LAS VEGAS – Yordenis Ugas' unbelievable journey toward realizing the American dream became Hollywood-worthy Saturday night at T-Mobile Arena.
The Cuban veteran upset Manny Pacquiao by unanimous decision in their 12-round welterweight title fight and legitimized himself as the WBA’s true 147-pound champion. Ugas, a late replacement for an injured Errol Spence Jr., displayed discipline while consistently landing jabs and counter right hands against a fast but shorter southpaw who had difficulty landing clean punches against a taller, longer opponent during his first fight in more than two years.
All three judges – Dave Moretti (116-112), Patricia Morse Jarman (115-113) and Steve Weisfeld (116-112) – scored this FOX Sports Pay-Per-View main event for Ugas.
CompuBox credited Ugas for landing 21 more punches overall than Pacquiao (151-of-405 to 130-of-815). According to CompuBox’s unofficial count, Ugas connected with more power punches, and at an incredibly accurate rate (101-of-171 to 88-of-340), as well as more jabs (50-of-234 to 42-of-275).
“I’m very excited,” Ugas told FOX Sports’ Jordan Plant after earning the biggest victory of his 11-year career. “First of all, I wanna thank Manny Pacquiao for giving me this moment in this ring today. I told you I’m the champion of the WBA and I showed it tonight.”
The 35-year-old Ugas (27-4, 12 KOs), who defected from Cuba after winning a bronze medal at the 2008 Summer Olympics, proved his superiority over Pacquiao and retained the “super” title that was stripped from the Filipino legend late in January. The Miami resident has won 12 of his past 13 fights since suffering back-to-back points defeats in 2014.
His lone loss during that stretch was a highly controversial split decision to former WBC champ Shawn Porter in March 2019. Ugas also improved to 4-0 versus southpaws since he moved up to the welterweight division in 2016.
“He’s a great competitor, but I came in here to show that I am the champion of the WBA,” Ugas said. “And a lot of respect for Manny, but I won the fight. … We only had two weeks of training [for Pacquiao], but I listened to my corner and it all worked out.”
Miami’s Ugas, who replaced an injured Spence on 11 days’ notice, said Spence, the unbeaten IBF/WBC champ, is the opponent he wants to fight next. His crowning achievement completed a whirlwind week-and-a-half for Ugas, who was supposed to defend his title against Argentina’s Fabian Maidana (18-1, 13 KOs) on the Pacquiao-Spence undercard.
The 42-year-old Pacquiao (62-8-2, 39 KOs), who went off as a 4-1 favorite at MGM Grand’s sports book, wouldn’t commit to whether this loss would mark the end of his celebrated career. The senator might run for president of the Philippines, which could prohibit him from fighting again.
“I don’t know,” Pacquiao told FOX Sports’ Heidi Androl when asked if he would box again. “I don’t know. Let me rest first and relax, and make a decision if I will continue to fight. … I will make a final announcement next month [on running for president]. I know that this is a big problem, more difficult works than boxing. But I want to help the people. I want to help them.”
The popular politican’s future notwithstanding, Pacquiao lost for the first time since his highly controversial, 12-round, unanimous-decision defeat to Jeff Horn in July 2017 in Horn’s hometown of Brisbane, Australia.
“It was a big adjustment for a few days [to train],” Pacquiao said of the late change in opponents. “So, it’s good, but that’s boxing.”
By the 12th round, it appeared as though Pacquiao would need a knockout to win. He has just one knockout in his past 17 fights, a trend that dates back to 2010.
Ugas caught Pacquiao with a right hand and then quickly with another right hand that knocked Pacquiao across the ring in the opening minute of the 12th round. Pacquiao tried to land an impactful punch for the remainder of the 12th round, but Ugas defended himself well.
Ugas landed another right hand around Pacquiao’s left glove with 1:20 to go in the 11th round. Ugas knocked Pacquiao off balance yet again with a right hand when there were about 40 seconds on the clock in the 11th round.
Pacquiao tagged Ugas with a left hand in an exchange in the opening minute of the 10th round. That shot moved Ugas backward, toward the ropes, but he didn’t seem hurt by it.
Ugas’ right hand knocked Pacquiao off balance with about 1:10 to go in the 10th round.
Pacquiao went to the canvas 40 seconds into the ninth round, but referee Russell Mora rightfully ruled it a slip.
A counter right hand by Ugas knocked Pacquiao off balance about 50 seconds into the eighth round. Another right by Ugas made Pacquiao reset his feet with about 1:10 remaining in the eighth round.
Ugas touched Pacquiao with two more right hands as the eighth round came to a close.
A right hand by Ugas backed up Pacquiao with just over a minute to go in the seventh round. Ugas, who worked well off his jab in that round, snuck another right hand around Pacquiao’s guard as the seventh round came to an end.
Ugas landed a left-right combination a minute into the sixth round. Ugas’ right hand backed Pacquiao into the ropes with 1:20 to go in the sixth round.
Ugas connected with a right hand, but Pacquiao fired back with a left that landed in the final 10 seconds of the sixth round.
Pacquiao’s combination backed Ugas into the ropes less than a minute into the fifth round. Ugas drilled Pacquiao with a straight right hand just before the midway mark of the fifth round.
Ugas connected with a counter right with approximately 30 seconds remaining in the fifth round. They traded hard punches in an entertaining exchange as the fifth round wound down.
Ugas snapped back Pacquiao’s head with a jab about 15 seconds into the fourth round. Approximately 40 seconds into the fourth round, Mora sternly warned Ugas for a low blow that caused a brief break in the action.
That marked the third time in four rounds that Mora admonished Ugas for hitting Pacquiao below his belt.
Ugas landed a straight right hand that backed up Pacquiao with 40 seconds to go in the fourth round.
Ugas snuck a right hand around Pacquiao’s guard about 1:15 into the third round. Pacquiao countered Ugas with a left hand when there was just over a minute remaining in the third round.
Pacquiao backed Ugas into the ropes with a lead right hand several seconds later. Ugas landed a flush right directly to Pacquiao’s face as Pacquiao pressured him toward the end of that back-and-forth third round.
Ugas used his jab well in the first half of the second round. Pacquaio had trouble penetrating the longer, rangier Ugas’ defense in that round, too.
Ugas caught Pacquiao with a short, right uppercut with about 35 seconds on the clock in the second round. Mora warned Ugas again for low blows as the second round came to an end, though.
Pacquaio’s left hand stung Ugas and made him smile to acknowledge Pacquiao’s powerful shot 1:15 into their fight. At Pacquiao’s urging, Mora warned Ugas for a low blow with about 30 seconds to go in the first round.
Pacquiao slipped to the canvas just before the first round ended. The bell sounded as Pacquiao got up and Mora wiped his gloves clean.
Pacquiao fought for the first time since he out-pointed Keith Thurman (29-1, 22 KOs, 1 NC) by split decision and won the WBA “super” 147-pound crown in July 2019 at MGM Grand Garden Arena.
Ugas ended nearly a one-year layoff of his own. His previous fight took place September 6, when he won the then-vacant WBA “world” welterweight title by beating Abel Ramos (27-4-2, 21 KOs) by split decision in their 12-rounder at Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles.
Pacquiao was supposed to oppose Spence in a much higher-profile fight Saturday night.
Spence (27-0, 21 KOs) was forced to withdraw from their showdown August 9 after an eye examination required for licensure detected damage to his right retina. The 31-year-old Spence, of DeSoto, Texas, underwent surgery August 11 in Dallas.
A firm timetable for Spence’s return hasn’t been established, but Ugas wants to fight him whenever Spence is healthy and cleared to compete.
“He’s the next one on the list that I wanna fight,” Ugas said. “But most of all, I am praying that he recuperates.”
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.