Yordenis Ugas embraces underdog role vs. Errol Spence

Yordenis Ugas is, in many ways, on the outside looking in even after defeating Manny Pacquiao last year to win the WBA welterweight title.

He’s still not being taken seriously as an elite boxer, as the odds at BetMGM favoring Errol Spence Jr. over him by more than 5-1 shows.

Ugas will challenge Spence on Saturday at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, not far from Spence’s DeSoto, Texas, home, for three-quarters of the major welterweight title belts.

“I know I’m the underdog, [but] I came here to win,” Ugas said. “I will fight whenever, wherever, in anybody’s backyard.”

The problem that Ugas faces is just that: That he fights. He’s atypical of most Cuban-born boxers in the style that he uses. He doesn’t circle and move, doesn’t fight with a defensive bent, doesn’t look to avoid confrontation.

Ugas heads to the middle of the ring and if he finds a willing opponent, he’s more than eager to stand and trade. He did that with Pacquiao and was impressive against the then-42-year-old legend.

Spence, though, is another story entirely. Pacquiao was at the end of a brilliant career when he met Ugas; Spence is one of the pound-for-pound best fighters in the world.

Spence also has the kind of pop in his fists that Pacquiao once had. And Spence, who has been through some trials and tribulations of his own as of late — including a detached retina — is eager to show it off.

“Of course, I’m going to win, but I’m going for the knockout,” Spence said. “There’s nothing to elaborate on when I said I’m going for the knockout. It’s what I said. So if I get it, I get it. If I don’t, I don’t. I know 100 percent I’m getting the victory, but I definitely want to knock him out.”

On Saturday, Yordenis Ugas can finally prove his win over Manny Pacquiao last year wasn’t a fluke. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Spence has 21 knockouts on his 27-0 record, but he hasn’t gotten one since 2018 when he stopped the lightly regarded Carlos Ocampo in the first. He admitted that he hasn’t always been as dedicated as he should, but his near-fatal car accident and his eye injury have changed him.

He’s eager to return to his old ways, when he was being compared to the legendary Sugar Ray Leonard.

Spence is more than enough of a challenge for Ugas, but a motivated Spence only adds to the issue. Ugas, though, has his own reasons to be motivated.

He jumped in as a late replacement to fight Pacquiao when Spence suffered his eye injury. He went out and won the fight clearly. But he hasn’t received a lot of acclaim for it, and the narrative is that he got Pacquiao at the right time.

Ugas hasn’t had a lot of other huge names on his résumé. He lost a fight by split decision to Shawn Porter in 2019 that many believe he should have won, and he returned from that to rout the previously unbeaten Omar Figueroa Jr.

But this is Ugas’ big moment, a chance to prove he deserves to be among the greatest welterweights of this era. He’s heard Spence’s tough talk, but he’s not going to shrivel up and die.

He will, he said, show up ready to get it on.

“Spence can say whatever he wants,” Ugas said. “I’ll fight the way I always do, exchanging blows and coming forward. I’ve always been an underdog, six years ago and now, so I’m used to it. Spence is the rightful favorite as a unified champion in his home city, but I came here to pull off the upset.”

If he does it, there undoubtedly will be a rematch. But it will change the narrative on his career from good to great and will, in the process, make him an awful lot of money.

The winner of Saturday’s bout will be IBF-WBA-WBC champion with only Terence Crawford’s WBO belt still out there. That fight could well be next for Ugas if there isn’t a rematch.

He’s confident that he’ll be able to back up his words even fighting in front of a large pro-Spence crowd.

“I’m a competitor, I’m a warrior and I come to fight 12 rounds strong,” Ugas said. “That’s the most important thing of all. That alone should make Spence uneasy.”