For whatever it lost from the standpoint of commercial appeal as the blockbuster pay-per-view event of the summer, Manny Pacquiao’s return on Saturday following a two-year layoff still presents an incredibly intriguing style matchup.
After unified welterweight champion Errol Spence Jr. was forced to withdraw just 11 days out following surgery for a torn retina, reigning WBA titleholder Yordenis Ugas was bumped up from the PPV main card to face Pacquiao in the main event of a Premier Boxing Champions card at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.
Even though Ugas (26-4, 12 KOs) lacks the threat of fight-ending power on the same level as the unbeaten Spence, the 35-year-old brings the technical know-how from his time as a decorated Cuban amateur and great size for the division. He’s also comfortable exchanging firepower at close range behind his high guard due to his defensive proficiencies.
But most important for the 42-year-old Pacquiao, and one of the major reasons the Filipino icon was so willing to accept such a difficult fight on short notice to save the card, Ugas has the WBA title that Pacquiao won in his last fight from 2019 when he handed Keith Thurman his first defeat. Ugas was upgraded to full champion amid Pacquiao’s layoff, which didn’t sit well with boxing’s only eight-division champion.
“I didn’t like that someone took my belt without challenging me in the ring,” Pacquiao said at Wednesday’s final press conference. “Both of us are champions, but we’ll see who has the belt after Saturday.
“It only took me two days to adjust to fighting Ugas. I have fought a lot of right handed fighters before. It would have been harder switching from preparing for a right hander to a southpaw. Most of my opponents have been right-handed, so there’s nothing to worry about.”
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Ugas, who was originally scheduled to defend his belt against Fabian Maidana this weekend, is riding the best wave of his career having gone 11-1 since 2016 with victories over the likes of Jamal James, Ray Robinson, Thomas Dulorme, Omar Figueroa and Abel Ramos. Yet it was Ugas’ lone defeat that might have produced his most impressive performance to date.
While challenging for Shawn Porter’s WBC title in 2019, Ugas surged in the second half and brought the fight directly to his equally aggressive foe. Not only did Ugas land the cleaner shots, he appeared to floor Porter in Round 12, although it wasn’t ruled a knockdown. Porter went on to take a disputed majority decision in a fight many felt Ugas should’ve won.
Porter used the springboard from the close win to challenge Spence in a PPV clash later that year while Ugas was forced to fight on the undercard of Pacquiao-Thurman. Yet the patience Ugas has showed in taking what he has been given and making the most of it paid off when the phone rang offering a late upgrade against Pacquiao.
“This has been a long road for me,” Ugas said. “Obviously, it is short notice that I learned I was fighting Pacquiao, but I’m thankful for the opportunity and I’m ready to take advantage of it. We made the adjustments we had to in the last two weeks so that I’m ready for Pacquiao. We’ve done everything we had to and we’re 100% ready to go Saturday night.
“There are no excuses heading into this fight. I’ve been in this position taking a short-notice fight before, although obviously never against a fighter the caliber of Pacquiao. I have no concerns though, and I believe both of us are going to be prepared for this fight.”
Pacquiao reiterated throughout fight week that he’s not underestimating the challenge that Ugas brings although his prediction remained the same as it was for Spence: victory by knockout. It’s a potential outcome that Ugas vowed will not happen.
“I’m certain that he cannot knock me out,” Ugas said. “I’ve done all the preparation over these past six years to get in this position, I’ve hit my stride and I just don’t believe I can be stopped by Manny.”
Elsewhere, a pair of veterans of the game are set to throw down when Robert Guerrero meets Victor Ortiz in a welterweight co-feature. Guerrero, 38, is back after his own two-year hiatus and enters on a three-fight win streak. This comes after a brief retirement in 2017 following a three-fight skid. Ortiz, 34, has not fought since February 2018 while facing sexual assault allegations that were dismissed in December 2020. He has not won since a July 2017 knockout.
Below is the latest odds from Caesars Sportsbook along with a pair of predictions for the main event from our experts.
Fight card, odds
- Manny Pacquiao -360 vs. Yordenis Ugas +280, WBA welterweight championship
- Robert Guerrero -125 vs. Victor Ortiz -105, welterweight
- Mark Magsayo -280 vs. Julio Ceja +230, WBC featherweight title eliminator
- Carlos Castro -1100 vs. Oscar Escandon +700, featherweight
Campbell: When comparing the skills of Spence and Ugas, it would be difficult not to shade the advantage toward the pound-for-pound ranked Spence in just about every category. That’s why the betting odds shifted so quickly from Pacquiao as an underdog to a 3-1 favorite following the change of opponent.
But make no mistake, this is a fight Ugas should still win as long as he understands the gravity of what’s at stake at this level and what is required of those coming to Las Vegas to take on such a huge name. Not only will Pacquiao undoubtedly have the crowd’s favor as a beloved star, he’ll likely have a similar default favor from the judges given that he fights with such a high output by constantly amping up his forward pressure.
Ugas certainly has the ability to neutralize some of what Pacquiao does best given his size, defense and technique, along with his strength as an accurate counterpuncher. But unlike some of his Cuban contemporaries, like Erislandy Lara and Guillermo Rigondeaux in their biggest fights, he will need to be mindful of keeping his output high enough to have a shot on the scorecards.
Matching Pacquiao’s effort and aggression can obviously be a dangerous proposition. Although the effects of his layoff will be interesting to see in the early going, Pacquiao looked as fit and fresh against Thurman as he had in years. He kept up his stamina late into the fight and remained the aggressor by unleashing his patented combination punching from awkward angles.
This should be a great test of Ugas’ chin and his willingness to fight his way out of trouble should Pacquiao penetrate his high guard. Many fighters have entered with ideas of how they might overwhelm Pacquiao only to be forced into passivity by the threat of quick punches they never saw coming.
The fighter’s contrasting skills and the questions regarding both Pacquiao’s layoff and his inability to prepare at length for Ugas’ style could produce an interesting chess match with ebbs and flows as both fighters take turns implementing their will in alternating rounds. But for Ugas to best Pacquiao in that type of fight, he’ll need to not only walk the tight rope of avoiding knockdowns, he’ll need to be quick in how he adjusts on the fly along with Pacquiao, who holds an extensive advantage in terms of experience against elite foes of all shapes and styles.
Let’s just say there’s a reason why only Floyd Mayweather has been able to outthink and out maneuver Pacquiao at welterweight for a full 12 rounds.
The fight’s outcome might be as simple as this: If Pacquiao has lost a step, Ugas is skilled enough to impose his will and have a shot at winning a decision. But if “PacMan” looks anything like the whirling dervish he still was against Thurman, the oddsmakers got this one right.
Pick: Pacquiao via UD12
Brent Brookhouse, writer: Pacquiao is nowhere near the fighter he was at his best. In fact, he may not be as good as he was when he beat Keith Thurman to become WBA welterweight champion in July 2019. Even so, Pacquiao is an exceptionally good fighter who is used to world title fights on the big stage. Pacquaio currently sits as a -360 favorite to regain the WBA title from Ugas, who was promoted from “regular” to “super” champion by the WBA through a combination of Pacquiao’s inactivity and the WBA’s attempts to put together a three-belt unification fight between Ugas and Spence.
Ugas has plenty of talent and certainly has the skills to pick up a win over Pacquiao. Ugas could — and maybe should — be on a 12-fight winning streak. His lone loss in that span came in a debated split decision loss to Shawn Porter. The judges not giving Ugas the cards against Porter are indicative of something of a nagging problem for Ugas. In his most recent fight, Ugas won a split decision against Abel Ramos in a fight where the scorecards read 115-113 Ugas on two, and 117-111 Ramos on the other. In all reality, Ugas won at minimum 10 of the 12 rounds of that fight.
The sad reality in boxing is that close — and sometimes not-so-close — rounds are often shaded to the fighter with the bigger name and stronger promotional support. If Ugas struggled to get rounds he deserved against Porter and Ramos, it’s easy to see the same happening against Pacquiao. That’s enough to put a little extra value on the already enticing line of Pacquaio via decision at +120.
Pick: Pacquiao via decision
Who wins Pacquiao vs. Ugas? And what is the method of victory? Visit SportsLine now to see Brandon Wise’s best bets for Saturday, all from the CBS combat sports specialist who was all over Jamel Herring’s win, and find out.