New Orleans could have a world champion boxer again by the end of Friday night, if Regis Prograis has his way.
It won't be easy for the 29-year-old southpaw, who's won all 20 of his bouts in his six years as a pro. Standing in his way for an interim, 140-pound World Boxing Council belt is Julius Indongo, who won his first 22 fights as a pro before losing over the summer to perhaps the best boxer right now, Terence Crawford.
Prograis and Indongo, a fellow southpaw, are set to square off Friday night at the Deadwood Mountain Grand resort in South Dakota. The telecast on the cable channel Showtime, scheduled to include two other fights, begins at 9 p.m.
If Prograis triumphs, it is believed he will become the first male New Orleans native to hold a world title belt from one of boxing's four major sanctioning bodies since Willie Pastrano claimed the light heavyweight crowns from the WBC and the World Boxing Association in 1963.
Regis Prograis never stood out much on the football field at McDonogh 35 High School. And he cut up in class so much, earning many C's and som…
Nonetheless, the reign of the victor of Friday night's fight will last only until Amir Imam and Jose Ramirez square off at Madison Square Garden on March 17 for the full, 140-pound WBC belt vacated when Crawford decided to step up in weight class.
Yet Friday's contest, Prograis' first 12-rounder, still carries meaning. Not only will the victor be likely to face whoever wins between Imam and Ramirez for the title, it could further solidify Prograis' transformation from a prospect to a contender in a weight division that's Crawford's departure left wide open.
Though 35, two-time world champion Indongo is widely seen as the best opponent Prograis has faced.
In his two fights before facing Crawford, the native of Namibia scored a unanimous decision over Scottish veteran Ricky Burns (41-7-1) in Glasgow, and he went to Moscow to hand Russia's Eduard Troyanovsky (27-1) his only defeat with a first-round knockout.
Those two victories suggest a fighter who is peaking rather than on the decline, and it would be a mistake to think Prograis is in for an easy night just because of Indongo's third-round defeat to Crawford in August, Showtime boxing analyst Steve Farhood said during an interview this week.
For one, Farhood noted, the Nebraska-based Indongo has a 4 1/2-inch reach advantage over Prograis. He is also nearly three inches taller than the 5-foot-8 Prograis.
"That lets Indongo set up far away from his opponents, lure them in and counter-punch," Farhood said. "Style-wise, it could be difficult for Regis."
But, in winning 17 of his fights by knockout, Prograis has displayed the hand speed and footwork required to get in close and overcome an opponent with height and reach advantages, Farhood said.
The North American titleholder has shown success attacking both the heads and bodies of opponents with power. That was especially clear in two relatively recent moments.
One was against Joel Diaz in June, billed as Prograis' best opponent to date. Using three straight lefts and a left hook, Prograis knocked Diaz (23-1) to the canvas four times in the second round. Mark Nelson stopped the fight with eight seconds left in the round, handing Diaz the only blemish on his record.
The other was a little more than a year earlier, when he made Aaron Herrera (34-8-1) take a first-round knee with a hard left just below the chest. Herrera couldn't get up before referee Gerald Ritter counted 10.
Farhood counted himself among those who believe Prograis is for real, a status he said should remain intact no matter the outcome Friday as long as he performs skillfully.
The analyst also said Prograis' origins are as compelling as they come in the business.
Prograis took up boxing after he struggled to make his mark in school and on his high school football team. Hurricane Katrina then destroyed his family's home in New Orleans East, displacing him to Houston, where he established himself as a boxing pro.
Prograis then had to ride out powerful Hurricane Harvey with relatives in Houston last year before he could narrow his focus on Friday.
"His back story ... adds a lot of drama and meaning to his ascendancy," Farhood said. "We all can't wait to see how far he can go."
Prograis can't either.
"I'm ready," Prograis said when asked to reflect on the prospect of becoming New Orleans' next titleist. "I want to be the biggest from here."
As New Orleans-raised boxer Regis Prograis gears up for a March 9 title bout, the undefeated prizefighter's management team has released a pro…