This weekend in London, two vastly different cultures collide, as the ‘Rougarou’, Regis Prograis, once again battles the elements, facing the ‘Tartan Tornado’, Josh Taylor. Both from parts of the world where legends stem from old wives’ tales, it’s the opportunity that both unbeaten boxers have craved – one champion, one name.
The tremendous talents take to the ring under the smoke and piercing lights of the World Boxing Super Series at the O2 Arena, after months of contract disputes and disarray. The posturing offered during the build-up to such a contest has been scrapped however, with a very present visitor snatching column inches from the ice-cold native.
‘The best fighting the best’ was the billing from Comosa AG at the tournament’s inception and on Saturday, when Edinburgh’s Josh Taylor (15-0, 12KOs) fights travelling New Orleans-born Regis Prograis (24-0, 20KOs), they have truly delivered. It takes only a browse through magazine or website prediction pages to understand just how well-matched this fight is, with experts and fans agreeing to disagree.
Many fancy the American to triumph, adding the IBF super-lightweight world title to his existing WBA world title, which was dragged home as bounty following his demolition of former champion, Kiryl Relikh. However, with size and the local time zone in his favour, the undefeated Scot has barely blinked during interactions between the pair – staring deep into the soul of anyone he’s encountered.
Surprisingly, neither of the two are particularly young in boxing terms, with Prograis the elder of the pair at thirty. Josh Taylor is twenty-eight, but both men have only recently found their feet at the top, following hardship, minimal financial reward and a continuing element of risk. Both Taylor and Prograis are enjoying their physical prime and this fight has come at the optimum time – a true rarity in our sport – let us be thankful.
Regis Prograis, now a father and a husband, hasn’t enjoyed the extensive amateur fervour that was afforded to his opponent, but rebuilding his life after the destruction that followed Hurricane Katrina reaffirmed the mental strength required to succeed in another lonely endeavour. Adversity is something many will claim, but few will truly understand.
His mask, worn when walking to the ring and paying homage to the ‘Rougarou’, a character from French-Louisiana folklore, hides the scars accrued from years trawling gyms and venues. It’s colourful and frightening, and is used to scare children in the Deep South – but rest assured, it isn’t worn to conceal doubt or fear. It’s worn to provoke such a response.
Prestonpans’ man, Josh Taylor, has won a Commonwealth gold medal and represented Great Britain at the London 2012 Olympics. His professional career has been stunning, catching the eye when demolishing Dave Ryan and later forcing Ohara Davies into submission, when the prospects collided for their contracted bout – signed in bad blood.
He’s been exciting at every outing. Tackling names such as Viktor Postol and Miguel Vazquez, the Scot has beaten and dropped durable, proven opposition. Yet Prograis is certainly his stiffest test. Under pressure and in front of sixteen-thousand fans this weekend, Taylor could realise his dream of conquering a division. The weight of expectation didn’t seem to bother him, though. It’s something he’s visualised, over and over again.
Before their entry into the eight-man knockout tournament, it’s fair to say that neither man had reached an audience outside of their own countries. However, when schooling Ryan Martin and breaking down former IBF world champion, Ivan Baranchyk, Josh Taylor became a legitimate draw. His constant pivoting and variation of shots to the head and body have bemused opponents, with Taylor finding the perfect balance between elite amateur schooling and barbarism.
The same could be said of Prograis, who outclassed Manchester’s former world champion, Terry Flanagan, before ruthlessly bludgeoning Kiryl Relikh to claim his maiden world title. Relentless pressure and frightening, fight-changing power has taken Prograis to the top of the division, and he isn’t planning on leaving London empty-handed. New Orleans had shared its secret with the world – the ‘Rougarou’ became a reality.
The involvement of Eddie Hearn and Matchroom Boxing is no coincidence, as Saturday’s main event headlines a pay-per-view card in the United Kingdom. Massive nights at Edinburgh Castle or Murrayfield could be within touching distance for the home fighter, but Taylor isn’t the type to think two steps ahead.
For Prograis, the next logical step if victorious would be to pursue the undisputed fight on American soil, hunting Jose Ramirez for his fifty-percent stake in the division. That fight had been discussed as the uncertainty over the final of the Ali Trophy rumbled on. General consensus sees the winner of the World Boxing Super Series as the number one at 140lbs, so how long could we wait before the belts become fractured?
Boxing rarely produces genuine stars. There’s always an element of self-destruction attached to the biggest names in the sport. Whether it’s wild nights or legal indiscipline, a lack of focus or the Marvin Hagler ‘silk pyjamas’ theory, the most lucrative fighters are often flawed. With Saturday’s two fighters completing their preparation in London, we are truly blessed with an honest fight. It feels as though legacy is driving both men, separated by thousands of miles and proud of their deep-rooted history.
Regis Prograis has taken London by storm, appealing to Tottenham Hotspur fans and travelling the length of the city for PR opportunities. His desire to emerge with the Muhammad Ali Trophy is unquestionable, as we expect the ‘Rougarou’ to appear in any pub/restaurant we visit in the capital, signing napkins for customers and staff with a smile on his face. Beneath the public appearances and conference calls though, this was a young man determined to inflict punishment.
Josh Taylor has notably kept himself to himself. Trainer Shane McGuigan is now based at the University of Canterbury, but the pair were never particularly media hungry. The pressure is off now, with Josh draped in the red and gold of the IBF. Nobody could take that away from them. Now though, he was surging towards the pound-for-pound rankings. The boy who’d trained at his local gym, Lochend, was fulfilling the prophecy of many who’d supported him from his early amateur days.
On Sunday morning, bloodied and bruised, one man will wake up with a belt on either arm. They will wake up a lot richer, of course, but this wasn’t about cars and jewellery. The raw, powerful element of boxing which is often over-shadowed seemed a priority for both Prograis and Taylor. There are no braggadocio claims of dollars or diamonds, no social media clips of yachts or scantily clad women. This was fighting in its truest form; to be remembered and respected. Savour the moment.
Written by: Craig Scott
Follow Craig on Twitter at: @craigscott209