New Orleans “shows out,” shows it’s a boxing city once again

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NEW ORLEANS – Our city has seen – and been a great host of – its share of major sporting events, even championship boxing events.

Saturday night, the stars aligned for another great event: A long gap between championship bouts, the first involving a hometown fighter in more than half a century, and a marvelous intimate setting created by co-promoters Top Rank and DiBella Entertainment at Lakefront Arena.

In the end, “The Homecoming” of Regis “Rougarou” Prograis was perfect.

Even for the undercard, which started 3 1/2 hours before Prograis entered the ring, there was a solid crowd on hand. By the time ESPN hit the air at 6 p.m. for the co-main event won by undefeated lightweight Teofimo Lopez, there was a palpable buzz inside the building.

The crowd erupted when Prograis entered the ring led by a Mardi Gras Indians second line. When the ring announcer introduced Prograis, the roar was louder than the microphone.

As the knockdowns of Juan Jose Velasco piled up – one in the fifth, one in the seventh and two in the eighth before Velasco’s corner asked that the fight be stopped – so did the amplitude around the ring.

“We brought big-time boxing back to New Orleans,” Prograis said, “We brought the city out. That’s what we were trying to do.”

The notables in the crowd of 3,612 included Gov. John Bel Edwards, world junior welterweight champion Terence “Bud” Crawford, Pelicans general manager Dell Demps and current and former NFL players Tyrann Mathieu, Keenan Lewis and Booger McFarland, just to name a few.

“I was glad, of course,” to see the crowd when he entered the building, Prograis said, “but you’ve got to go and fight. I knew I was going to have a hard fight. It’s excitement, but you’ve got to hide that excitement.”

New Orleans native Jeremy “Zereaux” Hill won by unanimous decision on the undercard to remain unbeaten in three professional fights.

For Hill, a McDonogh 35 graduate who is a laborer when he’s not boxing, Saturday’s opportunity was a dream come true.

“You ever set a goal for yourself, then achieve it?” Hill said. “I walk these streets every day. To have people cheer my name on a grand stage like this, I love it.”

By all indications, even before the doors opened, the staffs of Top Rank and DiBella Entertainment – which co-promoted the card – were overly pleased with both the venue and the city’s response, and indicated this could be the start of regular appearances in the Crescent City.

As part of its new deal with ESPN, Top Rank has made a conscious effort to get away from traditional venues like Las Vegas and bring these nationally televised to new venues. It was recently in Fresno, California, and has upcoming cards scheduled for Kissimmee, Florida, and Oklahoma City.

Of course, it helps New Orleans’ cause to have a local contender like Prograis, who became the first New Orleans-area boxer to defend his title in his hometown since Willie Pastrano  defeated Gregorio Peralta by a fifth-round TKO on April 10, 1964, at Municipal Auditorium.

It’s safe to say most of the crowd on hand Saturday night had not been born when Pastrano defended his title that night.

“This was big,” Prograis said. “My goal was to bring big-time boxing back to New Orleans, and we did.”

Saturday’s win earned Prograis a berth in the eight-man World Boxing Super Series tournament. After the way New Orleans “showed out,” in Prograis’ words, perhaps he’ll get a shot at bringing one of those fights back to his hometown again.

“Of course I could do it in New Orleans again,” Prograis said. “We’ll bring out a bigger crowd next time. Maybe we’ll go to (the) Smoothie King (Center).”

If Prograis’ ascent continues, maybe even the building next door – which has hosted a few title fights of its own – could be in play.

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Lenny Vangilder

Lenny Vangilder

Sales/Content/Production

Lenny has been involved in college athletics since the early 1980s, when he began working Tulane University sporting events while still attending Archbishop Rummel High School. He continued that relationship as a student at Loyola University, where he graduated in 1987. For the next 11 years, Vangilder worked in the sports information offices at Southwestern Louisiana (now UL-Lafayette) and Tulane;…

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