Errol Spence and Yordenis Ugas clash for three portions of the world welterweight championship on Saturday night. Can the Cuban upset the odds and dethrone ‘The Truth’? Luke G. Williams previews the action…
Welterweight has long been considered one of the deepest weight classes in boxing, and the sometimes painfully gradual process towards crowning a single, undisputed 147lbs king will – hopefully – move a step closer on Saturday night when WBC and IBF champion Errol Spence Jr (27-0, 21 KOs) faces WBA ‘super’ titlist Yordenis Ugas (27-4, 12 KOs) at the AT&T stadium in Arlington, Texas.
No man has ever held all four alphabet belts at welter during the – ugh – ‘four-belt era’, but with WBO champ Terence Crawford now a promotional free agent, a tussle for the undisputed title between the Omaha man and the winner of this contest would appear to be within reach, mandatories and inevitable arguments about the purse split notwithstanding.
Although Cory Spinks and then Zab Judah held the WBA, WBC, IBF and Ring magazine welter belts in the mid-2000s, Antonio Margarito’s WBO strap eluded them, meaning that the last truly and without a shadow of a doubt undisputed 147lbs champion was – believe it or not – Britain’s Lloyd Honeyghan, who ripped the WBA, WBC and IBF crowns from Don Curry way back in 1986.
Honeyghan subsequently dumped the WBA belt into a dustbin rather than defend it against South African Harold Volbrecht in a fight that he argued would act as an endorsement of the apartheid system of segregation then in operation in South Africa.
So how do the latest pair of pugilists who are attempting to ultimately join Honeyghan, Sugar Rays Leonard and Robinson and others in the pantheon of true welterweight world champions measure up?
Let’s start with Ugas. Prior to his unanimous points decision victory against the great Manny Pacquiao last August, the 35-year-old Miami-based Cuban was regarded as a steady if unexceptional contender. The Pacquiao fight changed everything for him, of course, although he still starts this fight as a clear underdog. Technically adept and awkward, he is an accomplished boxer, but his style does not always resonate with American judges – as can be seen from the fact that of his four professional defeats three came via split decision.
Aside from a close and debatable loss to Shawn Porter, all of Ugas’ losses came before the birth of his autistic son and his link-up with trainer Ismael Salas, events which he has pinpointed as crucial in improving his focus and dedication to boxing.
There is certainly much to like and admire about Ugas, who seems to possess a fight ‘anyone, any time, any place, anywhere’ mentality, as evidenced by the fact he eagerly stepped in to face Pacquiao last year with less than two weeks’ notice after Spence withdrew with a retinal tear in his left eye and by the fact that he did not flinch from fighting Spence on the Texan’s home turf.
“I’m happy to be fighting in Spence’s backyard, because they have great fans down there in Texas. It just adds extra motivation,” Ugas said. “The Pacquiao fight was a great night for me. After that fight my life changed in even more ways. But I’ve always kept myself humble. I showed everyone who the WBA champion was. I have my eye on continuing to make history.
“Being an underdog means nothing to me. I was the underdog against Pacquiao and now again against Spence. I’ve always been the underdog and it doesn’t faze me. It’s an honour to be in the ring with Errol Spence Jr. We’re fighting for three belts, but even more important is fighting for honour and respect. Fans can expect me to fight like a warrior. I’m going to take all of my hard work into the ring on April 16.”
As for Spence, the 32-year-old has long been regarded as one of the premier boxers in the world. Indeed, it can be argued that the classy southpaw is close to the complete pugilistic package; he has an excellent jab and command of distance; he can punch and he can fight well from distance or on the inside, while his stamina and punch resistance are both excellent.
Perhaps most impressive of all, however, among Spence’s qualities is his enviable ability to adapt mid-fight, or even mid-round, in order to assert himself and win the rounds and moments that matter in a fight – a quality he showed most dramatically in his 2019 showdown with Shawn Porter when he swung a close fight his way by scoring a decisive knockdown in round 11.
Based on pedigree, past results and skills set, this is an easy fight to call and a fight that one would expect Spence to win via a close but clear points decision after 12 competitive rounds.
However, several factors exist which give Ugas backers hope that he may secure an upset. Predominant among these are the doubts concerning Spence’s fitness and physical condition given the shocking automobile accident he suffered in 2019 and the eye operation he underwent last year after withdrawing from the Pacquiao fight.
Since he dramatically rolled his Ferrari 488 Spider at high speed in Dallas, Spence has fought just once, against Danny Garcia, and although he won clearly many felt he did not quite look like the force of old. In contrast, Ugas has fought three times in this period and may, therefore, be the sharper and more battle hardened man come fight night. Furthermore, the Cuban will be fighting with the added confidence engendered in him by his victory against Pacquiao.
Unsurprisingly, Spence has denied that his physical condition or 16 months out of the ring will be an issue for him. “I’m feeling good and I’m ready to go,” he said. “This layoff was easier for me after the injury than the one after the accident because it was a lot less stress on my body. Mentally I was also prepared for what I was going to go through. I had been back in training before camp started for this fight so I’m ready.
“Even half of me would beat most of these guys at the top level. I feel great now and I’m 100%. Physically I’m on point and everything feels real regular. If Ugas’ trainer [Ismael Salas] thinks I’m a different fighter now, we’ll see in two and half weeks how different I am.”
Spence – who has been known to blow up to around 190lbs in between fights – has also claimed that by hiring a full-time nutritionist for the first time, making weight will be less of an issue for him for this fight than it has been in the past.
“Training camp has been great,” he said. “I’ve had great sparring partners and we’ve been focused. I got a nutritionist and it’s made the weight cut much easier for me. I have everything in my arsenal. Whatever Ugas brings to the table, I’m ready for it. I’m going to dictate the pace and control everything. I’m making him fight my fight. From what I’ve seen, Ugas is very physical and very tough. He was waving Shawn Porter forward, so you know he has that fighter spirit inside of him.
“I’ve been putting in a lot of work and I’m not worried about my eye at all. It actually feels stronger than the other one. I’m just making sure that I’m 100 per cent on point with everything. I’m not looking to say anything to the rest of the division. I’m going to send my message with my performance. When I have three belts, everyone is going to know what that means.”
On balance, although doubts persist about Spence, home advantage and his own unquestionable despite and competitive spirit should be enough to see him secure a points victory and – hopefully – move him a step closer to a showdown with Terence Crawford that all of boxing hopes takes place before one or both men enter a period of noticeable deterioration.