By Lem Sattterfield
Yordenis Ugas spots Shawn Porter on occasion in Las Vegas where both live, at boxing matches in local venues and arenas, and recalls sparring “Showtime” in early 2017.
“It was about four rounds of relaxed sparring,” said Ugas of a session preceding his split-decision over Levan Ghvamichava in February 2017.
“We see each other at local fights. But [familiarity] will not matter, and our sparring will be nothing like the action you will see between us fighting in the ring that night.”
The 32-year-old Ugas (23-3, 11 KOs) will be after his ninth straight victory and fifth knockout during that time in his first-ever world title shot against Porter, a 31-year-old two-time champion making the initial defense of his WBC welterweight crown on March 9 at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas as Premier Boxing Champions returns (FOX 8 p.m. ET/ 5 p. m. PT).
“[The professional ranks] haven’t been easy for me. This is the fulfillment of a dream I’ve had for my nine years as a professional,” said Ugas, a Cuban bronze medal winner in the 2008 Olympic Games.
“Now that I have this opportunity, I’m really happy and I’m going to make the most of it. I’m not thinking about losing. My focus is on winning.”
Ugas claimed amateur victories over current and past champions Terence Crawford, Darlys Perez, Francisco Vargas, Khabib Allakverdiev, Jose Pedraza, Julius Indongo and Sadam Ali. He has four knockouts in his past eight consecutive wins while competing from 140-to-158 ½ pounds, last suffering consecutive unanimous decision losses to then-unbeatens Emanuel Robles and Amir Imam in 140-pound bouts in February and May 2014.
“I’m an Olympic medalist and amateur champion,” said Ugas. “I’m going to show why that matters and that I’m not a nobody, so you’re going to see two warriors giving it their all.”
Ugas’ run includes split- and unanimous decisions over Ghvamichava and title challenger Thomas Dulorme in February and August 2017 as well as a unanimous decision over Cesars Miguel Barionuevo in his last fight in September.
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 a 147-pound IBF eliminator in February when he stopped left-hander Ray Robinson in the seventh round.
Ugas replaced Porter on the Floyd Mayweather-Conor McGregor undercard when he twice scored second-round knockdowns and rose from the deck in the seventh against Dulorme. James took the fight against Ugas on three days notice after Perella, his original opponent, pulled out with a thumb injury.
The win over Robinson made Ugas a potential opponent for the crown held by left-handed IBF champion Errol Spence (24-0, 21 KOs), the WBC also ruled that he should face Porter. Spence chose to pursue his 12th straight knockout and fourth defense against four-division champion Mikey Garcia (39-0, 30 KOs) on Fox at 9 p.m. ET/ 6 p.m. ET on March 16 at The Dallas Cowboys’ AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
“I’m glad the WBC gave me Porter,” said Ugas, who weighed a career-high 158 ½ pounds for his four-knockdown, second-round TKO of 164 ½ pound Jonathan Batista on the June undercard of a first-round stoppage by Spence of previously unbeaten Carlos Ocampo.
“It’s a really good matchup for my style, one of the best I could get and a very good opportunity. Our styles are made for each other. Porter’s a great champion who has never been in a boring fight, and many of my fights are also pure action.”
In September, Porter earned WBA counterpart Keith Thurman’s injury-vacated crown by unanimous decision over Danny Garcia (34-2, 20 KOs), becoming a 147-pound world titlist for the second time by vanquishing the two-division champion at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York,
The triumph represented the 31-year-old Porter’s third straight victory since falling to Thurman (28-0, 22 KOs) by “Fight Of The Year Caliber” unanimous decision in June 2016, comprised of a three-knockdown, ninth-round TKO of two-time champion Andre Berto (April 2017), a unanimous decision over Adrian Granados (November 2017) and the win over Garcia.
“Porter’s an aggressive fighter, but I’m a warrior as well, and we’re going to clash, hard, in the ring. I have to prepare myself 200 percent and to leave 200 percent,” said Ugas.
“I’m not worrying about the judges. Since we’re both from Las Vegas, I think they’ll be fair. I know Porter’s going to come to fight. I’m just thinking about doing my job. I have confidence that on that night, I’m going to surprise people.”