Regis Prograis: the pugilist with passion for books hoping Dubai paves way to world title
American, who has one defeat in 27 pro bouts, takes on Ireland’s Tyrone McKenna in WBC title eliminator at Probellum Evolution on Saturday
Regis Prograis is not your typical boxer.
For a start, he is a former world champion, previously bearer of the WBA super-lightweight belt, and sits currently as Ring Magazine’s No 1-ranked contender at 140lbs.
Of his 27 professional fights to date, Prograis has lost only one, a debatable decision defeat to reigning undisputed champion Josh Taylor two-and-a-half years ago. Twenty-two of Prograis’ 26 victories have come by knockout.
From New Orleans, the American and his family survived Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the disaster prompting a move to Houston, Texas, and the burgeoning of his stellar boxing career.
Not long afterwards, Prograis’ other passion took hold. He is a fervent reader, which sustains to this day, even if his young family – he is father to three children – and his professional ambitions take priority.
“I just like to learn,” Prograis says enthusiastically.
At present, he is 400-odd pages through The Dead Are Rising: The Life of Malcolm X, using the hefty tome last week to help pass the 16-hour flight from Los Angeles to Dubai, where on Saturday he continues his quest to become a two-time world champion.
Prograis, 33, faces Ireland’s Tyrone McKenna in the co-main event on the second of two Probellum shows this weekend at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Stadium.
Understandably, there has been little time of late to crack open his book. Prograis doesn’t usually when in “fight mode” anyway, although as he prepared for the clash with Taylor in October 2019 that pitted two unbeaten prizefighters against one another, to stave off boredom in London, he blitzed through three books in two weeks.
Back home, he says his shelves creak under the weight of his ever-expanding collection. His appetite for reading has become so well-known, in fact, that Prograis hardly needs to buy books any more. People send them for free.
So, as he wraps his latest early afternoon sparring session in a gym in Al Quoz, the conversation turns from McKenna and Dubai and chasing titles to his other preoccupation.
“Not going to lie, I hated school,” Prograis tells The National. “I started reading when I was about 19 or 20 years old. And it just took off. I used to read six, seven hours a day; now it’s less because I’ve kids and stuff.
“What happened was, I read a magazine [article] about an Olympic skier who said they replaced TV with a book. Just calculate about how many hours you watch TV – now it’s the phone – but he was watching TV five, six hours a day. That’s lot of time wasted over a week.
“He replaced that with books and he dramatically improved. So I did the same thing: I turned off the TV and just read. I have hundreds of books on our bookshelves, read all of them.”
Prograis began reading up on personal training, since at the time he was employed in that field, then graduated to boxing and also to finance, now that he has a keen interest in investment. He reckons he’s read “almost every fighter that has an autobiography” – books on Mike Tyson and Muhammad Ali rank among his favourites – gleaning whatever he could to make him a more complete boxer.If running while wearing old-school boots was good enough for Joe Louis, or jogging with weights in hand for Joe Frazier, then it’s good for Prograis, too.
There’s the mental side of it, as well, taking inspiration from how others came up in the game, how they escaped destitution or death, or whichever struggle they circumvented to succeed. It can all benefit.
“I read another thing,” Prograis says. “A book, they say, is about six years’ work for that author. So if you can get six years’ of knowledge of your life, six years of research, and do it in however long it takes to read a book – two or three weeks – why wouldn’t you do it? It doesn’t make sense. That’s why I do it.”
Prograis is firmly in fight mode now, though, as Saturday’s encounter with McKenna marks another climb back towards the top. Prograis rebounded impressively from the Taylor anguish – he lost an epic contest to the Scot 117-12, 115-13, 114-114 – with successive, punishing knockouts against his past two opponents.
“I’m not going to lie, I never even thought … when I said I couldn’t get beat, I felt I couldn’t even come close to getting beat,” Prograis says. “So I took a loss. I still think I won the fight, but at the same time, he won the fight. That was Josh Taylor’s night.”Perhaps more than most, Prograis can relate to Jack Catterall, the previously undefeated Englishman who last month lost a hugely contentious decision to Taylor in Glasgow. The fallout has been frenzied and forensic, with some controversially suggesting it was not simply bad judging.
Prograis stops short of that, but says: “It’s definitely a shame, because right now Catterall should be the undisputed champion at 140. He might never get the opportunity again, for all four belts in one fight.