Yordenis Ugas has heard the same criticism of his countrymen for many years.
Detractors of Cuban-born professional prizefighters often contend that they’re incapable of winning “the big fights.” Ugas’ Cuban contemporaries – most notably Yuriorkis Gamboa, Erislandy Lara, Luis Ortiz and Guillermo Rigondeaux – have had a lot of success in recent years, yet they have come up short in their highest-profile fights against Terence Crawford, Canelo Alvarez, Deontay Wilder and Vasiliy Lomachenko, respectively.
Ugas himself dropped a controversial split decision to former WBC welterweight champ Shawn Porter in what was Ugas’ biggest fight before he boxed Pacquiao.
Nevertheless, Ugas disproved that theory Saturday night when he upset the legendary Manny Pacquiao by unanimous decision in their 12-round welterweight title fight at T-Mobile Arena. The 35-year-old Ugas discussed afterward how much it means to him to have produced such a historically significant moment for Cubans worldwide.
“I’m very, very emotional,” Ugas said. “A lot of people say the Cubans can’t win the big fight. So, I’m very, very proud that I brought this win for Cuba, for the people of Cuba, to show them what I’m all about.”
Ugas’ entire family, other than his 6-year-old son, still reside in Cuba, where public protests against the country’s political policies have led to countless arrests this year. Yordenis Ugas Jr. lives in Miami, where his mother and father share custody of him.
His father, meanwhile, has been outspoken about the need for change in the country he eventually escaped when he was 24 years old, in search of a better life. Ugas was jailed six times after failed defections from Cuba prior to reaching the United States in 2010.
“That’s always been my message, for the liberty of the Cuban people,” Ugas told BoxingScene.com. “I’ve always fought for them. This [is] huge for Cuba itself.”
Ugas (27-4, 12 KOs), who replaced an injured Errol Spence Jr. as Pacquiao’s opponent on 11 days’ notice, is especially appreciative of Pacquiao (62-8-2, 39 KOs) because the WBA “super” welterweight champion has seen how committed the full-time senator is to helping his people in the Philippines.
“I also admire him because he fights for his country, the same way I fight for Cuba,” Ugas said before walking off the stage at the press conference. “I want to free Cuba.”
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.