emerging from the swamplands in search of human prey. For centuries, tales of the shape-shifting, wolf-like Rougarou have terrified children and fascinated legend hunters but remained the stuff of Louisianan folklore. Until now.
Regis Prograis adopted the Rougarou moniker as a young professional, partly out of his love for all things New Orleans and partly due to the way he morphs into a relentless predator in the ring. The most recent sighting of Prograis came in March when former IBF champion Julius Indongo became the latest in a long line of junior welterweights to have their dreams haunted by the modern incarnation of the creature. Over the course of 21 fights, unbeaten Prograis has finished 18 opponents early.
“It’s just a name that jumped out at me. I think I was unbeaten in about three or four fights at the time and my manager was trying to pick out nicknames,” Prograis, 29, told Boxing Monthly. “We were going back and forth on nicknames and I think it was my daddy that said: ‘How about The Rougarou?’. After he said it, we all just said that that was the one, and it’s stuck. It’s the perfect name for me. It’s definitely the perfect name.”
This particular Rougarou is thriving despite being removed from his natural habitat. Prograis and his family were amongst the thousands of New Orleanians who had their lives altered forever by the devastation wreaked by Hurricane Katrina in August 2005, when over 1,500 Louisianan lives were lost and millions more were turned upside down by the disaster.
Prograis and his family joined the masses who packed up everything they could carry and left town before the storm could make landfall. When the levees broke, the Prograis family were in safe if unfamiliar surroundings, in Texas. But as they sat in front of the television and watched much of what remained of their beloved city disappear under the swell of floodwater, the future was uncertain.
“We left New Orleans a day before Hurricane Katrina hit,” Prograis said. “Everybody was trying to get away. I forget what day of the week it was but we left and we went to Houston. We lost everything. My house had six to eight feet of water in it and my brother’s house had 13 feet of water, so my family pretty much lost everything we owned.
“We managed to save some pictures and photos but we lost pretty much everything else. I think my grandma lost everything. She had 13 feet of water in her house. I saved some photographs and a few clothes but almost everything else was gone. Our house got knocked down and right now there’s just a piece of land there. Everything just disappeared.
“We didn’t lose any members of our family. I left [New Orleans] with my grandma, my grandpa and my cousin. My mom stayed behind at the time because she was working in the French Quarter but she was OK. As far as everybody else, everybody was good. Only material things were lost.”
By American standards, the 350-mile journey they made along the Gulf Coast from New Orleans to Houston is a short hop but in terms of attitude, style, and history the two cities are poles apart.
Torn from the laissez faire and atmospheric French Quarter and transplanted into the urban sprawl of southeast Texas, Prograis made himself at home in the boxing gym. He and his young family are now happily settled. But for a Louisianan, the St. Charles Avenue streetcar and Mississippi riverfront will always hold a bigger place in the heart than the wide freeways and car-driven culture of Houston. A tattoo of the New Orleans skyline adorns Prograis’ chest and the “The Big Easy” remains a big part of his life.
“Honestly, man, I didn’t like Houston at first,” he remembers. “I didn’t wanna come to Houston at all. The cities are way different. But right now, as far as my boxing career, Houston is the perfect place. I can focus myself here and I can concentrate on what I’m doing.
“In New Orleans, I don’t think I’d be able to do that. In New Orleans, the culture is so different. It’s so much fun and there’s always something to do. All of my close friends and my family live there. There’s just too much. Like I say, when I moved here, I didn’t like it. I was too used to New Orleans. It’s way, way different.
“I’ve been here for 12 years now. I went to five different high schools but I finished high school and I made a lot of friends. I kind of adapted on the go. I feel like when you’re young and you’re in school and being busy, that’s how you adapt. Then I found a boxing gym. That’s what I really wanted anyway. When I saw how good the boxing gym was, I made a lot of friends at the gym and adjusted from there.
“The thing is that I always wanted to box. I always wanted to be a fighter. Hurricane Katrina was a blessing for me. I knew that I wanted to fight and I feel that if I would have stayed in New Orleans I wouldn’t be where I’m at now. I’m here because of Houston, because of Hurricane Katrina. It wasn’t easy, but it was a good thing. Houston was the hotbed of boxing for me and I could focus and do everything that I needed to do.
“New Orleans is home. You miss the culture. New Orleans isn’t just one thing. It’s lots. There’s always stuff to do. It’s a fun city and a lot of people go there as tourists and to have a lot of fun, but for me it’s home. That’s the main thing I miss. That’s where my heart is. Houston just isn’t as fun. The people are way different, the culture is different. Everything is different.
“I’m pretty sure I will move back when I retire. That’s probably my plan. A nice house on Bourbon Street right in the middle of the French Quarter and retire back home to New Orleans.”
New Orleans’ proximity to the Gulf of Mexico and its role as a gateway to America for Europeans and Africans resulted in an intoxicating mixture of food, language and music. The unique atmosphere generated by the blend of different cultures and ideas is one of the aspects of New Orleans life that makes the city so stimulating.
True to his heritage, Prograis’ fighting style combines a little of this and a little of that. Much like his city, at first glance Prograis’ boxing technique appears rowdy, riotous and exciting. Look past the highlight reels and spend a little time examining him and the subtleties that may just make him special begin to emerge. Since stepping up in class, the southpaw has blown right through Indongo and the previously unbeaten Joel Diaz Jr, who were both stopped in two rounds.
“My style is a mix-up of a lot of different things,” he said. “I just did a DNA test and I’m mixed up with like 15 different things and that’s just how my style is. My style is a mixture of everything, it’s almost like a gumbo type of style.
“I feel like I’m there, man. I feel like I’m almost there. I’ve been dreaming of this moment for a long time. I wanna do more than win a world title. I want everything. I want way more belts, I want way more everything. I want as many belts as I can get and I want to be rated pound-for-pound. All the fighters I looked up to had that. So that’s what I want, too.”
The junior welterweight division is becoming a fertile hunting ground for Prograis. A fight with Juan Jose Velasco is set to take place next week and should he win then he will move into the World Boxing Super Series' 140lbs tournament, alongside the likes of Scotland's Josh Taylor, Sweden's Anthony Yigit and Russia's Eduard Troyanovsky.
Prograis has his eyes firmly set on creating a legend of his own and ensuring that when people in his home state tell stories about the Rougarou in the future, they are talking about Regis Prograis.
“Since the fight with Indongo, I’ve just been relaxing with the kids,” he said (speaking before the announcement that he had joined the WBSS). “It’s the same old. Ain’t really anything changed. Same old, same old — but everything is good. I definitely have to get my name out there, though. I went to Mikey Garcia’s fight with Sergey Lipinets recently and I was at the fight between Jose Ramirez and Amir Imam.
“I’m looking for everybody. I know Josh Taylor is a good fighter and I know that me and him will have a big fight in the future, but I think that the two best fighters in the division are Regis Prograis and Mikey Garcia [NB. Garcia has since moved back to lightweight, and will face Robert Easter Jr later this month]. I don’t think nobody can top us. In the next 18 months, I think that will be one of the biggest fights in boxing.
“Mikey showed a lot of chin against Lipinets. He took Lipinets’ best shots and although he’s a little smaller, I think he’s a 140lbs fighter.
“Taylor is in the WBC rankings and I think that when I win the full WBC title I’ll defend it against him one day. Terry Flanagan is going to fight Maurice Hooker, so if he wins the WBO belt I might end up fighting him soonest because he’ll be a champion. I want the name recognition and I want all of the belts. I still wanna fight Adrien Broner. I still wanna fight Viktor Postol. I want these fights and then Garcia.”
“Laissez les bons temps rouler!” as Louisiana French speakers like to say. Let the good times roll.