Pacquiao fails to reclaim WBA title in unanimous decision loss to Ugas

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LAS VEGAS — Yordenis Ugás beat Manny Pacquiao by unanimous decision on Saturday night, August 21, 2021 (US time), putting on an impressive technical performance on 11 days' notice and retaining his World Boxing Assiciation (WBA) welterweight title.

Ugás (27-4) seized his opportunity as the late injury replacement for Errol Spence Jr., frustrating Pacquiao (67-8-2) throughout what might be the final fight of the 42-year-old Filipino senator’s career.

The 35-year-old Ugás threw roughly half as many punches as Pacquiao, but his blows were more precise and more effective. Pacquiao was the solid favorite before the bout, but the eight-division world champion struggled to get inside on Ugás' effective jab while Ugás landed his right hand to increasing effect in the later rounds.

“I’m very excited, but most of all, I want to thank Manny Pacquiao for giving me this moment in this ring today,” Ugás said through a translator. “We only had two weeks of training, but I listened to my corner and it all worked out.”

Two judges scored it 116-112 for Ugás, and a third had it 115-113. The Associated Press also scored it 116-112 for Ugás.

A visibly disappointed Pacquiao said he has not decided whether he will fight again after an unimpressive performance in his return from the longest layoff of his quarter-century in professional boxing. He also would not confirm whether he will enter the Philippines’ presidential race, as is widely expected. He intends to make an announcement next month.

“Let me rest first before my family and I make a decision,” Pacquiao said.

The victory was the culmination of a lengthy journey for Ugás, who defected from Cuba two years after winning a bronze medal in the Beijing Olympics. Ugás quit boxing for two years midway through the last decade, but revitalized his career and then capitalized on this unexpected shot against one of the greatest fighters of their era by earning his 12th victory in his last 13 fights.

“He’s a great competitor, but I came in here to show I am the champion of the WBA,” Ugás said. "A lot of respect for him, but I won this fight.”

Ugás got this opportunity only last week when Spence was forced to drop out after discovering he had a torn retina during a pre-fight physical. Ugás had been booked for a bout on the undercard, but he seized the opportunity for the sport's biggest spotlight and the type of payday that had been just out of reach since he left Cuba on a small boat bound for Mexico 11 years ago.

T-Mobile Arena appeared to be essentially sold out despite the late opponent change, and the crowd of 17,438 was vocally behind its Filipino hero. Even after a lengthy layoff in the last stages of his career, Pacquiao remains a surefire draw and a bankable star in a sport lacking both at its highest levels.

Ugás had a clear game plan despite the short notice, working hard in the early rounds with an effective jab and body shots. Pacquiao was more aggressive and occasionally got the crowd to its feet with combinations, but he didn’t immediately find a consistent way to get inside the jab.

Ugás’ confidence grew in the middle rounds, and he responded to some action at the seventh-round bell with a defiant shimmy-shake of his shoulders in Pacquiao’s direction. Pacquiao threw roughly twice as many punches as Ugás for long stretches, but they landed about the same number as Ugás showed off his defense and precision against Pacquiao’s activity.

Pacquiao caught Ugás with a combination in the 10th round and knocked him back as the crowd rose in excitement, but Ugás recovered and rallied with big shots. Ugás also looked sharp in the 12th round, peppering Pacquiao all the way to the final bell.

Pacquiao had won three straight bouts since July 2017, but he hadn’t fought since beating Keith Thurman in 2019 to win the WBA welterweight title.

That belt belonged to Ugás by the time Pacman returned: While Pacquiao’s political career and the pandemic kept him out of the ring in 2020, the WBA took away the belt and awarded it to Ugás, who had won a different version of the belt in the WBA’s byzantine championship system.

The WBA's decision irked Pacquiao, who held various welterweight belts for a decade after he first moved up to 147 pounds in 2009 and stopped Miguel Cotto in arguably his single greatest performance.

On the undercard of Ugás' victory at T-Mobile Arena, Robert Guerrero returned from a 23-month ring absence with a unanimous decision over fellow veteran Victor Ortiz, winning 96-94 on all three cards.

The 38-year-old Guerrero (37-6-1) had a strong second round and persevered with a high punch volume to beat the 34-year-old Ortiz (32-7-3), who hadn’t fought in 42 months. Ortiz was charged with multiple counts of sexual assault in 2018, but the charges were dismissed late last year.

Filipino featherweight Mark Magsayo (23-0, 16 KOs) preserved his unbeaten record with a dramatic 10th-round knockout of Julio Ceja, who was ahead on all three judges’ scorecards. (AP)

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