By: Hector Franco
The boxing world imploded on itself the other day when it was announced that unified WBC and IBF welterweight champion Errol Spence Jr. (27-0, 21 KOs) would be withdrawing from his fight with Manny Pacquiao (62-7-2, 39 KOs) that was scheduled to take place on August 21 due to a retinal tear in his left eye.
The fight was one of the most anticipated of the year and unfortunately added to the laundry list of fights that have been delayed or canceled in 2021.
Cuba’s Yordenis Ugas (26-4, 12 KOs), who was set to fight on the undercard, stepped in for Spence.
Ugas currently holds the WBA welterweight title and is ranked in the top five at welterweight by Ring Magazine and in the Transnational Boxing Rankings.
Pacquiao, who has been a professional boxer since 1995, took the change in opponent in stride.
“I am a politician,” Pacquiao stated after a workout in preparation for August 21. “I am used to dealing with changing stances. As for Ugas, I am happy that he stepped up to replace Errol Spence. Ugas is a champion with a strong Cuban boxing background. This is a big fight, and we will give the fans an exciting show.
“He was given my belt earlier in the year, but now we get to fight for it inside the ring. That is the proper way to become a world champion.”
While the fight with Ugas isn’t the event that a fight with Spence would have been, there is still a storyline involving the controversial sanctioning body, the WBA.
Earlier this year, the WBA removed Pacquiao’s status as its ‘super’ champion, which he earned by defeating Keith Thurman in 2019 due to inactivity and named him ‘champion in recess.’ Ugas, who held the ‘regular’ version of the title, was then elevated to ‘super’ status.
Ugas, who won a Bronze medal at the 2008 Olympics, won the ‘regular’ version of the WBA title when he outpointed Abel Ramos in September 2020.
For Ugas, the opportunity to fight someone like Pacquiao could be life and career-changing. Spence may have been ranked as the more accomplished fighter at welterweight and in a pound-for-pound sense, but the standout amateur could present Pacquiao with just as many problems.
The Cuban is an orthodox technician with an extensive amateur pedigree that includes winning the gold at the Pan American games in 2007.
“I have a tremendous amount of respect for Pacquiao, but I am coming to win this fight,” stated Ugas. “I’ve been in camp working hard with my coach Ismael Salas, and I know together we will come up with a masterful game plan to combat anything Manny will bring to the ring.”
Ironically, Pacquiao finds himself in the same position as his former late opponent Lehlo Ledwaba in June 2001.
With 10-days notice, Pacquiao famously stepped in for Enrique Sanchez to challenge for Ledwaba’s IBF super bantamweight title. In his first fight in the United States, Pacquiao dominated the South African en-route to a sixth-round stoppage.
The rest, as they say, is history.
The circumstances are slightly different, but Ugas finds himself in a situation to make history repeat itself.
“Everyone knows my story about how I came to America to follow my dreams of becoming a world champion,” said Ugas. “Now it’s time to stamp my legacy with a victory, as one of the best Cuban fighters to ever put on a pair of gloves.”
At 42, Pacquiao is aware that this could possibly be the last time he steps inside the squared circle. With a career spanning over 25-years, it’s unlikely that the fighting Senator will underestimate Ugas.
“This fight is not an easy fight,” Pacquiao stated during a virtual press conference. “Ugas is a champion, he took my belt, and we have to settle it in the ring.”
Boxing is often the theater of the unexpected. Ugas may not have been the opponent that fans have clamored for Pacquiao to face; however, we could see him with his hand raised in victory on August 21.