“They say the truth don’t belong to nobody, if you see it, you speak it. It would be a sin to keep it a secret”- Brother Ali (2nd Time Around)
The welterweight division will continue to be one of boxing’s most lauded weight classes as Errol Spence Jr. (27-0, 21 KOs) will step in the ring with Yordenis Ugas (27-4, 12 KOs) on April 16th. The match will take place at the AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, marking the third time Spence has headlined at the massive arena.
The number two and three Ring Magazine-rated welterweights will meet to unify the WBA, WBC, and IBF welterweight titles. The Ring Magazine title will not be on the line due to WBO welterweight champion Terence Crawford’s recent performance against Shawn Porter that launched him to the top position in the rankings.
Regardless, Spence, as the IBF/WBC 147-pound champion, will be attempting to make his sixth overall title defense and participate in his second unification bout.
Ugas, last year, solidified himself as the WBA welterweight champion defeating Manny Pacquiao in August 2021 via unanimous decision. Against Spence, he will be facing the most significant challenge of his professional career, and much like the vast majority of his major bouts, he will be the underdog.
Heading into their clash in Texas, both Spence and Ugas have an abundance of questions and uncertainty surrounding them. While Spence is still rated as one of the finest pugilists in boxing pound-for-pound by reputable publications such as Ring Magazine, ESPN, and the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board, fans and pundits alike are unsure if he is still the elite fighter of just a few years ago.
Spence sat on top of the welterweight landscape following his victory over Shawn Porter in September 2019. The fight made him a unified champion, was one of the best fights of 2019, and showed that he was a legitimate draw outside of Texas as over 16,000 fans filled out the Staples Center in Los Angeles.
Then the car crash happened in October 2019 that saw Spence thrown out of his Ferrari, almost putting his life and career to a screeching halt. “Before you know, I was taking a lot of time off, you know, just chilling getting big,” Spence said on an episode of Showtime’s All Access. “I wasn’t all the way into boxing. I had one foot in and one foot out. It wasn’t two feet in. I wasn’t doing the things that you know got me there, you know to that point.”
For fans of Spence that would have picked him in a potential match with Crawford, it may be discouraging to hear that he wasn’t entirely focused on his career and the car crash was a wake-up call for the Texas fighter.
One year later, Spence returned to the ring and soundly defeated former two-division champion Danny Garcia in a performance where he looked like his former self at times. However, not everyone thought Spence resembled the same fighter who went to war with Shawn Porter.
“I watched Errol Spence fight Shawn Porter, and then I watched Errol Spence fight Danny Garcia after Spence had his accident,” said Yordenis Ugas’ trainer Ismael Salas during a media workout. “I do believe he lost something between the Porter and Garcia fights. The same guy, Errol Spence, that fought with Shawn Porter, it was not the same guy that fought with Danny Garcia.”
Following the Garcia bout, Spence was hit with another considerable setback.
Less than two weeks away from the most important fight of his career against Manny Pacquiao in August 2021, Spence was forced to pull out of the match after it was found that he had a retinal detachment in his left eye. Like almost any fighter in the same situation, the missed opportunity to face such a high-profile opponent weighed heavy. Still, even against an aging fighter, the probability of losing his eyesight was too great a risk.
“If I would’ve fought him, I probably would have been blind in my eye and lost my career,” Spence stated. “Everything happens for a reason. I just got to take the punches and roll with it.”
One man’s misfortune is another man’s opportunity.
When Spence pulled out of the Pacquiao fight, as if preordained by destiny, Ugas was preparing to fight on the Pacquiao-Spence undercard against Fabian Maidana. Maidana also suffered an injury to his left eye, and with 11 days’ notice, Ugas was able to step in for Spence to take on the fighting Senator.
Ugas is the perpetually underrated fighter. As an amateur, he won a gold medal at the 2005 World Amateur Boxing Championships at age 19, a gold medal at the 2006 Central American & Caribbean Games, and a Bronze medal at the 2008 Olympics.
Ugas’ career as a professional has had its share of setbacks. In 2014, Ugas suffered two back-to-back losses as a junior welterweight to Emanuel Robles and Amir Imam, leaving the Cuban in a state of self-doubt.
After over two years out of boxing, Ugas returned to the ring as a welterweight with a new trainer that changed his career trajectory. “It’s been a process for Ugas to get back to this point,” said Trainer Ismael Salas. “He had to regain his confidence when he first joined our gym. We had to make a transition from the Cuban style and make him more aggressive. Yordenis Ugas is a master of the middle distance. He knows how to make you miss and make you pay.”
Ugas started his comeback with a victory over Jamal James in August 2016. The Olympic Bronze medalist would stay busy stepping in the ring once more in 2016 and fighting three times in 2017 and 2018.
The eight-fight win streak led the Cuban to his first world title opportunity against Shawn Porter in March 2019. In the bout with Porter, Ugas proved that he was an elite welterweight taking the then WBC titleholder to the limit. Porter would win a controversial split decision over Ugas, with many believing that the Cuban had done more than enough to have his hand raised.
Two years later, Ugas would get his crowning moment by defeating Pacquiao.
However, this victory over Pacquiao has not been met without its share of skepticism. The legendary Filipino was returning from the most extended layoff of his professional career, having last fought over two years earlier against Keith Thurman.
Pacquiao, at 42, was willing to face Ugas on 11-day notice and factoring in the layoff, his age, and the switch in opponents, he may not have been at his best.
“I mean, y’all keep bringing up Pacquiao,” said Spence. “But that’s like, you know Larry Holmes fighting Ali or Terry Norris beating up ‘Sugar’ Ray Leonard or Marcos Maidana beating up Erik Morales. Like Pacquiao is way past his, you know, way past his prime. That was the passing of the torch for myself, but I missed the opportunity.”
Despite Spence’s claims that Ugas’ victory over Pacquiao resembled Larry Holmes’ hard-to-watch drubbing over Muhammad Ali in 1980, what took place in the ring was far from it. Pacquiao still input a solid performance against Ugas in a fight that could best be described as a close but clear victory for the Cuban.
For Spence, the fight with Ugas will be the chance to prove that he is still one of the best fighters in the world. To pick up where he left off in further cementing himself as the best welterweight of the era.
For years, fans have clamored for a fight between Spence and Crawford to the point where the sell date for the match is closing in. Rumors of the former undisputed 140-pound champion signing a deal with Premier Boxing Champions has given some hope that the bout will finally take place. Still, many will remain apathetic until we see them in the ring together.
With upcoming future stars like Jaron Ennis and Vergil Ortiz at welterweight, a victory over Ugas for Spence could be the statement that would let everyone in the division know that he is still a force to be reckoned with.
“I’m not looking to say anything to the rest of the division,” said Spence. “I’m going to send my message with my performance. When I have three belts, everyone is going to know what that means.”
Ugas is a fighter that is no stranger to struggle and being an underdog. He has shown perseverance inside and outside of the ring. From attempting to flee Cuba six times and finally succeeding in 2010 to almost leaving boxing entirely in 2014 to return to headline a major PPV. Ugas is a testament to never giving up on your goals and treating every opportunity given as your last one.
“Being an underdog means nothing to me,” said Ugas at a media workout. “I was the underdog against Pacquiao and now again against Spence. I’ve always been the underdog. It doesn’t faze me. It’s an honor to be in the ring with Errol Spence Jr. We’re fighting for three belts, but even more important is fighting for honor and respect.”
Spence-Ugas will be a fight that is remembered as a turning point for this era and the welterweight division. Ugas prevailing will be pseudo-evidence that there is a multiverse as him stepping up to face Pacquiao after Spence’s eye injury changed the course of boxing history.
There is a multitude of questions that surrounds Spence-Ugas. Is Spence the same fighter he was before the car crash? How will the eye injury impact his performance? Was Ugas lucky to face a 42-year old Pacquiao?
Will Spence return to prominence at the top of the division with only Crawford in his view? Or, will Cuba’s Yordenis Ugas prove that the victory over Pacquiao was just the beginning of something great?
The truth will reveal itself on April 16th.