Regis Prograis – ‘I know I’m the best, I just need to prove it’

Nine days before Regis Prograis has his biggest fight in years, he was desperately looking for a bathroom — while driving.

Part of the weight-cutting process involves drinking two gallons of water a day in order to make the junior welterweight limit of 140 pounds. On this day, he pulled up to a Burger King for a quick stop, only to be told the restroom is only for customers.

“Obviously, I can’t eat no Burger King right now,” an aggravated Prograis told ESPN. “I know…yeah.”

Having to relieve himself outdoors is a problem Prograis will gladly tackle — given the past few years. Prograis is one of boxing’s former champions who highlights a unique problem in the sport. Talented fighters such as Prograis who are unattached to some of boxing’s marquee promotions are often caught in pugilistic purgatory — too good for lesser opposition, too risky for big-name fights.

On Saturday, Prograis will get his crack at being a two-time champion when he faces Jose Zepeda at Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson, California (PPV, 9 pm ET). A win gives him the WBC junior welterweight belt and a major opportunity to show why he deserves more marque fights in the future.

“I always tell people, boxing-wise, it’s frustrating,” Prograis told ESPN. “I feel like people, they try to lock me out. I tell people I’m my own boss. People don’t run me. I do my own thing. I’m my own boss.”

Prograis (27-1, 23 KOs) is in his biggest fight since he lost a unified title fight against Josh Taylor in October 2019, which was also the finals of a World Boxing Super Series tournament. Prograis lost a majority decision 115-113, 117-112, 114-114. After taking the IBF and WBA belt from Prograis, Taylor went on to beat Jose Ramirez to become the undisputed champion.

At the time, Prograis was promoted by DiBella Entertainment. But after the Taylor fight, he split ways with DiBella and eventually found his way to Probellum, an upstart promotional outfit spearheaded by former Golden Boy Promotions CEO Richard Schaefer.

Prograis gave Taylor more problems than Ramirez, who was stopped in their 2021 bout. But that didn’t help Prograis either. After that fight, Prograis’ opponent lineup has been underwhelming — Juan Herladez, Ivan Redkach and most recently, Tyrone McKenna.

The New Orleans native said he was penciled in to fight on the Oleksandr Usyk-Anthony Joshua II undercard in Saudi Arabia on Aug. 20, but that fight was scrapped. There was also talk of a bout against former contender Viktor Postol.

However, once Ramirez backed out in July of a fight against Zepeda for the WBC belt because of a conflict with his October wedding, Prograis jumped on the opportunity.

Prograis was training for the potential Postol fight, but when Zepeda became available, he stopped his camp with longtime trainer Bobby Benton, went to Colombia for a week to visit his father and then restarted camp with Benton in preparation for this weekend. Essentially, Prograis said he has been training for the past six months.

“Literally, I just took that same mindset into these last three years,” said Prograis, who has a gym in his home in the Houston suburb of Rosenberg, Texas. “I just kept training, training, training.”

Prograis isn’t alone as one of boxing’s sojourners. Jaron “Boots” Ennis, who is signed with D&D Boxing, is ESPN’s No. 3 welterweight and in a similar situation.

Ennis (29-0, 27 KOs) knocked out Custio Clayton in Carson, California, in May. In his postfight interview on Showtime, Ennis cited his status as the IBF’s No. 1 contender and called out champion Errol Spence Jr., who was seated at ringside.

“It’s time to go fishing,” Ennis said, a play on Spence’s proclamation as the “big fish” in the division.

But for Ennis and Prograis, reeling in the big names has been a challenge. Top Rank has held a stranglehold on the 140-pound division (Taylor, Ramirez, Teofimo Lopez Jr., to name a few), while Premier Boxing Champions has locked things up in the 147-pound class (Spence, Keith Thurman, Yordenis Ugas ).

Zepeda is Prograis’ best opponent since Taylor. The Californian challenged Ramirez in 2019 for the WBC belt but lost in a majority decision. Like Prograis, Zepeda wants to establish himself at the top of the division.

“I wasn’t surprised at all that we got this fight,” Zepeda said at a news conference in October. “We both wanted it, we both want to become world champions. Both of us need this title, we’re 33 years old and in our prime. Whoever wins this title will have a life-changing experience.”

Should Prograis win, he knows a potential fight against Ramirez is looming since Ramirez is the mandatory challenger. But Prograis also wants another crack at the only fighter who has beaten him as a pro.

“First on my hit list is Josh Taylor,” he said.

He knows how important his opportunity on Saturday will be for the long-term arc of his career. And given the struggles of navigating boxing’s politics over the past three years, it’s not one that he wants to squander.

“My confidence, it never diminished,” Prograis said. “I always felt the same way about myself.

“I know I’m the best, I just need to prove it. That’s all.”

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