Back from ‘The Big Easy’
Well, I can cross New Orleans off my bucket list, as this past weekend, I was in “The Big Easy” to cover the ESPN card that featured the homecoming of junior welterweight contender Regis Prograis, who made his return at the Lakefront Arena, the basketball home of the University of New Orleans Privateers aka “The House of Ledell Eackles.”
This was “Rougarou’s” first appearance in Louisiana since 2013, and he was paired off with Juan Jose Velasco, 20-0 (12), who perhaps was a fighter who wasn’t quite as daunting as his record coming in suggested. For Prograis, this was to celebrate his development as a world-class prizefighter and then send him off to the World Boxing Super Series.
Early on Velasco had some success touching Prograis, who, despite being a southpaw with a good set of legs and fluid upper body movement, is someone who does get hit more than expected. However over time, Prograis’ steady pressure and body punching simply wore down the game Argentinean, who hit the deck in rounds five, seven and eight before the fight was mercifully waved off.
As he moves into the WBSS, he’ll be facing the best competition of his career and it will be intriguing to see how he approaches these fights. Will Prograis, 22-0 (19), make a concerted effort to be more elusive and box like the traditional southpaw stylist or will he continue to trust his chin? But whomever faces him had better be willing to weather the storm because Prograis is a relentless guy, once he gets going. You might be able to out-hustle him early on in fights but can you hold him off for 36 minutes?
He’s witnessed more hurricanes than the Weather Channel.
But he is philosophical about this, telling me back in June, during his stint at Wild Card West, “It was definitely hard on our family but, as far as me, I wouldn’t be where I’m at right now. I wouldn’t be talking to you right now if it weren’t for Hurricane Katrina. I already know that because the boxing in New Orleans, it just isn’t like Houston, like Texas.
“So for me, it was like a blessing that Hurricane Katrina hit and I know a lot of other people; it was a blessing that Hurricane Katrina hit because they changed their life. So that’s what happened for me too.”
While Prograis resides and trains and Houston, N’awlins is where his heart is.
“Home is always New Orleans; Houston is somewhere I live,” he stated. “I always stayed in Houston because of boxing. Everybody went back (to New Orleans); there was one point in time I was the only one (in Houston). My sister went back; she moved back and forth from Houston to New Orleans but after I graduated from high school, my momma stayed for like another two years and she moved back and she never came back. My grandma and them, they all stayed back. My dad lives in Baton Rouge; everybody moved back to New Orleans. All my friends lived there.
“I stayed in Houston strictly for the boxing. I felt like I have to be in a good gym. I have to be around good fighters. To be better you have to be around good fighters. So that’s the main reason I stayed in Houston: It’s for boxing – but home is always New Orleans.”
In the weeks leading up to this event – which was handled by DiBella Entertainment and Top Rank – Prograis got plenty of coverage locally from all the local networks, and the two big papers in town, the Advocate and the Times/Picayune. No, it wasn’t treated like, say, an LSU-Florida game in Death Valley in the fall but it did get consistent coverage. There was a time when this city hosted big-time boxing featuring Muhammad Ali (in his rematch versus Leon Spinks) and the “No Mas” fight between Sugar Ray Leonard and Roberto Duran. It’s been awhile since New Orleans had what could be described as a “major” fight that was nationally televised but this event was more about re-introducing Prograis to the local masses.
An announced crowd of just 3,612 was packed into the cozy basketball venue that was configured to have about half of it utilized for this event. LSU legends Tyrann Mathieu, Leonard Fournette (who actually walked Prograis into the ring) and Anthony “Booger” McFarland (who actually sat right in front of me) were all ringside. The audience seemed to enjoy themselves on this night. While Manny Pacquiao was performing in Malaysia, for the Cajuns, this was the show to attend.
Similar to Alex Saucedo in Oklahoma City, a couple of weeks ago, you get the sense that this is just the beginning. It will be up to Lou DiBella to continue to cultivate this market and, for Prograis, 2018 is the year in which he has a chance to ascend to elite status.
“I hope so. I’m going to do my thing,” he stated. “It’s all about the opponents who I fight and who can step up and of course I want to fight credible opponents. I don’t do it to fight nobodies – I want to fight somebody good. You don’t get the respect until you fight the undefeated, good fighters and stuff like that.”
Prograis will get his chance in the World Boxing Super Series and most pundits believe he and the highly regarded Josh Taylor from the U.K. will be the last men standing, although Ivan Baranchyk and WBA beltholder Kiryl Rilikh may have some objections to that.
“Hopefully everything goes right,” says Prograis. “Get the right people; get the right opponents and, yeah, hopefully this year is the big year.”
This past weekend was his homecoming game; now he goes into the conference schedule.
– OK, for years, I heard this city had the best food. And after gorging myself from Thursday evening to Sunday morning, with various people in boxing and Jim “KO Tickets” Boone, “Big Sam” and “Brad from Jax,” I can’t disagree.
Seriously I may have put on five pounds (and good thing I worked out twice – yes, twice!) during my stay. Yes, I had the requisite bowl of gumbo and then blackened shrimp, at New Orleans Food and Spirits before the weigh-in (yeah, the irony of that).
The night before, I actually sampled some gator dish as the appetizer.
Before we took off for the fights, Big Sam took me to R&Os, where I absolutely stuffed myself with an Italian salad and a po’ boy. (Come on, how was I not going to get one, while in Louisiana?) Between all that, we went to Deuce McAllister’s place and watched the ESPN broadcast on Friday night, where I consumed everything in sight, including a pork chop dish.
I must say, literally every meal I had here was good. The word is basically the standards are so high in this city, with food, that mediocre eateries have no shot at surviving for long.
And yeah, I had a couple of famous Hurricanes while watching the Manny Pacquiao-Lucas Matthysse fight at Jim’s hotel, and those things hit you like a Category 5, after a half-hour.
– I was advised two things by my friends who had visited this city: Don’t wear your sandals if you go out on Bourbon St. and keep your wallet tightly secured in the front pocket. So with that, I bought a pair of Adidases the previous week and watched every single step, as if I were on a field with landmines. Hey, I didn’t want to ruin my shoes in one trip and, I have to say, they came out relatively unscathed, for the most part. Also I returned with my wallet safely intact.
Big Sam, who lives in nearby Metairie (where the fight hotel was situated) told me, to the locals, Bourbon St. is severely overrated and a bit of an embarrassment. Our group walked around there for about an hour and it was filled with humanity and certain areas had a distinct odor. It must be an absolute scene for Mardi Gras.
Sam, who once pitched and punted for Tulane, tells me the outskirts of the French Quarter are where all the really good stuff is. As he picked me up from the hotel, he decided to get his pistol back at home, as protection in the later hours. Hey, he knows this place better than I do.
– So yeah, if you can make a visit out here, this city gets the Kimster Seal of Approval but it would be helpful if you knew someone from this area to show you around.
The “Pac-Man” certainly looked good on Saturday night but one must wonder how much of a mirage that is, considering “The Machine” looked well past its warranty…Yes, I’ll have more later this week on Teofimo Lopez, who looked spectacular, in New Orleans, as the opener on ESPN…Egis Klimas (who manages WBC/WBO cruiserweight tilist Oleksandr Usyk) is on his way to Russia, so all systems are go for the World Boxing Super Series cruiserweight finals between Usyk and IBF/WBA beltholder Murat Gassiev, on Saturday, from Moscow…Yes, I’ll be working out the whole week because of my gluttonous ways in NOLA…I can be reached at email@example.com and I tweet (a lot) at twitter.com/steveucnlive. I also share photos of stuff at instagram.com/steveucnlive and can also be found at tsu.co/steveucnlive.