There was a sense of relief following Manny Pacquiao’s loss to Yordenis Ugas; relief that the Filipino icon hadn’t been staring down the barrel of Errol Spence Jnr’s punches as originally intended, and that maybe, it has dawned on the fallen fighter that enough is enough.
Pacquiao didn’t look awful, but he didn’t look himself. Sure, some of that was down to the crafty Cuban, choosing accuracy over volume and making use of his obvious physical advantages, but it seemed that in Las Vegas, where the 42-year-old former champion has spent most of his big nights, his legs had slowed, and his head remained static as he ate some big right hands and struggled to mount his own attacks.
Ugas, a late replacement for Spence Jnr who was more than capable of springing the upset, entered the ring confidently, with fur draped around his neck and a smile that seemed to reappear with every one of Pacquiao’s missed shots. He started cagily, allowing Pacquiao to crowd him and apply pressure, but the younger man never looked troubled – not really. The early rounds showed us a couple of things: Ugas is far better than the bookmakers would make you believe, and the end of an era was a matter of minutes away.
There were no knockdowns, no brutal barrages were either man was kept aloft only with the aid of the ropes, but the gap widened. Some made a case for Pacquiao, watching him throw flurries and demonstrate that he was probably still the faster fighter. But most understood that he was missing, throwing six punches aimlessly and frantically, as though desperate for some form of impact or success. Ugas was cool, calm, and collected – he’s Cuban, after all.
His work at times was punishing, and at the end of one of the middle rounds, he seemed to stiffen Pacquiao’s enormous calves right on the bell. But Ugas too was guilty of not quite doing enough in spells. He took breaks, looked content to work on the back foot and seemed a little too confident in the Vegas judges. As the rounds ticked by, the Cuban, a revered amateur and solid, “who needs ‘em” professional, extended his lead, finishing the 11th round particularly in impressive fashion. Pacquiao remained all heart, all effort, though it had little success.
Often, we are left scratching our heads as scorecards are announced, disappointed in the sport, or biased in relief when our boxers steal a victory from the jaws of defeat. On this night, boxing delivered and Ugas emerged a deserved, unanimous champion (115-113, 116-112, 116-112). The cards weren’t freakish or unfairly lop-sided; they were clear and paid homage to the efforts of the Filipino senator, without gifting him a win. He doesn’t need that – he never has. Ugas’ face was slightly bruised and swollen, but again, that smile remained, this time without his gumshield and a hail of punches thrown in his direction.
For Ugas, a bout with Errol Spence Jnr seems inevitable, should the Texan return from his recent eye injury. Ugas has created himself a pathway to massive fights, something his countrymen often struggle with. That, however, won’t be the story most take away from the T-Mobile Arena.
Now, questions of Pacquiao’s future dominate the sport’s headlines. Retirement? Rematch? How we measure his impact on the sport of boxing is a question for another column. He was beaten by the better man, the fresher man, and it’s time to say goodbye to one of the best fighters of our generation – he has done more than enough and has nothing left to prove.
Main image: Ryan Hafey/Premier Boxing Champions