When Yordenis Ugas replaced an injured Errol Spence Jr. against Manny Pacquiao back in August of 2021, boxing’s collective fandom let out a groan of disgust. Ugas was a firm second-tier player, originally relegated to the Pacquiao-Spence undercard, and few saw him as a worthy opponent for the Filipino icon and first ballot Hall of Famer. Ugas may have held the WBA world welterweight title, but the general feeling was that he wasn’t in Pacquiao’s league, even at Pacquiao’s advanced age of 42.
But Ugas proved the critics wrong by executing a technically sound, ultra-focused game plan that earned him the unanimous decision that night. For casual fans, the win came out of the blue. For those paying attention to the Cuban’s career trajectory, that win was merely the culmination of one of boxing’s biggest recent success stories.
Born and raised in Santiago de Cuba, Ugas learned to fight in the legendary Cuban amateur system and would eventually win a bronze medal in the 2008 Olympic games. In 2010, he defected from his home country with little more than the clothes on his back and dreams of becoming a star in the world of boxing.
Things did not originally go as planned, however, and he didn’t immediately take the professional boxing world by storm. In 2014, after back-to-back losses, Ugas walked away from the sport he once loved.
But the passion would find its way back into his heart and, after more than two years outside the ring, he came back, re-energized and re-focused. He’s never looked back since then, notching a 12-1 record in the subsequent 6 years, with his lone setback being a very controversial split decision loss to Shawn Porter in 2019.
His remarkable run of success, topped by the Pacquiao win, flew in the face of what was expected and of his status as a fighter who was very good, but not quite elite.
So, the 5-to-1 betting odds against him this Saturday when he faces WBC/IBF welterweight champ Errol Spence atop a Showtime pay-per-view in AT&T Stadium don’t really faze him all that much.
“It doesn’t mean nothing,” Ugas told Premier Boxing Champions’ Ray Flores. “I’ve been the underdog not just for Pacquiao or Errol Spence. Most of my fights I’ve been the underdog. That doesn’t mean nothing for me.”
Ugas would also tell Ring Magazine of his perpetual underdog status and how much the Pacquiao victory meant to his career and to his self-belief.
“I have been in plenty of situations plenty of times before like this where I’m the (underdog), Pacquiao being the most recent one, but at the same time, I know how to handle it and I can bring this fight along like I have before,” Ugas said through an interpreter. “I gained confidence after the Pacquiao win, I gained faith, and I knew once I stepped into the ring with Pacquiao, good things were going to happen. I have the same feeling good things will come my way when I get in the ring with Spence.”
Errol Spence had longed for the Pacquiao clash before he was forced to withdraw due to a retinal tear in his left eye. The Desoto, Texas native felt that beating Pacquiao would be the key to next-level superstar status. And he was probably right, it might’ve been.
But, for Ugas, that superstar status has yet to take form in the wake of the Pacquiao upset. In boxing, it’s hard to climb to the highest level of the sport if you weren’t supposed to do so. The talented Cuban certainly falls into that category of fighters who will just have to keep proving themselves until it finally clicks in that he’s “for real.”
Beating Spence this Saturday should do it for Ugas, but that’s a daunting task and, certainly, the odds are against him. That hasn’t stopped Ugas before, though.