Two years removed from his last fight, Manny Pacquiao looked all 42 years of his age on Saturday. Now, the living legend must decide whether his boxing future is behind him.
Yordenis Ugas (27-4, 12 KOs), who took the fight on just 11 days’ notice after unified champion Errol Spence Jr. withdrew, relied on defense and hard counterpunching to defend his WBA welterweight title and disappoint the pro-Pacquiao crowd inside T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.
A former Olympic bronze medalist from Cuba, Ugas outlanded Pacquiao by a margin of 101 to 88, according to CompuBox, and landed an incredible 59% of his power shots en route to a unanimous decision (115-113, 116-112, 116-112). CBS Sports also scored it for Ugas, 116-112.
The defeat left Pacquiao (62-8-2, 39 KOs) unsure about his fighting future as rumors continue to swirl that the Filipino Senator will make a run at the presidency in 2022 for his native country.
“I’m sorry that we lost tonight, but I did my best,” Pacquiao said. “I don’t know, I don’t know. Let me rest first and relax [before] I make the decision of whether I will fight or not.
“I will make a final announcement [about running for president] next month. I know that I am facing a big problem that’s more difficult than boxing but I want to help the people. I want to help them.”
Ugas, 35, turned out to be a problem Pacquiao had trouble solving, particularly over the second half of the fight. Fighting behind his high guard, he was defensively responsible enough to prevent Pacquiao from overwhelming him with flashy combinations while slick enough to counter clean with right hands.
More importantly, Ugas was creative and the frustration began to show for Pacquiao, boxing’s only eight-division champion, who had trouble picking up Ugas’ sidearm body shots and looping right hands, which left the “PacMan” with a cut above his left eye and significant swelling below his right by the end of Round 12.
Ugas made the first defense of the title he was upgraded to as full champion during Pacquiao’s 25-month layoff. Pacquiao had captured the WBA title in 2019 by outpointing Keith Thurman while Ugas originally held the interim belt.
“I’m very excited but most of all, I want to thank Manny Pacquiao for giving me this moment in the ring today,” Ugas said. “I told you that I’m the only champion of the WBA. He’s a great competitor and I have a lot of respect for him but I won the fight.
“The double jab was the lead punch. We only had two weeks of training but I listened to my corner and it all worked out.”
Ugas made adjustments throughout to offset the speed advantage of Pacquiao. The living legend blamed the lack of time to prepare for the fight as the reason for his loss after Spence pulled out, needing surgery for a torn retina suffered in training camp.
“I had to make an adjustment for [only] a few days. It’s good but that’s boxing,” Pacquiao said. “I know I was having a hard time in the ring making adjustments about his style. That was a problem for me because I didn’t make an adjustment right away and my legs were tight. It was hard to move.”
Pacquiao did a good job staying with Ugas in the first half by covering up the difficulties he was having with activity. But his output lowered the more frustrated he got as Ugas dared to play chess with the future Hall of Famer while standing right in front of him at close range.
“Now the plan is to unify the title at welterweight,” Ugas said. “Everybody said he’s the champion but now they know who the real champion is.”
Elsewhere on the card, fellow Filipino Mark Magsayo made a thunderous statement with a vicious 10th-round knockout of Julio Ceja. Magsayo, 26, put Ceja out cold with a pair of punches up against the ropes that left the former champion motionless for several moments before he was helped up onto the stool and eventually out of the ring. Magsayo now sits as the No. 1 contender for the WBC featherweight title, currently held by Gary Russell Jr. Plus, Robert Guerrero took a unanimous decision over fellow veteran Victor Ortiz in the co-main event. Guerrero, 38, has now won four in a row.