'Raw fighter' Regis Prograis still tinkering with game plan ahead of Kiryl Relikh fight

Kevin Iole
Combat columnist
Regis Prograis celebrates after defeating Juan Jose Velasco during their WBC super lightweight title boxing match at the UNO Lakefront Arena on July 14, 2018, in New Orleans. (Getty Images)

There is no one way to win a fight, as has been proven countless times over the years. Boxing skill, the ability to hit and not be hit, is the most important because history has shown it leads to the most consistent success.

But the big power hitters, guys like Mike Tyson, are usually the ones who become the biggest stars.

For much of the early part of his career, Regis Prograis was a guy who relied upon force and power. He’d simply overwhelm his opponents with punches that were so hard, they couldn’t take them for very long.

He’s 23-0 with 19 knockouts, 10 of which came in either the first or second round. Even as he captured the interim WBC super lightweight belt and began to earn recognition for his skills, questions would surround Prograis.

He hasn’t garnered the kind of respect one with his record would seem to command. While he’s ranked 10th on Yahoo Sports’ pound-for-pound list, not one of the 18 voters on the ESPN poll bothered to include Prograis in its Top 10BoxingScene doesn’t have Prograis in its Top 10 either, but he is listed as one of five boxers who could make it in the future.

Prograis will fight Russian Kiryl Relikh, who holds the WBA super lightweight title, on Saturday at the Cajun Dome in Lafayette, Louisiana, in the second round of the World Boxing Super Series event.

And if you believe him, Prograis is still determining how he’ll fight. Is he the aggressive, attacking Aaron Pryor-like force, who storms out of the corner throwing heavy punches, or does he box, work behind the jab and try to absorb as few blows as possible?

When he fought Juan Jose Velasco last year, WBO welterweight champion Terence Crawford was ringside. Prograis made it a fun fight with Velasco and had the fans at the Lakefront Arena in New Orleans roaring, but all Crawford could say afterward was, “No, no no.”

Crawford, who is No. 1 on the Yahoo Sports pound-for-pound list, didn’t like what he saw from Prograis. Prograis dominated, but in Crawford’s view he took too many shots in return.

“I came up just knocking people out, but now, I know I don’t have to get hit or have to get touched at all,” Prograis told Yahoo Sports. “When I fought Velasco, I ran into Crawford and he said, ‘Man, why’d you let that dude hit you?’ I told him I like to go and I like to rumble and I like to fight people. And he says, ‘Nah, man. Don’t let him hit you.’ Coming from him, the dude is the top pound-for-pound guy in the world in my opinion, it carried a lot of weight.

“He’s a guy in the future who I may fight and it would be huge for me. I started thinking about what he told me: ‘Here’s the best guy in the world and he doesn’t want to get hit.’ I thought, maybe I need to stop getting hit and start to rely on my boxing IQ and my speed more.”

Regis Prograis knocks down Terry Flanagan during the World Boxing Super Series quarterfinals on Oct. 27, 2018, in New Orleans. (USA Today Sports/Sipa USA)

Prograis has shown he has the ability to fight both styles. Against Terry Flanagan in his last outing, Prograis won 30 of the 36 scored rounds by staying on the outside and boxing and not looking to engage nearly as much as normal.

Relikh is 23-2 with 19 knockouts, and he has power, but he doesn’t seem to have the kind of speed or boxing ability to stay with Prograis. If Prograis wants to get the knockout and remind people of his ability to do that, he’ll be at more risk than if he decides to fight Relikh like he did Flanagan.

The first round is often described as a feeling-out round, and it’s very much what it will be for Prograis.

“I feel like I could walk him down if that’s what I feel like doing,” Prograis said. “But I think it’s going to depend on what I see and how I feel after that first round. I don’t need to get hit. A lot of people are telling me, ‘Don’t get hit. Don’t get hit.’ But you know my mindset and it’s the complete opposite. I’m not a boxer or an MMA fighter.

“I think what you should call me is just a fighter, a raw fighter. I love to get in there and just mix it up. If I don’t want to be hit, I won’t get hit; that’s how well I can box. I have to see what happens.”

Many mock the myriad championships available in boxing now, and the WBA is among the worst offenders, with multiple champions in the same division in some cases.

But the belts mean a lot to the fighters, and Relikh’s WBA title is something that has garnered Prograis’ attention.

“This WBA belt, it’s the official one, no made-up one or no interim one, so I may go out there and go back to my old self,” he said. “We’ll see. I know I have options. I should have the power advantage and the speed advantage and the advantage in athletic ability. Part of me says, ‘Why not use those advantages and make it easy?’ I can be very slick, but my reputation is based on punching power and KOs.

“I won’t know for sure until I’m in there. I just know that whichever way I go, it’s going to be the way I need to to win this fight and get me that belt.”

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