By Lem Satterfield
Yordenis Ugas is Shawn Porter’s first defense in his second reign as 147-pound world champion. He’s not the marquee opponent “Showtime” desired, but the champion’s treating the battle of Las Vegans like it’s going to be the fight of his life.
Porter (29-2-1, 17 KOs) is zoned in on Ugas (23-3, 11 KOs), a 32-year-old 2008 Cuban Olympic bronze medalist in pursuit of his ninth straight victory and fifth knockout during that time on March 9 at The MGM Grand in Las Vegas as Premier Boxing Champions returns (FOX 8 p.m. ET/ 5 p. m. PT).
“Ugas comes very powerfully and aggressively, kind of like me. I understand the challenge before me. I can assure you that this will be a great fight.,” said Porter of Ugas, a fellow Las Vegan who will be in his first-ever title clash.
“With Ugas throwing vicious shots, and my high punch out-put, being in your face and trying to walk you down, it’s kind of like an exciting heavyweight match. So trust me, it’s the No. 1 thing on my mind.”
Porter wanted the division’s bigger names following September’s unanimous decision over two-division champion Danny Garcia (34-2, 20 KOs) for the WBC’s vacant crown at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York.
The feat made Porter a 147-pound world titlist for the second time by earning WBA counterpart Keith Thurman’s injury-vacated WBC title at the same location where he won the IBF’s crown with a unanimous decision that dethroned southpaw Devon Alexander in December 2013.
Porter wanted a Thurman (28-0, 22 KOs) rematch upon “One Time’s” return from injuries that sidelined him since defeating Garcia in a March 2017 unification by split-decision, or a then-unscheduled southpaw IBF counterpart Errol Spence Jr. (24-0, 21 KOs).
There was hope for a dream bout against former sparring partner and WBA “regular” titleholder Manny Pacquiao (60-7-2, 39 KOs), if not, a return bout with two-time title winner Andre Berto, whom Porter floored three times during a ninth-round stoppage win in April 2017.
But Pacquiao will fight four-division champion Adrien Broner (33-3-1, 24 KOs) on January 19 at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, Thurman pursues his eighth defense and fifth knockout in title fights opposite Josesito Lopez (36-7, 19 KOs) on January 26 at Barclays Center, and “The Truth” Spence, his third defense and 12th straight knockout on March 16 in Dallas against four-division champion Mikey Garcia (39-0, 30 KOs).
“Those names the public wanted me to be in the ring with aren’t available, whether you’re Errol Spence saying the fight didn’t work out and it’s Shawn Porter’s fault, which he knows isn’t the case,” said Porter, 31.
“Or you’re Keith Thurman who feels that he needs a tune-up after being out of the ring for almost two years, or Manny Pacquiao, who already has taken a big fight with Adrien Broner.”
But Porter won’t look beyond Ugas, who recalls their sparring in advance of his own split-decision victory over Levan Ghvamichava in February 2017 even if “Showtime” doesn’t.
“My Dad [and coach Kenny Porter] thought we sparred a different guy, so [Ugas] is a guy who is somewhat of a ghost in the welterweight division. He doesn’t have name recognition, but I know what it means to want to upset somebody,” said Porter.
“I was that same guy in 2013 when I won the championship against Devon Alexander. Nobody knew who I was. It was supposed to be another win for Devon Alexander. But I’m in Devon’s position, right now, and I’m not going to let that happen to me."
Ugas' winning streak includes split- and unanimous decisions over Ghvamichava and title challenger Thomas Dulorme (August 2017) as well as September’s unanimous decision over Cesars Miguel Barionuevo.
Jamal James and southpaw Bryant Perrella were a combined 34-0 with 22 KOs before falling by unanimous decision and fourth-round stoppage in 2016 to Ugas, who won February's IBF eliminator by seventh-round TKO over southpaw Ray Robinson.
Ugas faced Dulorme as Porter’s replacement on the Floyd Mayweather-Conor McGregor undercard, scoring a pair of second-round knockdowns and rising from the deck in the seventh.
James fought Ugas on three days notice after Perella pulled out with a thumb injury, and Ugas weighed a career-high 158 ½ pounds for his last fight in June, a four-knockdown, second-round TKO of 164 ½ pound Jonathan Batista on the undercard of Spence’s first-round knockout of previously unbeaten Carlos Ocampo.
“Ugas throws a mean overhand right and a nice throw an uppercut, punches that usually don’t come from the outside,” said Porter. “He uses a really tight shell defense, but I can use my boxing abilities, continue to turn him and make him use up energy.”
Porter made one defense of the crown he won from Alexander, a two-knockdown, fourth-round stoppage of two-division titlist Paulie Malignaggi in April 2014 before losing to Kell Brook by majority decision that August.
Porter is 5-1 with two knockouts since Brook, his lone blemish being a unanimous decision loss to Thurman in a June 2016 “Fight Of The Year” contender. His run includes rising from a 12th-round knockdown to complete a unanimous decision victory over Broner in June 2015, and overcoming an injured left hand damaged in the sixth round of a unanimous decision in November 2017 over Andrian Granados before facing Garcia.
“Ugas is a challenge, but we can set him up, make him miss, reach for shots and open up," said Porter. "But I do anticipate knocking him out. I definitely think I can knock him out."