LAS VEGAS – Manny Pacquiao struggled Wednesday to find the proper placement for his WBA welterweight championship belt.
The Filipino legend eventually draped it over his right shoulder as he and Yordenis Ugas, who owns the same WBA 147-pound crown, posed for photos following their press conference at MGM Grand Garden Arena. Pacquiao should’ve dumped it in the nearest trash can, Riddick Bowe style, because that’s where worthless WBA belts belong after years of objectionable behavior.
As the most acclaimed active boxer in the sport, Pacquiao missed an opportunity to send the most meaningful message possible to the brazen bandits who’ve made a complete mockery of this sport’s fundamentally flawed sanctioning process.
Had Pacquiao rejected the opportunity to win back the WBA “super” welterweight championship he never should’ve lost, the WBA wouldn’t have positioned itself to collect a $150,000 sanctioning fee from his purse for fighting Ugas on Saturday night at T-Mobile Arena. Pacquiao will make much more than the $5 million purse listed on his Nevada State Athletic Commission contract, but underreporting purses at least limits how much these sanctioning scammers make off their standard three-percent fee from fighters’ earnings.
Pacquiao was angry when he learned in January that the WBA stripped him of the “super” 147-pound championship he earned by beating a much younger, undefeated Keith Thurman by split decision two years ago.
The WBA took that title, though not the actual belt, from Pacquiao because he hadn’t fought since he beat Thurman in July 2019 at MGM Grand Garden Arena. The Panama-based WBA simultaneously promoted Ugas, who owned its “world” welterweight title, to “super” champion.
For those that understandably lost track, the WBA recognized four welterweight champions prior to stripping Pacquiao. In addition to Pacquiao and Ugas, Jamal James, now the WBA’s “world” champion, held the WBA’s “interim” title and Vergil Ortiz Jr. owns its “gold” belt.
Despite his displeasure, the ever-polite Pacquiao explained to a group of reporters prior to Wednesday’s press conference why he didn’t even consider refusing to fight for Ugas’ belt.
“Well, this is not only the belt,” Pacquiao said. “It’s about my legacy, my name and also, of course, an honor, honor for my career and honor for my country.”
The obvious problem with Pacquiao’s explanation is that there’s nothing honorable about representing the WBA. And now, more than ever, would’ve been the perfect time for an influential fighter like Pacquiao to take a stand against the WBA’s corrupt practices.
Mykal Fox, the welterweight who was wronged beyond belief by the WBA on August 7 in Minneapolis, is essentially in a powerless position. Boxers in Fox’s predicament need belts, even illegitimate secondary championships, to enhance their value among promoters, television networks and streaming services.
Still, sometimes they figuratively pay the price because the WBA has another agenda, even after literally paying the price in the form of a three-percent sanctioning fee.
Fox paid the WBA more money afterward, a $10,000 fee for filing a protest of an absurd unanimous-decision defeat. His reward was being ordered to box Gabriel Maestre again after already thoroughly out-boxing him in a nationally televised fight.
Unlike Fox and others unfortunately beholden to the WBA, its belts and its rankings, Pacquiao doesn’t need anything from that ostracized organization. The full-time senator should’ve taken an important political stand at his part-time job so that the WBA didn’t take another nickel from him before he retires.
Sean Gibbons, the president of Pacquiao’s promotional company, would’ve loved to see him dump the WBA belt.
“Manny is a very humble person,” Gibbons told BoxingScene.com. “I’m not humble. I need to be more humble. The senator can show me that. My first thought was just to throw [the WBA belt] in the can and walk away. The senator won this belt in a ring. He paid a heck of a lot of money for sanctioning fees. And just because they say we’re not the champ, that don’t mean sh!t to us.
“To me, until he loses in the ring – and it is a weird coincidence that this whole thing went 360 degrees [by fighting Ugas] – but until the senator loses in the ring, he would be, until the day he retired, the WBA ‘super’ champion. I don’t need an organization to recognize Manny Pacquiao.”
Frustrated fans don’t need that, either.
Promoters and television executives see at least some value in selling even the silliest title fights, yet the sport’s consistent customers couldn’t care less about belts in most cases. The 42-year-old Pacquiao is one of the greatest boxers to ever live, somehow still elite, with or without a WBA belt.
The eight-division champion’s crowning achievement – an unforeseen technical knockout of favored Oscar De La Hoya in December 2008 – came in a non-title fight. Dominating De La Hoya was no less impressive because Pacquiao didn’t win or defend a title that night at MGM Grand Garden Arena.
If Pacquiao and Errol Spence Jr. had agreed to box 12½ years later without a single title at stake Saturday night, no one sane would’ve considered it a less fascinating fight.
Same goes for Pacquiao-Ugas. It obviously isn’t nearly as appealing as Pacquiao-Spence, but at least Ugas’ placement on the undercard enabled Al Haymon’s Premier Boxing Champions to salvage the show on such short notice and ensured that Pacquiao’s first training camp in two years wasn’t wasted.
Ugas isn’t Spence, who suffered an eye injury that forced him to withdraw from this FOX Sports Pay-Per-View main event August 9. But the experienced Cuban defector is a legitimate threat whose lone loss in his past 12 fights was a controversial split decision to former IBF/WBC champ Shawn Porter in March 2019.
Pacquiao is listed by MGM Grand’s sports book as slightly more than a 3-1 favorite over Ugas. Gibbons expects Pacquiao to become the first fighter to knock out Ugas in his 11-year pro career, sometime between the seventh and ninth rounds.
“We’re going in as the ‘super’ champion,” Gibbons said. “Ugas is going in as the regular champion. And if he beats Manny Pacquiao, God bless him – he’s the real ‘super’ champion.”
In a symbolic sense, Gibbons feels as though Pacquiao suffered an undeserved loss long before Ugas abruptly replaced Spence. He was irate when the WBA took Pacquiao’s championship from him.
“When I feel someone’s done wrong, I’m a maniac,” Gibbons said. “I just kinda lose it. I need to be more politically correct, probably. But what they did was wrong.”
Pacquiao was wrong, too, for not making the WBA pay in the only way that the shameless sanctioning body would’ve received a most meaningful message.
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.