REGIS PROGRAIS, the WBA super-lightweight world champion, is wearing a pair of fur-lined slippers with a golden buckle across the front. “Oh, you like these?” He asks, reclining in his seat and momentarily resting his £615 footwear onto the table in front of him. “These the Guccis.”
But it’s a tongue-in-cheek gesture from the 30-year-old who swiftly laughs off his overt display of excess. Prograis, in fact, has good reason to place very little importance on material items.
“I was 16 when Katrina hit,” he remembers. “Nothing but a kid.
“We got like eight feet of water in the house, my grandmother had even more. Everything was destroyed, all our possessions taken just like that.
“That taught me not to care too much about material things because they come and go. There are more important things in life.”
Katrina, which raged for one desperate August week in 2005, was the fourth most intense Atlantic Hurricane in history and officially claimed 1,836 lives. The vast majority of those were in Louisiana.
At the time, Prograis was a resident of the state’s largest city, New Orleans, and the Hurricane would make a seismic impact on the teenager’s life. Curiously, however, he claims the catastrophe transformed his circumstances for the better.
“If it wasn’t for Hurricane Katrina, I wouldn’t be where I’m at right now,” explains Prograis, who has ’08-29-05′ – the date it hit – tattooed on his chest.
“I wouldn’t be here right now, world champion, talking to you. I definitely wouldn’t be wearing no Guccis – these are expensive-ass shoes!
“I’m thankful for Hurricane Katrina. Of course it took a lot of lives and destroyed billions of dollars’ worth of property and all that stuff but for me, without Katrina, I wouldn’t be where I’m at right now. I’m one of the few who can say it was a good thing for me.”
Such an outlook becomes easier to understand when you consider the upward trajectory his burgeoning boxing career enjoyed in the aftermath of the storm.
By July 2006, the official population of New Orleans had plummeted by nearly 50 per cent and Prograis, who had only just started taking the sport seriously, was one of the many who left. The youngster, his sister, his grandparents and a cousin, actually departed before it hit but he never expected Katrina to preclude him from ever going home again.
Instead, they set up shop in Houston, initially in a friend’s garage, and that is when young Regis, who had only been boxing seriously for a matter of months, began to blossom.
“I started fighting in the street and then boxing in New Orleans but it wasn’t at the level that I found in Houston,” he adds.
“In New Orleans, I was training with my first coach Harry who basically had a house gym. There were bags in a garage and a ring out back and I was kinda training myself.
“But then when Katrina hit and I left New Orleans, that’s when I went to Houston. The boxing scene in New Orleans was nowhere near as big as the boxing scene I found in Houston. That’s where everything changed.”
The kid settled at the fabled Savannah Boxing Club in the south west of the city and was immediately stunned by the calibre of his new stable mates.
“I’m still just a kid but I’ve got Evander Holyfield working out on the bag next to me,” he says, eyes wide. “This legend in the sport just there hitting the bag. Mike Tyson was always my idol and I’m training with the man who beat him – twice.
“But it wasn’t just Holyfield – me and the Charlo twins kinda grew up together, we were all amateurs together. They started out there, Erislandy Lara, Guillermo Rigondeaux, Juan Diaz at the time was a three-time world champion. All these great fighters were all training in the same gym as me. I’m a kid, I’m an amateur, and I’m seeing all this. That would inspire anyone.
“But with the Holyfield thing – I just know that if I didn’t see him that day, I wouldn’t have the confidence I have now. Training next to someone like that does something to you.
“Only now do I know what I can do, I know that I can beat who they put in front of me and the first spark of that came that day.”
What has transpired to date is a 24-0 (20) professional career which has left him knocking on the door of the pound-for-pound debate. Victory in his next outing, the highly anticipated encounter with Scotland’s IBF champion Josh Taylor, would further propel him toward superstardom.
The clash, which is also the final of the World Boxing Super Series, takes place at the O2 Arena on Saturday at the top of Sky Sports’ latest pay-per-view show. Despite the presence of WBC boss Jose Ramirez at 140lbs, the winner in London could legitimately claim to be the No.1 in the division.
“I believe I’m the best already,” Prograis says. “I’m not one to downplay my opponents and I do rate Taylor as the best at 140 behind myself.
“That’s why I’m loving everything about this tournament, because we’re fighting. If it wasn’t for this tournament, we probably wouldn’t be fighting for another three or four years or something. I think he is high on the list – he’s really good.
“I was aware of him before the tournament, really I’ve been hearing about him for a long time and I rate him highly.
“Plus he has the belt and I want them all, that’s the goal. My goal is undisputed, win all the belts at 140 but will that happen? I don’t know. A lot of people think that probably won’t happen, that’s the boxing politics.
“This fight between me and Josh Taylor is happening because of the tournament style, because it has to happen, but outside the tournament I’m not sure the other fights will be made.”
On Ramirez in particular, he adds: “Hopefully that fight does happen because the goal is to be undisputed then move up to 147lbs but of course I’m not going to wait for nobody. Time waits for no-one so if we can’t get the other champions I’ll move up.
“All I’m interested is are the best fighters, period.”
While it was Holyfield who shaped the early part of Prograis’ boxing life, it was another modern day great who inspired that outlook on his fight selection.
Floyd Mayweather, himself a former super-lightweight world champion, knew the value of a star-studded record and ended his career having beaten more titlists than anybody else.
It was a chance meeting with self-proclaimed TBE which totally altered his approach to boxing.
“Floyd came to New Orleans for all-star weekend one time,” Prograis says. “I was out there too and I hung out with him.
“At the end of the night I was properly introduced to him and the dude we were with told Floyd my record. At the time I was 19-0 with 16 knockouts but all he said back to me was ‘well who did you beat?’
“That was the first thing he said and all he seemed to care about. The record is one thing but really it’s all about ‘who did you beat?’ That’s kind of his mindset and that stuck with me.
“If I’m not mistaken he’s beaten the most world champions in history and he beat everybody for the belt, I don’t think he beat anybody for a vacant belt. That’s the thing he taught me – ‘who did you beat?’
“Of course I wasn’t where I’m at right now and at the time they were just 19 people who I had beaten, that’s all. But for me, now that’s what it’s about – it’s about WHO I beat.
“You need to fight someone credible, with a name, a world champion, undefeated fighter, something like that. That’s what boxing is all about and that’s what I learned from him. It stuck with me.
“That’s what you need to ask people. That’s how you can tell how good you are.”
Having already beaten Terry Flanagan (UD 12) in the WBSS quarter final and then Kiryl Relikh (TKO 6) in the last four, Prograis has so far lived up to his pre-tournament billing as the widespread favourite to win the whole thing.
But fellow undefeated southpaw Taylor, who is 15-0 with 12 quick, represents the biggest test in his seven-and-a-half years as a pro to date. Saturday will also be the first time Prograis has boxed outside of America and he has spent the last fortnight in London to acclimatise.
Nicknamed “Rougarou” after the mythical Louisiana werewolf of the same name, he is a self-professed adrenaline junkie and insists the opportunity to win on away soil will only inspire him when he collides with Taylor.
In fact, compared with his usual past-times, a bit of an unarmed combat in an air-conditioned arena seems pretty tame.
“I like swimming with sharks and I like chasing alligators,” he grins. “Usually only the little ones though.
“I like sky-diving and I’m always riding dirt bikes too, out back. I can get up to 100mph with my shirt off. I love the rush, all of it.
“I guess it’s the adrenaline that I like. I’ll be daring but I’m smart. I won’t wrestle or swim with something that can truly kill me.”
That pursuit of danger might also go some way to explaining Prograis’ long-term plan of cleaning up at welterweight too. Although he is not the biggest at 10 stone, he believes he can carry his strength into one of boxing’s true glamour divisions.
‘I guess it’s the adrenaline that I like. I’ll be daring but I’m smart. I won’t wrestle or swim with something that can truly kill me’
“You know I feel like welterweight has always been probably the best division in boxing history,” he says. “You had people like Ray Leonard and Roberto Duran there at points in their careers, everybody who has been a welterweight means it is a division that will always be special.
“It’s a combination of everything in that weight class; speed, power, finesse, athleticism. Everything. That’s the division I want to be in and I feel like I can make an impact there.
“I know that I’ve got a style that gives anybody trouble, because I have no style. I can do so many different things in the ring and I can change anytime. If something’s not working, I’ll do this. If that’s not working, I’ll do that. And If that’s not working, I got something else for you.”
“That’s why I think I’ll give anybody trouble,” he says, lifting up a foot again. “And that’s why I don’t think there’s anyone who can walk in these shoes.”