THE instinct to seek out excitement and danger isn’t something that can be switched on and off.
Daredevils and thrill seekers may come alive when the time to perform arrives but although an audience might encourage them to push the boundaries that little bit further, the urge for adrenaline doesn’t peter out when the crowds disappear.
Just as Evel Knievel didn’t prise himself out of his scuffed jumpsuit and cape and slip into his dressing gown and slippers and Harry Houdini didn’t climb out of his water torture cell and sink into his armchair, Regis Prograis doesn’t retreat into the shadows when he hangs up his trademark Rougarou mask. The 31-year-old light-welterweight was born with that same thrill seeking gene.
“When I was a kid I used to build ramps for my bikes and all that s**t, man,” Prograis told Boxing News. “I guess I am an adrenaline junkie but for me it’s just about living life and having fun and that’s exactly what I’m gonna do.
“The way I grew up I didn’t have the money to do all that kind of stuff. Now I have the funds I can do all this fun stuff and live the way I think people should live.”
Prograis has an uncanny ability to find excitement in the most relaxing situations. A lazy summer evening with friends turns into an impromptu alligator hunt. A relaxing day away from the city ends with the Louisianan jumping off his dirt bike to catch snakes and a trip to spend time with his wife’s family in Brazil saw Prograis find a gym and earn his first Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu stripes in a Rio favela.
Not even trading the oppressive heat of Houston for the relaxing sea breeze in Santa Monica has calmed Prograis’ sense of adventure. Training just a few blocks from the Pacific Ocean gave him the chance to discover a new favourite hobby – spear fishing – and the nearby San Bernadino mountains are a perfect destination for weekend ski trips.
“You forgot sky diving. I love that too,” he said. “And a couple of weeks ago I was out there in the sea playing with a wild sea lion. I just like to have fun in life.
“When I was growing up I couldn’t have a fast car or motorbikes. Now I have a super fast Hellcat so I can drive about at [figure removed to protect Prograis’ licence] miles an hour.
“I have the means to do these things now so I’m gonna do what I want and I’m gonna do it with the people that mean the most to me. I always say that if I were to die today I wouldn’t have a single regret. I feel like I’ve already lived the life of two men.”
Prograis and his wife, Raquel, have two children. Three year old Khaleesi and six year old Ray, who already has his own mini Rougarou costume, but even the happy family life began with a giant leap of faith. One day Prograis was punching the clock for another days work as a personal trainer, a few months later he was getting married.
“I was a personal trainer for six years. I used to train Raquel’s uncle and her aunt. Her aunt always used to be telling me, ‘I got these nieces, I got these nieces.’ I got real cool with her aunt and she became a very good friend. I was always going around her house and she told me her nieces were coming to America. The plan the whole time was always to get me hooked up,” Prograis remembered with a laugh. “I was attracted to my wife and we started talking and messing around and then she went back to Brazil.”
“One day, Raquel’s aunt tells me that she wanted to come back to America but that she’d have to live with me. I was like, ‘Let me think about it.’ The next day I decided. ‘Why not? I’ll go for it.’ At the time my wife spoke no English and I spoke no Portuguese. We’d be talking together on a translation app. That’s how we’d communicate. We’d be handing the phone backwards and forwards to each other. Little by little we started learning more and more.
“That’s definitely the biggest risk I’ve taken. I got married to her early too, man. I didn’t tell nobody. I got married and my momma found out like a year later. She was f***ing pissed.
“I was still really poor at the time. I was an amateur and had just come out of the Olympic trials and all my family thought I was gonna be some big thing – it happened eventually – and they were telling me not to marry this girl too soon.
“Me and her struggled for a long time but it just goes to show that if you listen to everybody else and don’t follow your own mind you might end up f***ed up in the future.”
A true daredevil’s entire act is built around the possibility that they may fail. Houdini rarely did and Knievel sometimes didn’t, but their willingness to risk both their health and reputation made them must see attractions and ensured that their most famous exploits are spoken about and emulated to this day. ‘Legacy never dies’ as Prograis is keen on saying.
All boxers take their life into their hands when they duck through the ropes but just as the daredevils who followed in the footsteps of the trailblazers began to practice the perfectly sane but sanitising measures of calculating speeds, distances and safety equipment before risking life and limb the proliferation of world title belts, the cold war between various television networks and the pot of gold available for a successful pay-per-view appearance have given rise to a generation of fighters who do all they can to manage the risks and all but guarantee a safe landing.
Unsurprisingly, it isn’t an attitude Prograis shares. His views are more in line with the old school. Take the risks, face the challenges and the money and acclaim will follow.
“It’s frustrating. I just don’t have that luxury. You have some guys out here who are making millions of dollars from fighting nobodies. For me to make money, I actually have to fight good opponents,” he said. “I guess it is what it is. This is my story and I ain’t gonna complain about it. I’ve gotta do what I’ve gotta do. Sometimes it is a little frustrating that I can’t fight a nobody, I’ve gotta go in with another world champion but that’s how it is.
“It’s been all risk for me. Floyd Mayweather came to New Orleans for All Star weekend. I think it was 2017 or something. I wasn’t really hanging with him, I was with his entourage, but at the end of the night we got to talking. I was 19-0 with 16 knockouts and Floyd was like, ‘Well who have you beat?’
“That stuck with me. You could be 100-0 with 100 knockouts but if you beat 100 bums that doesn’t mean anything. It’s all about ‘Who did you beat?’ Look at my record and for the last couple of years all I’ve been fighting is undefeated fighters and former world champions.”
From fighting for free in his early days to entering the prestigious but dangerous World Boxing Super Series, Prograis has consistently rolled the dice but Mayweather’s intervention encouraged him to up the ante further. The combined record of Prograis’ six opponents since that All Star weekend has been 136-4. During that time he has claimed the WBA world title and taken the scalps of three former champions. Finally, after one of the best fights of 2019, Josh Taylor ended his unbeaten run in the final of the WBSS last October.
Prograis may have had his sense of invincibility punctured for the first time by the defeat but the small matter of self preservation hasn’t entered his mind. When the various options for his comeback appearance were laid out, he chose to put himself immediately back in harms way and take on former WBO champion Maurice Hooker in a high risk clash of former world champions.
“My whole thing is that I’m a fighter. I know what I am. I can box beautifully but in my heart I love to fight. I love to go out and just basically bang it out.
“I feel like I have to not just beat Hooker but destroy him. He’s definitely tougher and sturdier than he looks but I really feel like I should have no problems with him. I just think he’s too slow for me and if I use my attributes then I should have no problem.
“The people want you to take risks. When your name lives forever, that means that you’re legendary and that’s what I want. My training camps are too hard to just be fighting no name people. Boxing is a short life too. Yeah, you could fight no names but then when you stop and think about it, a whole year of your career has gone by when you could have made way more money and proved yourself to the people. I wanna be known by who I beat. It don’t make sense to take easy fights.”
It may be business as usual for Prograis in one way but he will be tailoring his act slightly in another. Even before the coronavirus confined him to quarters, Prograis decided to temporarily swap his fishing spear for a table tennis bat and rides in his Hellcat for sedate shuttles between home, the gym and the store. If the urge for excitement becomes too strong, maybe he can find some action in the toilet roll aisle but for the time being, Prograis’ appetite for excitement will need to be satisfied by the thrill of the fight.
“You know what? I’m a grown man so can’t nobody tell me nothing and I’m gonna do what I wanna do but I told myself that for the fight with Hooker I’m gonna make some sacrifices,” he said. “It’s gonna be real hard for me. I live out here in L.A and the spear fishing is real nice but I’m not gonna be going until the fight is over. That’s just something I’m doing. Last camp I was doing all kinds of stuff but this time I’m just gonna chill out and focus on the fight.
“I might go to the beach and dip my feet in the water but I’m staying off my motorcycle and away from all that fun stuff until I beat Hooker. In fact I can’t just beat him. I really feel like I need to dominate him.”
In May 1975, Knievel perched atop a huge ramp in the rafters of Wembley Stadium with 13 buses stretched out before him. His Harley Davidson landed inches short. Less than five months later – in his very next jump – he was at the top of another ramp. The broken hand he suffered in London healed and gripping the throttle, the pain from the compression fracture of the spine and broken and split pelvis bearable. This time he successfully cleared 14 buses.
Just five months after coming up just short in London himself, Prograis is preparing to jump straight back in with another of the most dangerous operators in his division. The stakes are high and one of boxing’s true daredevils wouldn’t have it any other way.
ON THE TAYLOR LOSS
“You know what? I haven’t ever watched the Taylor fight. I didn’t want to watch it until I was back in fight mode and in training camp. Now I want to watch it I can’t find it. I tried looking for it online but I can’t find the damn thing. I will do though.
“I know I fought him too much. I was hitting him in the body in the first and second rounds and I heard him making noises. I thought ‘OK. I’m hurting this motherf****r already. I’ll definitely get him out of here’ but he was tough. I take my hat off to him. He took my punches. When I felt those gloves and started hitting things in the back I thought I was gonna hurt this boy. I credit him because he took that s**t and smothered me a lot. When I boxed him it was easy for me but I let him hit on me thinking he was gonna get tired in the later rounds and I’d blast him. He faded a little bit but not as much as I thought. He took a beating and he did his thing. I congratulate him for that.”