LOS ANGELES, California—With less than two weeks to go before his fight in Las Vegas on Aug. 21, Sen. Manny Pacquiao found himself in an unusual situation.
His original opponent, WBC/IBF welterweight champion Errol Spence, was forced to withdraw after a medical examination conducted by the Nevada State Athletic Commission last Monday revealed a detached retina in his left eye.
Spence had fought and beaten Danny Garcia in Texas last December but apparently, the retina was detached even before the fight. The speculation is Spence suffered the tear during a road accident that totaled his sports car in October 2019.
It wasn’t detected in the pre-fight medical protocols in Texas because an optometrist made the examination. In Las Vegas, the commission employed an ophthalmologist who immediately discovered the retinal damage.
The car accident left Spence with facial lacerations, head-toe-soreness and broken teeth. He was confined in ICU at a hospital for six days before discharge. It’s possible the tear was aggravated in the Garcia contest. Whatever caused the injury is now beside the point. Spence has been knocked out of the Pacquiao stakes and was set to undergo eye surgery today (Wednesday, Aug. 11).
For Pacquiao, the switch won’t mean a major adjustment. His stamina, power and speed are intact. No matter whom he fights, Pacquiao will engage the same way.
Pacquiao’s first reaction when informed of the news was to pray to God for Spence’s speedy recovery. That was foremost on his mind. Only after did he ask about whether there would be a replacement. MP Promotions president Sean Gibbons broke the news to Pacquiao early last Monday night and by then, a substitute had been signed up.
Super WBA welterweight champion Yordenis Ugas of Cuba was scheduled to defend his crown against Argentinian Fabian Maidana in the undercard of the Pacquiao-Spence main event but on the same day that Spence backed out, the challenger went down with a bad cut inflicted in sparring. So Maidana, like Spence, was ruled out of the card, leaving Ugas and Pacquiao destined to face off.
It’s uncanny that Ugas and Pacquiao would end up dueling. Last January, the WBA stripped Pacquiao of the super WBA crown because of inactivity. The decision drew flak from several quarters, accusing the WBA of prejudice, as it was the pandemic that forced Pacquiao’s hiatus, nothing else.
Besides, there were other champions who had been inactive longer yet remained on their throne. The WBA made matters worse by elevating Ugas from regular to super status, in effect succeeding Pacquiao, not in the ring but in the board room.
Premier Boxing Champions CEO Al Haymon and promoter Tom Brown conspired to save the T-Mobile Arena show and quickly installed Ugas as Spence’s replacement to battle Pacquiao.
“My sacrifice and hard work will not be wasted,” said Pacquiao. “I pray for Spence’s fast recovery but I’m ready to fight anyone. Ugas is a fighter, a champion who took my belt but let’s see what will happen in the ring. I’m so excited to prove who’s the real champion in the WBA.”
For Pacquiao, the switch won’t mean a major adjustment. His stamina, power and speed are intact. No matter whom he fights, Pacquiao will engage the same way. Spence or Ugas or the man in the moon if he exists and can put on gloves. The difference lies in stance because Spence is a southpaw and Ugas is right-handed.
The day after the switch was announced, Pacquiao went to the Wild Card Gym here to spar four rounds with orthodox sparmate Arnold Gonzalez and two rounds each with unbeaten Giovanni Cabrera and Ukrainian veteran Ivan Redkach. Gonzalez, 26, sparred with Pacquiao in preparation for the Keith Thurman fight two years ago and was brought in to simulate Ugas’ style.
He’s a two-time Golden Gloves champion with a pro record of 7-0, including 3 KOs. The two other sparmates are natural southpaws but were asked to shift to orthodox. Pacquiao spars Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. Last Saturday, he went 12 rounds and is now in the process of tapering off. Previous sparmates Maurice Lee and Alexis Rocha have been dismissed.
Pacquiao’s last 19 opponents were right-handers so even if he prepared for nearly two months for Spence’s southpaw stance, it won’t be difficult refocusing.
Pacquiao is a deadly two-fisted puncher whose left hook and right straight are lethal finishers. It won’t matter if his opponent is left or right-handed. He’ll get the job done either way.
Ugas, 35, is a 2005 world amateur champion and 2008 Olympic bronze medalist. He unleashes a stiff jab like Spence so Pacquiao will watch for it, not from the right but this time from the left. Ugas stands 5-9, 3 1/2 inches taller than Pacquiao and his reach is two inches longer. Height and length could be fatal against a fighter who walks straight into his opponent’s line of fire but Pacquiao is never a standing target. Pacquiao will dart in and out, use 1-2 combinations, move side to side, stay clear of the strike zone and turn Ugas around so the Cuban is not in position to uncork with his feet not firmly on the canvas.
Pacquiao, 42, is giving up seven years to Ugas but Gibbons said that’s not a factor. “Senator was looking forward to fighting Spence because he’s out to prove he’s the best welterweight in the world and that even at 42 and eight months old, he’s still on top of his game,” said Gibbons. “Now that he’s fighting Ugas, he’s just as motivated. Ugas stole his WBA belt and Senator wants it back. It’ll be a fight between the so-called champion and the in-recess champion, the real champion against the generic champion. Senator has come full circle in fighting in Las Vegas from dethroning Lehlo Ledwaba for the IBF superbantamweight title in 2001 to now fighting Ugas 20 years later. He’s grateful to Haymon and PBC for saving the show because no fight would’ve been devastating. With Ugas in the picture, it’s still an event, still a title fight and the fans are the winners.”
Gibbons said Ugas can’t be considered lightly. “He’s got long arms and he’s long in the tooth, too,” noted Gibbons. “He’s never been stopped so he’s durable. He won’t run, he’ll stand and fight. He actually complements Senator’s style.” Pacquiao said it’ll definitely be an entertaining showdown with lots of action.
Ugas packs a 26-4 record, with 12 KOs and all his losses were on points, three via split decision. Reviewing the Cuban’s ring records, there appears to be a chink in his armor. In the amateurs, he was floored twice by Canadian Ibraham Kamal although escaped with a win. In the pros, Ugas was decked by Emanuel Robles in San Diego and lost a split verdict. Both Kamal and Robles are southpaws so it may be an indication of a vulnerability to left-handers. Of course, Pacquiao is a southpaw.
In 2017, Ugas was floored by Thomas Dulorme but got up to win a decision. If Ugas has a China chin or a glass jaw, he won’t be able to withstand Pacquiao’s power.
Ugas, 35, is a 2005 world amateur champion and 2008 Olympic bronze medalist. He unleashes a stiff jab like Spence so Pacquiao will watch for it, not from the right but this time from the left.
Even with Spence out of the picture, Pacquiao’s next fight against Ugas still promises to be a must-see. Pacquiao’s in the twilight of his pro boxing journey that began in 1995. This could be his next-to-the-last contest. If the pandemic is finally brought to its knees, Pacquiao plans to fight one last time before his countrymen at the Philippine Arena in December or January. But if the pandemic persists, this may be Pacquiao’s swan song.
The boxing chapter of Pacquiao’s storybook is near closing and fans will want to witness every step he takes before his legendary sports career ends. Pacquiao is the world’s only boxing champion in eight different weight divisions, a record that may never be duplicated or surpassed in history.
Banner photo of Yordenis Ugas from ringtv.com; photo of Manny Pacquiao from his Facebook page