Regis Prograis fights under weight of New Orleans' proud history

Regis Prograis is relishing the prospect of furthering New Orleans' decorated boxing history when on Saturday he defends his WBC super lightweight title against Danielito Zorrilla.

The 34 year old is fighting in his home city for the first time in five years, since his victory over Terry Flanagan, and for the first time ever fighting in The Big Easy for a world title.

It is at the Smoothie King Center, in the shadow of the Superdome, that Prograis and Zorrilla will fight. They will also do so on the occasion of the first world-title fight in the city since September 2000 when the great Roy Jones Jr defeated Eric Harding for the IBF, WBA and WBC light-heavyweight titles. 

Willie Pastrano was Prograis’ predecessor as the last world champion from New Orleans. Since Pastrano’s peak, at the Superdome in 1978 Muhammad Ali’s last ever victory in his rematch with Leon Spinks was recorded and in 1980 “Sugar” Ray Leonard avenged his defeat by Roberto Duran. Since then, the city widely recognised as having hosted the start of the modern era of boxing has regardless largely and consistently been overlooked.

It was in 1870 when Jem Mace fought Tom Allen in New Orleans in what was considered the first heavyweight prize fight, and 1892 when John L Sullivan fought “Gentleman” Jim Corbett, also at heavyweight, in the fight seen as the start of a new era. Prograis’ new promoters Matchroom hope to stage another fight with him at the same venue later this year, potentially against Jack Catterall, and it is that same sense of history that weighs on the champion’s mind.

“This one’s so special because I’m the first world champion since Willie Pastrano in 1964,” he said. “I’m the only two-time world champion from here. Obviously they had a lot of big fights, but from a fighter that was from here, was Willie Pastrano. 

“Roy Jones was the last big fight that was here, but Roy’s from [Pensacola] Florida, he’s not from here. So, for me to be fighting here, is crazy. This is history, I am the only fighter from New Orleans in history to be a two-time world champion. So, yeah, I’m in the history books.

“All my people always tell me, ‘Bring it back here; bring it back to New Orleans’. All my people always tell me that. We gotta have a big fight in New Orleans, and I wanna put the spotlight on New Orleans. New Orleans was a big fight town back in the day, and now it kinda faded away, but now I’m the person to bring it back. I did it back in 2018 – we had a big fight here – and now this is even bigger. So I’m just glad to be the one to be able to do that stuff.”

Puerto Rico’s Zorrilla, at 29 five years Prograis’ junior, replaced Prograis’ previous challenger, Liam Paro of Australia, at a month’s notice, and interrupted a family holiday in Boston to be ready for Saturday night in New Orleans.

“I don’t have to be told [about the city’s boxing history],” Prograis continued. “I’m a boxing historian; I watched all the fights. I’m cool with Roy Jones; I’m cool with Duran, he fought here. The first heavyweight championship fight ever was here – it was in New Orleans. So, boxing kinda started here. It was like here, and then it went to New York and stuff like that. So, for me to be bringing this here, it’s really special, and it’s historical.

“I grew up fighting on the street here. I started kinda reading and studying when I was probably like 22. That’s when I started learning about all the history and stuff. I’m a boxing-head, first off, not just New Orleans boxing, I just love the sport of boxing all together. 

“So, it don’t matter the cities, the countries, where they’re from. I just like good fights no matter what. Obviously, to find out all these fighters came to fight here from different places, I like doing that too.”