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Regis Prograis Shines a Bright Light on Bobby Benton’s Houston Gym

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  • Regis Prograis Shines a Bright Light on Bobby Benton’s Houston Gym

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    By Kelsey McCarson

    “It’s everything. You know? It’s life,” said Bobby Benton, a man best known to mainstream boxing fans as the trainer of burgeoning junior welterweight star Regis Prograis. The question was about the sport, what it means to him and why he does it.

    Benton admitted he’d never given much thought to doing anything else with his life and also hadn't considered if he thought he’d have found his way to boxing had circumstances been different.

    “Who knows? I try to keep things simple.”

    Benton (pictured on the left) had already built a local legacy before Prograis came along, one that will last far beyond his years here on earth. It’s just that in training fighters like Prograis, a man most consider the top 140-pound fighter in the world, more people happen to find out about the trainer, what he does and where he does it.

    All that’s great for Benton who runs the Main Street Boxing & Muay Thai Gym, one of the most successful boxing gyms in Houston. It’s a place built primarily on word-of-mouth marketing and social media efforts, and business is good.

    “You come here and you get real training,” said Benton. “You’re not going to places like Title Boxing where you’re just getting a workout. Here you’re getting trained by world champions and by real fighters.”

    Tucked inside a nondescript building and surrounded by a confusing array of paid parking lots and cryptic storefronts, it all seems to mesh together into one amorphous blob of downtown Houston cityscape.

    But the people who come out of this particular place are sweaty and tired, and they tend to look you in the eye when they speak instead of scurrying on by with their heads down. That’s how you know you’re at Benton’s gym where some of the very best fighters in Houston come to train every day.

    Some are business people who fight their alarm clocks every morning so they can make their 6 am Muay Thai class. Others are construction workers who fight their tired bodies to come throw punches at each other later that afternoon. Some are amateur or professional fighters hoping to become the next Regis Prograis.

    But whether favored to win on the biggest stages in the sport, or just a local underdog who wants to trim a few pounds before summer hits, Benton welcomes everyone.

    “It’s how we keep the gym open,” said Benton about all the different kinds of people he trains Monday through Saturday from the time he gets to the gym every morning at 4:30 am to the time he leaves for home late in the evening.

    “We even had a guy come down here for about six months who had Parkinson’s,” said Benton. “He went back to his doctor and the doctor asked what he had been doing because his symptoms had gotten so much better.”

    Owned by Benton, former heavyweight boxer Lou Savarese and famed MMA coach Bob Perez, everyone who comes to Main Street is a fighter. And every fighter at the gym is part of something more.

    “We’re a family here.”

    The gym traces its roots to the Heights Boxing gym situated way across town which was opened by Benton's father in 1986. The current configuration takes its name from a move three years later to the Midtown intersection of Main Street and Elgin. But the gym has been located at 1612 Austin Street for over 20 years now.

    Benton said he had one amateur fight before he began training fighters at age 18. He said he lost the fight, but thought he should have been given the decision. Regardless, he stopped competing as a fighter and moved on to his chosen profession.

    “I grew up in the gym, so I just started training guys,” said Benton. “I never second-guessed myself.”

    Benton learned his trade from famed Texas boxing legend Al “Potato Pie” Boulden, who worked the corners of Savarese, Frank Tate, Iran Barkley and many other fighters at various gyms across the city.

    “He was like a mentor to me. I learned a lot from him.”

    When Boulden passed in 2002, Savarese asked Benton to step in as his new trainer. Benton went on to work Savarese’s corner for the remainder of his boxing career, including his fights against Tim Witherspoon and Evander Holyfield.

    Benton has been an integral part of the Houston-area boxing scene ever since. He’s worked the corner of some of the brightest prospects in the city, and his current stable of professional fighters includes Progais, a New Orleans transplant since Hurricane Katrina, undefeated junior welterweight Darwin Price, who spent his last dollar to move from St. Louis so could chase his boxing dreams, and junior lightweight contender O'Shaquie Foster.

    But with all the success he’s achieved training professional boxers, as well as the significant impact he’s made on the local Houston community, Benton has yet to work the corner of a world champion, at least on the night they become it.

    “Regis will become champion on my 41st birthday,” said Benton about the possibility of that changing Saturday night in Lafayette, Lousiana. Prograis is set to face WBA titleholder Kiryl Relikh in the semi-finals of the World Boxing Super Series, and the oddsmakers like his chances.

    But don’t expect Benton’s life to change all that much should Prograis become champ. In fact, don’t expect Benton’s life to change if the fighter ends up becoming the next Floyd Mayweather. Benton, after all, is the kind of person who already knows what he wants out of life. It’s what he’s already doing.

    “If I hit the lotto, I’ll still be doing what I’m doing,” said Benton. “Boxing is my life.”

    Photo credit: Mikey Williams / Top Rank

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