Prograis v Taylor: Hurricane Katrina shaped American's boxing future

Regis Prograis was forced to relocate as a result of Hurricane Katrina
Regis Prograis was forced to relocate as a result of Hurricane Katrina

Regis Prograis says he saw one life disappear and a new one begin when Hurricane Katrina decimated his New Orleans home in 2005.

The American - the WBA world super-lightweight champion - was 16 when his country's deadliest hurricane in 77 years killed an estimated 1,836 people.

As Prograis gets ready to face Scotland's world IBF super-lightweight champion Josh Taylor on Saturday, the 30-year-old says he looks back on a "painful" time that forced him to relocate and ultimately shaped his boxing journey.

"Your whole life is gone, everything you ever knew," Prograis told 5 Live's Boxing podcast. "You knew it will never be the same again but for me, now, it was one of the best things that ever happened to me."

Katrina tears and Holyfield know-how

Hurricane Katrina was America's deadliest since the 1928 Okeechobee hurricane
Hurricane Katrina was America's deadliest since the 1928 Okeechobee hurricane

Prograis, who now has 24 wins from 24, moved to Houston following the destruction caused by Katrina's 175mph winds. The ferocity impacted on regions stretching from the Bahamas to parts of eastern Canada.

An estimated $125bn (£96bn) of damage was caused by a category five hurricane that Prograis says made his belongings simply "vanish".

"Looking back at it and going back to it, it was real hard and painful," Prograis told 5 Live before his unification bout at London's O2 Arena. "We went back, my mum was crying, my grandmother, her whole house was gone. It was a horrible experience.

"It's hard to look at it like that now as it did this to me. Boxing has taken me everywhere. But if you ask my dad, my mum and my grandmother, their perspective would be different as it was raw."

Prograis could hold two of the world super-lightweight titles if he overcomes Scotland's unbeaten Taylor. Such honours seemed a world away when he walked into Houston's Savannah Boxing Club after his move.

Former world heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield was among a number of glittering names based at the gym. Ex-world light-middleweight champion Raul Marquez, two-weight world champion Jesus Chavez and America twins Jermell and Jermall Charlo - who have both held world honours in recent years - were also among the decorated names working out there.

"Holyfield was at the end of his career, Raul Marquez, the Charlo twins, a lot of real good pros were there," recalls Prograis.

"I was still an amateur. Being around that did something to my mind. Holyfield was hitting the bag next to me and I was thinking if he can do it I can do it. You watch every little piece of them and what they do that makes them a champion."

Churchill grit and talented Taylor

Mike Costello watched on as Regis Prograis worked on strengthening his neck muscles with an exercise on the edge of the ring
Mike Costello watched on as Regis Prograis worked on strengthening his neck muscles with an exercise on the edge of the ring

Despite believing his move away from New Orleans proved definitive in his boxing ascent, Prograis has the name of the city he holds so dear tattooed across his chest.

He takes pride in educating himself through reading and spoke to 5 Live hours after visiting the Churchill War Rooms in London.

Winston Churchill's famous quote "if you are going through hell, keep going," strikes a particular chord.

Prograis said: "I never thought I'd have a dream job like this. Where I come from, we don't go to London and I've been all over the world.

"Sometimes I wake up in my bed and think how did I even get here? It comes from these two fists."

Taylor, undefeated in 15 fights, will face those fists but is a much-hyped talent himself.

Their meeting is, on paper, one of two slick, classy southpaws, where two world titles are just part of the prize, given the contests doubles as the World Boxing Super Series final.

"Taylor will be a challenge, he could potentially be a threat," said Prograis. "I have seen his style before. I have been in with big, tall dudes who punch. He is still a real good fighter and that's what makes it so intriguing."

'The archetypal 50-50' - analysis

Scotland's Taylor (right) has 15 wins from 15 bouts and stands two inches taller than Prograis
Scotland's Taylor (right) has 15 wins from 15 bouts and stands two inches taller than Prograis

BBC Sport boxing correspondent Mike Costello:

When I interviewed Prograis he did a quite extensive workout with a heavy wetsuit on. When he took the suit off, there was a puddle beneath him. It did strike me as this might come down to who makes the 10st limit better. This is a fight with tiny margins, the archetypal 50-50. There is something about Prograis, you see him walking around a gym and it looks like he feels like he owns the place.

Watching past fights, this may come down to a battle of the jabs and who establishes themselves early.

BBC Radio 5 Live boxing analyst Steve Bunce:

Prograis is an amazing story. He fled New Orleans with his grandmother and some cousins the night before Katrina hit. This is a kid made and brought up on sacrifices, and one who talks about material things meaning nothing.

We have an unbeaten world champion from Britain against an unbeaten world champion from somewhere else and it's on British soil. They don't come around often.

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