This Saturday night’s PBC on FOX main event isn’t a huge, blowaway matchup in the top-heavy 147-pound division, but there is a world title at stake, and there is an intriguing underdog story coming from the challenger.
Cuba’s Yordenis Ugas (23-3, 11 KO) will take on WBC titleholder Shawn Porter (29-2-1, 17 KO) in the main event of the show, and it wasn’t all that long ago that it looked like Ugas, now 32, was going to amount to no more than a gatekeeper sort.
Fighting at 140 pounds, he was upset on ShoBox in March 2012, losing a decision — and rightly so — to Johnny Garcia, an unbeaten but unheralded fighter who was really there to be someone to showcase Ugas against.
It was a big win for Garcia, but he’d go on to fight 14 more times after beating Ugas, going 7-6-1 over those fights, and he hasn’t fought since 2017. For all intents and purposes, he’s out of the sport, at least for now.
Ugas took a step back and won four straight, then was matched with Emanuel Robles in Feb. 2014. Again, he lost, a 10-round split decision this time, in a non-televised fight. Robles is still active, but he’s gone just 7-5 since beating Ugas.
Now looking like a bust, Ugas was matched with Amir Imam in his next outing in May 2014. Imam was a top prospect at the time, and beat Ugas over eight rounds. Imam, for what it’s worth, has gone 7-2 since beating Ugas, and had a world title fight in 2018, which he lost to Jose Ramirez.
The point is, these weren’t really great fighters that Ugas was losing against — two of them are far from it, and Imam, while plenty capable, didn’t wind up being the stud that Don King hoped he would be, either.
And then Ugas was just out of the ring for a while. He sat out the rest of 2014, then all of 2015, before finally returning in Aug. 2016. He moved up to welterweight and took a fight with unbeaten prospect Jamal James. James figured to win — this time, he was the guy being showcased, against a thrice-beaten fighter who was now seen as a step-up opponent.
Then Ugas beat James on the cards, and clearly so. That got him a fight just six weeks later, against another unbeaten prospect, Bryant Perrella. He beat Perrella, too, stopping him in the fourth round.
In 2017, Ugas beat Levan Ghvamichava, Nelson Lara, and Thomas Dulorme. In 2018, he topped Ray Robinson, Jonathan Batista, and Cesar Barrionuevo, the last fight a WBC eliminator.
Eight straight wins overall. From cast-aside afterthought to contender. Sure, none of the wins have come against any of the real top stars of the welterweight division, which is often called boxing’s best, but is in all reality currently about six standouts deep before you get into a large jumble of second-tier contenders and pretenders. But he’s kept winning. And as much as most anyone really does in today’s boxing world, he’s earned his shot.
Porter, 31, is the favorite, no question. He deserves to be. “Showtime” Shawn has more notable wins over name fighters in his career, including Devon Alexander, Paulie Malignaggi, Adrien Broner, Andre Berto, Adrian Granados, and most recently, Danny Garcia, his career-best victory. His two losses came to Kell Brook in 2014 and Keith Thurman in 2016, both top-shelf fighters.
But Ugas, while a true underdog, at least has a story. At least he’s been on a roll. He really wasn’t supposed to get here, but he is. And he’s well aware that this is a new level for him, where he’ll have to prove himself all over again:
“I changed trainers and made changes in my life. That is what’s made a difference. ... I have great conditioning as well and I’m a competitor. It’s going to be a good fight, an exciting fight. A first-class, strong fight. I’m looking at the hardest night of my career, but I will succeed.”
Chances are, if we’re all being honest, he’s not going to be lifting the green belt on Saturday night when all is said and done. But chances were he wasn’t going to beat James or Perrella. If he were the same fighter he looked like in those losses in 2012 and 2014, he probably would’ve lost to someone else in the last couple of years — Dulorme might have beaten him, or Ghvamichava, or Barrionuevo.
There’s no question he’s become a better fighter, maybe the fighter he was supposed to be all along. The question now is, is that fighter good enough for the true top level of the division, or have we seen about all Ugas is going to accomplish?