As you’ve surely heard by now, Errol Spence Jr is out of his scheduled Aug. 21 fight against Manny Pacquiao, with doctors finding a retina tear on the WBC/IBF welterweight titlist. That’s the bad news, and it’s truly bad news. It kills off an intriguing fight (at least for now?) and we can just hope that Spence will make a full recovery and go on with his career — trainer Derrick James believes he will, but eye injuries are nothing to mess with in boxing, this is serious business even if it is “minor.”
Somewhat softening the blow is that the 42-year-old Pacquiao will still fight on that date, facing WBA titleholder Yordenis Ugas, who had been scheduled to fight on the show’s undercard.
How good of a fight is Pacquiao-Ugas?
Whether or not this is a better fight than Pacquiao-Spence depends on perspective, I suppose.
As far as being a blockbuster event, Ugas (26-4, 12 KO) does not carry the same juice that Spence (27-0, 21 KO) does. Spence is an established pay-per-view headliner at this point. He’s not a million-seller, but his last three bouts — wins over Mikey Garcia, Shawn Porter, and Danny Garcia — have all been PPV main events, and they’ve sold enough so that he kept getting the spots.
But is it a more competitive matchup? Maybe. Many thought the 31-year-old Spence was likely to give the aging Pacquiao (62-7-2, 39 KO) a beating and send him into retirement. That may or may not have happened — Manny is still a fantastic fighter, even well past his prime — but I don’t think anywhere near as many people see the 35-year-old Ugas being quite the danger to the Filipino icon.
That’s not to discount Ugas’ chances, though. The Cuban is a damn good fighter, and as much as this was set to be Spence’s chance to take the torch from Manny, it’s now Ugas’. That’s not exactly ideal if you’re the promoters looking to cash Pacquiao out and make a new superstar, but I’m not the promoters, you’re probably not, and Ugas isn’t, either. Ugas is not going to attract the sort of fan base that Spence can, but for Yordenis, this is massive.
Ugas turned pro in 2010 and ran up a record of 11-0 and had a bit of hype as a rising 140 lb contender before he was upset on ShoBox by Johnny Garcia in 2012. He won four straight after that, but then suffered back-to-back losses to Emanuel Robles and Amir Imam in 2014.
It looked like that might have been him hitting the wall. Ugas didn’t fight between May 2014 and Aug. 2016, but he got an offer to fight unbeaten welterweight Jamal James and took it. From there, things started to take off, and Ugas began to deliver on the promise.
He beat James, then took the “0” from Bryant Perrella six weeks later. After six more wins, he got a crack at Shawn Porter’s WBC title in 2019, losing a highly debated decision. That didn’t shut Ugas down, either, and he’s beaten Omar Figueroa Jr (another “0” taken), Mike Dallas Jr, and Abel Ramos in his last three.
Ugas was also promoted from WBA “world” (aka “regular”) champion to WBA “super world” champion earlier this year, with Pacquiao moved to “champion-in-recess” because he hadn’t fought since winning the belt from Keith Thurman in July 2019. Pacquiao and his team were taken by surprise with that ruling, which seemed to be setting up Spence-Ugas in a three-belt unification.
Instead, Pacquiao took a deal to fight Spence, which has now become Pacquiao-Ugas — with Manny getting the chance to regain the belt he didn’t lose.
Manny is not what he was when he made the full move to welterweight in 2009. He’s not what he was in 2012, when he lost what was widely considered a robbery decision to Tim Bradley and was then knocked out by Juan Manuel Marquez. He’s not what he was in 2014 when he beat Bradley and Chris Algieri, or 2015 when he lost to Floyd Mayweather in their long-overdue fight.
But Pacquiao, again, is still a damn good fighter. Since a hugely controversial loss to Jeff Horn in 2017, Pacquiao has beaten Lucas Matthysse, Adrien Broner, and Thurman. The Pacquiao from those fights was still a high-end welterweight.
Still, Matthysse was coming up from 140 and retired after the loss. Broner has been overrated for years, judged on the concept of his skills rather than his results. And Thurman hasn’t really impressed in a fight since 2017.
Ugas is good. Is he good enough? And if he is, is Pacquiao still good enough to handle that? Two years off is a long time at 42.
It’s still a damn good fight. Whether or not it’s worth $80 or whatever on pay-per-view is up to you, but all things considered, this is quite a replacement matchup on less than two weeks’ notice.