With a massive win over Manny Pacquiao, Yordenis Ugas finds himself in a spot that even two weeks ago he couldn’t have imagined.
He still has the WBA welterweight title. He just beat — and possibly retired — an all-time great, a true legend. And now, the Cuban guy that nobody really wanted to fight all that badly is going to be in-demand like never before.
Ugas (27-4, 12 KO) wasn’t supposed to be the opponent last night for Pacquiao, of course. That was supposed to be WBC/IBF titlist Errol Spence Jr, who pulled out on 11 days’ notice due to an eye injury. We told you immediately not to count Ugas out, not to think of this as a poor replacement fight. It never was, and it certainly didn’t wind up being one.
Pacquiao (62-8-2, 39 KO) is not the fighter he used to be; we also told you that, and noted it was one of the things that made this still a compelling fight. The question is whether Ugas was good enough to beat Manny, and if so, whether Manny was still good enough to hold him off.
Ugas was. Manny wasn’t.
So now the 35-year-old Ugas is a firmly established titleholder, and as close to being a “star” as he’s ever been. Being good or even great doesn’t guarantee “stardom” in boxing, and Cuban fighters have a tough time because the natural paying fan base isn’t really there in the U.S. or anywhere else pro boxing is routinely held. They also tend to have a style that doesn’t appeal to the “casual fan,” though Ugas is certainly not as dull as Guillermo Rigondeaux can be.
The obvious, biggest path is unification, and possibly for Ugas to fight Errol Spence Jr (27-0, 21 KO), if Spence does come back, which he says he will. That’s not guaranteed by any means, nor is it even close to a guarantee he’ll be the same fighter upon his return. Eye injuries are dangerous for anyone, let alone someone who gets punched in the face on the job.
But Spence-Ugas, which it seemed was the idea earlier this year before Pacquiao signed to fight Spence, which then turned into Pacquiao-Ugas, is a really good fight.
A unification with WBO titleholder Terence “Bud” Crawford (37-0, 28 KO) would also surely appeal to Ugas, but that’s less likely. Crawford is still “across the street” at Top Rank, and wouldn’t you know it, but PBC just picked up another major welterweight fight to make in Spence-Ugas, just when it seemed like they may be running a bit thin finally.
If not unification, a rematch with Shawn Porter (31-3-1, 17 KO) could come up. Porter currently has an order to fight Crawford, with that expected to go to purse bid. It’s boxing and to be blunt, dumb shit happens a lot in boxing, so that could wind up not happening. Porter beat Ugas by highly disputed split decision back in 2019, so there would be some intrigue to that one.
Don’t ignore Keith Thurman (29-1, 22 KO) as a possibility. Spence doesn’t have a clear timetable to return yet, Crawford and Porter may fight each other, and Thurman has been training again. He hasn’t fought since he lost to Pacquiao in 2019, but he was part of the FOX broadcast team last night, too. He was there and saw the fight in person, he certainly will come away with some thoughts.
If the WBA stick to their totally believable promise to lessen the number of “world champions” they acknowledge, then Jamal James (27-1, 12 KO) could be in the mix. He has the WBA’s secondary “world” title (the one people call “regular”). Ugas beat James back in 2016, which started Ugas’ big career turnaround and started him on the path that got him to where he is now.
Vergil Ortiz Jr (18-0, 18 KO) has the WBA’s “gold” title, but nobody actually knows what the hell that is or whether it means anything, and it’s only really mentioned in press releases.
As the current rankings stand, Eimantas Stanionis (13-0, 9 KO) is the WBA’s No. 1 contender. Like James, Stanionis is a PBC fighter.
Whatever Ugas does, he’s got a dream position right now. This is the biggest chance he’ll have to make even more serious money, and he’s not a guy you can count out against anyone right now. There are multiple good fights to make — some obviously bigger than others.
For a guy who almost quit the sport for good less than a decade ago, it’s quite a spot to be in today.