Regis Prograis-Devin Haney: The Week That Was

Wednesday, December 6

The hugely promising Andy Cruz on Saturday fights for the second time as a professional, against Jovanni Straffon at the Chase Center in San Francisco, but there is little question that the Cuban is among those largely being overlooked in favour of the main event between Regis Prograis and Devin Haney.

Matchroom, the promoters of Prograis-Haney, made the undercard fighters available to speak to the media on Wednesday, having ensured that Tuesday’s photoshoot surrounding the main-even fighters in one of the most photogenic of all cities remained a private event.

However Cruz – an Olympic gold medallist, a gym mate of the exciting Jarron “Boots” Ennis and a significant figure in the lightweight division that in 2023 is perhaps the finest of all – was interviewed by only a small group of reporters, despite the willingness of those around him, a translator included. Almost inevitably Ebanie Bridges, who fights Miyo Yoshida, attracted greater attention, and it is relevant that there exists a strong undercard – but the only time anything that represented a crowd was present was when Haney and Prograis were ready to speak.

Neither, rather refreshingly, were surrounded by the entourage that at least has come to be associated with Haney, and which also complemented Prograis in June when he defeated Danielito Zorrilla in his home city of New Orleans. Haney, on the occasion of his first fight at 140lbs after his long-term struggles to make the lightweight limit, also looked healthy, and, in his first fight after shoving Vasyl Lomachenko as they weighed in, relaxed.

There have been times ProBox TV has wondered how much attention he pays to his sport outside of the questions about Shakur Stevenson and Gervonta “Tank” Davis that he cannot avoid – there is ultimately little reason he needs to to continue to succeed as he has – so it was perhaps telling that when he attempted to compare himself to other fighters who have also benefitted from moving up in weight his mind suddenly went blank.

“We’ve seen a lot of greats go up in weight classes,” the 25-year-old said. “Have more power; have more strength.

“[Evander] Holyfield. Erm… Give me some names. Who else?”

He added the great Manny Pacquiao and James Toney to that list after their names had been offered. Roy Jones Jr was one prominent figure overlooked, given Haney’s father, trainer and manager Bill has previously leaned on Jones Jr’s expertise. Floyd Mayweather, who Haney appears to have modelled himself on to such an extent that their mannerisms are often identical (Haney regardless has manners and isn’t completely lacking in grace and charm), was potentially another, but one he perhaps deliberately didn’t mention given that, as he moved up in weight, his punching power became less and less of a strength.

Thursday, December 7

At Thursday’s final press conference for Saturday’s WBC super lightweight title fight between Regis Prograis and Devin Haney, ringing in ProBox TV’s ears were the words, on Wednesday, of Prograis’ experienced press officer Bernie Bahrmasel. “They respect each other,” he said of the main-event fighters. “They don’t like each other.” 

On reflection it was inevitable that Prograis and his strength and conditioning coach Evins Tobler, and Haney and his father, trainer and manager Bill, would clash. Not only are Prograis and Haney entering a high-profile, competitive fight, they have been dismissing each other’s claims to the occasion of Saturday’s fight on geographical grounds. Prograis insists that Haney, a long-term resident of Las Vegas but one born in San Francisco, cannot consider himself, when he is at the Chase Center, to be fighting in his “hometown”; Haney simply dismissed the prospect of anyone in the northern Californian city having any interest in seeing the New Orleans-associated Prograis at all.

If he was an active fighter Tobler would be a heavyweight. Bill Haney would not, but he is also every inch the alpha male – and they also both had cause to be protective of their fighters. Between them sat Prograis, the blue collar fighter ProBox TV suspects would be fighting on the streets if he wasn’t a professional prizefighter, and Haney, the groomed-for-greatness boxer who in so many ways has modelled himself on Floyd Mayweather and who on Thursday wore dark sunglasses in a venue with no natural sunlight. If Tobler and Bill Haney are opposite sides of the same coin, Prograis and Devin Haney may as well be from opposite ends of the earth. 

Between the warring parties at the top table sat Eddie Hearn, clearly content at his responsibility of promoting Saturday’s fight close to being done on his behalf. He had earlier described it as the “fight of the year”, and while 2023 is nearing its conclusion, he is also promoting next week’s appealing flyweight contest between Jesse Rodriguez and Sunny Edwards, and perhaps should only – whether he is right or wrong – be allowed to use that line once (it’s almost certain he’s already done so repeatedly in the third and fourth quarters alone).

“Sometimes you’re trying to extract things from people, and then it’s like, when is it going to end?” he said to ProBox TV of the pissing contest he had just sat in the middle of. Said pissing contest had been provoked by the Haneys arriving with numerous posters depicting the Rougarou, the “legendary Louisiana ‘swamp monster’” Prograis has taken his nickname from, as captured on December 9 and taken to New Orleans’ Audubon Zoo, furthering their existing geographical discord.

There was a moment when Hearn attempted to get Prograis to offer a closing statement and Prograis, who has accused him from his role as their co-promoter of favouring Haney, demanded he ask Haney first. There was also an impression from Bill Haney of Hearn’s familiar Essex twang. ProBox TV later heard Bill Haney asked if the posters were his idea, and him essentially confirming they were by laughing out loud. Prograis had previously said that Bill Haney, more than Devin, was the one who indulged in mind games; his reading of his opponents on Saturday had ultimately proved correct.

“The fighters chimed in this time,” Hearn continued. “There was never any moment where I was thinking, ‘This could get nasty’, ‘cause I know Bill, and I know Evins, and deep down, it’s not jokey, but it’s kinda like, ‘We’re gonna talk our shit; you’re gonna talk your shit’. They’ve been around each other in the [fight] hotel. I’ve been in press conferences before where I’ve been concerned about the threat of violence. There’s none of that here. It’s just a case of are they gonna shut up, and at what point do I step in and go, ‘Alright, boys’. Bill gets the need to promote. Evins' just talking.”

When they faced off Haney – who notoriously struggled to make the 135lbs lightweight limit and benefitted from being able to weigh in earlier because of the ceremonial weigh-in organised on the eve of his fight in May with the vastly smaller Vasyl Lomachenko – was, ahead of his first fight at 140lbs, comfortably bigger than Prograis.

“Devin was massive at lightweight, and he’ll definitely struggle to make 140,” said the promoter. “That’s how much cut it was at 135. I do think he’ll be stronger. Will he punch harder? Will he be more robust? Or will he struggle with fighting a bigger guy? I think he could move to 147 quite quickly.

“It’ll be a ceremonial weigh-in [on Friday afternoon]. In the morning they’ll weigh-in at the hotel. I don’t think [earlier, private weigh-ins being healthier for fighters] is necessarily the reason [why]. The weigh-in is more of a commercial event to really sell the show, and the paperwork of the commission – they prepare not to do it with all the TV cameras and the, ‘Stand here, do that’. I feel, for the fighters, it’s so much safer. If you’re weighing in at 9am you’ve got an extra four hours to rehydrate. That’s massive. The British Boxing Board of Control should be doing that as well.

“You can see the doctor in one room, you can weigh in, and everything can be dealt with.”

Friday, December 8

In the UK, where he was born and built his reputation, Eddie Hearn is in so many respects, among followers of boxing, the pantomime villain.

In San Francisco – and it remains unclear whether those preparing to attend Regis Prograis-Devin Haneyare committed to the sport or enjoying the rare occasion for what it is – he is considerably more liked. Given Hearn’s profile in 2023 it may yet be that it was more casual observers of boxing who could be heard, but there was no uncertainty in the, “Eddie Hearn, what’s up?” that was shouted ahead of the weigh-in at the Chase Center on Friday afternoon. “You in the Bay. You in the Bay. We appreciate you, Eddie.” A promoter who perhaps has long wanted to be loved, he smiled in acknowledgement, and the following therefore surprised.

Paco Damian, the promoter of Quilisto Madera, told ProBox TV that he had told Hearn he likely needs to get in the middle of Madera and Amari Jones when they face off after weighing in because of the risk of the temperamental Madera overstepping the mark. When they did come face to face it certainly looked as though his concerns were justified, but Hearn – perhaps for that very reason – wasn’t in the middle, where he could again be the centre of attention.  

The fighters involved in the main event had weighed in earlier on Friday morning, but stood on the scales again on Friday afternoon for promotional purposes. ProBox TV can’t help but wonder if, as the smaller fighter, the earlier weigh-in frustrated Prograis. Haney wearing sunglasses at Thursday’s press conference suggested he may have been struggling to make the 140lbs limit for Saturday’s WBC super lightweight title fight, which potentially means that the additional few hours he had to rehydrate are more of an advantage to the challenger than the champion.

Prograis, regardless, found a positive in the occasion. A brooding street fighter at his core, he relished that so many of those in attendance were so vocal in their support of Haney and therefore in their dislike of him. What followed he and Haney stepping on to the scales was a face off that was one of the most intense and lengthy ProBox TV has witnessed. It told of two fighters full of respect for each other, and also of the blue-collar Prograis’ determination to get under Haney’s skin and demonstrate why, of the two, he is the alpha male. It was also Haney who – eventually – looked away, and while there is little reason to suggest that he is intimidated by Prograis, it was unquestionably Prograis who was feeding off of the energy that existed around their final pre-fight confrontation.

It was – on reflection, perhaps inevitably – none other than Bill Haney who worked his way into the middle of the picture, beating the on-this occasion willing-to-be-involved Hearn. Haney Sr is as capable of hustling as anyone in boxing – he knew what he was doing and anyone watching him who may have remained uncertain also knew the moment he turned to look at one of the cameras from DAZN to check that he was within shot. Not to be completely outdone, the blood-sucking WBC’s Mauricio Sulaiman, still completely lacking in self-awareness, also eventually worked his way into view when the crowd started to thin out. 

“Fuck the Haneys,” Prograis shouted when he took to the microphone immediately afterwards. “Fuck the Haneys. Fuck the Haneys…”. If, as is expected, he loses his title on Saturday night, it won’t be because he has allowed himself to in any way be bullied by the Haneys, who he recognises are favoured by Matchroom and DAZN.

Saturday, December 9

Another public occasion, another love-in for the Haneys.

A big cheer was generated by the 17,000-crowd present at San Francisco’s Chase Center to witness Devin Haney dethrone Regis Prograis as WBC super lightweight champion, which – after he was booed throughout by those in Las Vegas in May when he excelled in outpointing Vasyl Lomachenko but partly on account of those boos was considered a controversial winner – made it natural that they would relish the occasion.

His new promoters and broadcasters Matchroom and DAZN – who were already working with Prograis by the time of Haney-Lomachenko – also demonstrated which of the two fighters they most valued via their marketing material depicting “Haney v Prograis”, and not the reverse, regardless of Prograis’ status as the defending champion.

On the occasion of his first fight at 140lbs, Haney was noticeably bigger than Prograis – a fighter regardless long established at the weight. By its conclusion he was so convincing a winner that his father, trainer and manager Bill was joined by the normally classless Mauricio Sulaiman of the WBC in consoling Prograis’ son Ray.

At their post-fight press conference, where Bill Haney had orchestrated the latest round of cheerleading and dismissed even Terence Crawford’s victory over Errol Spence to promote his son’s claims as “fighter of the year”, he also spoke of other fighters “tarnishing the sport by saying ‘Belts don’t matter’”. Truly, belts rarely do. But more significantly ProBox TV once overheard Bill Haney venting about a Las Vegas-based publication’s pound-for-pound rankings excluding his talented son, suggesting they, too – and rightly – see greater value in reputation, which a deposed champion still respected for his achievements and toughness like Prograis will hopefully share above all else

That much was eventually said about Haney moving to welterweight and fighting in Saudi Arabia was likely scripted by Haney Sr, so aware of the importance of what increasingly has become known as “optics” that he wore a WBO-branded jacket to attend the WBO super lightweight title fight between Josh Taylor and Teofimo Lopez in New York in June. 

Unquestionably scripted by Bill Haney was the question from his endearingly innocent nine-year-old daughter at the same post-fight press conference, where she asked her half-brother – the new champion – whether he had just been involved in a “sparring” session or a fight.

Also present at that same press conference was her grandmother Renee, whose struggles with cancer jeopardised her hopes of attending but evidently didn’t hold her back.