Errol Spence is rightfully regarded as the top welterweight in the world. He’s undefeated. He owns the WBC and IBF welterweight titles. He has high-water mark victories over names such as Shawn Porter, Danny Garcia, Mikey Garcia, and Kell Brook. On April 16 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, he’ll be taking on WBA 147 lb. titlist Yordenis Ugas in a bid to become a 3-belt world champ in the division.
But he never got the big Manny Pacquiao fight he wanted.
He almost got it. Last year, he was slated to face the Filipino icon in what promised to be a passing of the torch bout and a step up to next-level fame and acclaim. Unfortunately, a torn retina that required surgery closed the door to his rumble with a legend.
Spence’s closed door, however, allowed for the door to be opened for Cuba’s Yordenis Ugas– and Ugas took full advantage of the opportunity, taking a unanimous decision over the 42-year-old future Hall of Famer back in August.
Since Ugas beat Pacquiao, Spence has had a lot of time to think about what he lost and where he can go next. His return to the ring against Ugas has been viewed by many as battle by proxy against Manny Pacquiao. How well he does against the fighter who retired Pacquiao will say a lot about just how good HE is.
While beating the man who beat the man is not as good as just beating the man, himself, it’s pretty much the next big thing. Really, it’s the only thing Spence can grasp at right now.
However, whenever he gets the chance, he seems to be downplaying this dynamic. Maybe slightly bothered by being measured against the memory of a legend or against the performance of another fighter against that memory, Spence is diminishing Ugas’ accomplishment by diminishing Manny’s status in the game at the time Ugas defeated him.
“I watched the Ugas vs. Manny Pacquiao fight live, but I haven’t watched it since then,” Spence recently told media. “I thought the way that fight went was more because of Manny Pacquiao being a shell of himself.”
That’s a pretty innocuous statement on its surface, but it’s pretty harsh when you pick away at the surface of the comment. Essentially, Spence is saying that Ugas is less of a fighter than we think because Pacquiao was a greatly diminished presence when he faced Ugas.
It could be the truth. Maybe Ugas did catch Manny at the perfect time. Maybe Manny WAS done as a high-end fighter. Maybe he had aged significantly since two years prior when he beat a Keith Thurman, who was thought to be no worse than a top 3 welterweight in the world at the time.
But that’s absolutely not how most of the rest of the boxing world sees things like this. Even those who acknowledge that Manny may have been a “shell” of his true self, will judge Spence’s high-end capabilities against the man who beat Manny, Ugas. That’s just how things work in the court of boxing public opinion.
Regardless, Spence says that he’s only focused on the task at hand and is looking forward to adding another welterweight belt to his collection.
“I’ve been looking forward to this fight since I had to drop out of the Pacquiao bout,” Spence affirmed. “I knew I would be fighting the winner…Now I’ve got Ugas in front of me. He’s a tough champion who’s been through a lot in his life.”
If he beats Ugas on April 16, though, it’s a pretty safe bet that Spence, at some level, will be celebrating the fact that he beat the man who beat Manny Pacquiao.