When Cuban WBA welterweight belt holder Yordenis Ugas upset future first ballot Hall of Famer Manny Pacquiao back in August, it was assumed that the Olympic bronze medalist would be on the fast track to next-level fame and money. Pacquiao, after all, was still one of the elite names in the sport and everyone was calling their bout a passing of the torch moment.
It wasn’t realistic to think that Ugas would become an instant superstar on the weight of that win, but it was expected that he would be able to parlay that victory into other big fights with the likes of Errol Spence or, maybe, a Keith Thurman or Danny Garcia.
Instead, the WBA is tossing Ugas right back into second tier land by forcing him to be part of a 4-man tournament to determine a single world champ in the welterweight division. The problem is that Ugas, rightfully so, already believes himself to be the rightful and singular WBA world champ.
Per WBA edict, the 35-year-old Ugas, who is officially the sanctioning body’s “super” world champ, would have to face Lithuania’s Eimantas Stanionis, with the winner of that contest meeting the winner of a bout between “regular” world champ Jamal James and Russia’s Radzhab Butaev. He had tried to petition the sanctioning body for an exemption to his mandatory defense against Stanionis so he could fight a title unification bout with IBF/WBC champ Errol Spence, but his request was denied. Instead, the WBA held firm on their plans for the mini-tournament.
Ugas, who called the decision by WBA president Gilberto Mendoza “a lack of respect for my country, for my family, for my fans, for my team,” already holds a unanimous decision victory over Jamal James from back in 2016.
“It is disrespectful that the @GilberticoWBA has a tournament to define its champ, when I’m the super champ,” Ugas said via video message on his Twitter account. “I had my first defense with Pacquiao and I have a victory over the regular champ James. Of the 14 WBA super champ none have a mandatory fight. Why me?? I want to unify.
“Which super champ has a mandatory fight imposed? Even though he is on his way to a unification of 3 belts, every fighter’s dream is to be a champion, then to unify and that is my intention that I think I have won. My team and I will reach the last consequences for our rights.”
Mendoza, who had been receiving tremendous flak for a highly controversial decision in August’s Mykal Fox-Gabriel Maestre bout that involved apparent massive conflicts of interest, would deflect attention away from the debacle by announcing his intent to unify all WBA world titles in all divisions. The goal, according to the WBA pres, was to consolidate all belts– super, regular, interim– into one.
And, apparently, there will be no exception for a fighter who truly has earned his spot as the one legit WBA welterweight titlist.
Prior to his career-defining unanimous decision victory over Pacquiao, Ugas had been flying under the radar as a rising presence in the 147 lb. class. He was on an 11-1 run after taking some time away from the ring in 2014-2016 with wins over some solid names such as Jamal James, Abel Ramos, Thomas Dulorme, Ray Robinson, Bryant Perrella, and Omar Figueroa Jr. His lone loss in that stretch of time came via controversial split decision to Shawn Porter in 2019.
In short, if there’s anyone in the WBA who’s earned the right to skip this makeshift unification process, it’s Ugas. To be honest, he probably earned that right even before beating Pacquiao. After the Pacquiao win, though, there should be zero question about his worthiness.
He’s also earned the right to move on to a big money unification bout with Spence.
And it’s a sure thing fans would rather see him against Spence than paired against contenders in much smaller bouts.