Sunday, August 22, 2021

Opinions and Observations: Pacquiao-Ugas

This is what an end of an era looks like. On Saturday Manny Pacquiao could hardly land his signature straight left hand on Yordenis Ugas. Pacquiao's vaunted head movement and elusiveness were only to be found in reminiscences of yesteryear. Ugas seemed to connect with everything that he threw: jabs, left hooks to the body, counter right hooks. By CompuBox measures, he landed almost 60% of his power punches, a statistic that would normally suggest a rout. But Saturday's fight wasn't quite that. Manny competed and he kept throwing and throwing. Little got through, but he had moments where his combination punching got the best of Ugas. In the end, Ugas rightfully was declared the winner with scores of 115-113, 116-112 and 116-112. 

The only thing from his halcyon days that Manny retained on Saturday was his indomitable spirit. He threw over 800 punches, a remarkable number for a 42-year-old and essentially twice as many as Ugas attempted. For as solid as Ugas looked in the ring, especially as a late-replacement opponent, he should be thankful that he had three competent judges who didn't credit Manny's mostly unsuccessful volume and weren't overly sympathetic to Pacquiao's towering legacy in the sport. 

Ugas (left) connecting with a stiff jab
Photo courtesy of Ryan Hafey

Ugas succeeded in playing a dangerous game. By throwing fewer than 40 punches a round, a low number for the welterweight division, he left a lot of dead moments in the ring for Pacquiao to fill in the gaps. Yes, Ugas' defense in the pocket was terrific, and he put on a clinic of how to defend without giving up one's position, but he ran the risk that many counterpunchers do. The eye naturally gravitates to the one who's putting in the work, who's trying to force the action of the fight. If Manny would have been awarded the victory on Saturday (and I'm glad that he wasn't; he didn't deserve it), there would have been far worse robberies that occur in boxing on a regular basis. 

But what couldn't be ignored was Ugas' counter right hook, a shot that not only helped to neutralize Pacquiao's straight left, but also wouldn't allow him to escape the pocket unscathed. As a result, Pac didn't dart in and out throughout most of the fight. He mostly stayed in front of Ugas or just off to the side. Those dynamics made it much easier for Ugas to find Manny and to defend Pac's incoming shots. I can't emphasize this point any more clearly: without Manny Pacquiao's ability to rush in and out in unpredictable rhythms, he becomes a much more ordinary fighter. Ugas didn't have to worry too much about whether the straight left would be coming to the head or body, because there weren't many of those straight lefts from distance. Instead, Manny was mostly stationary, and mortal. 

When Manny did have success it was from short combination punches on the inside. Those instances (especially early in the fight) still highlighted his abundance of skills. But he didn't have the hammer, the punch that an opponent couldn't see. He got some work done, but little of it was causing damage or forcing caution from Ugas.  

There will be additional time to reflect upon Pacquiao's career if and when he announces his retirement. But needless to say, they broke the mold with him. From abject poverty to untold riches, he epitomized the dream that every kid has who laces up the gloves. But even more than the financial rewards, he was a genuine icon in a sport with few remaining. Along with Floyd Mayweather, he carried boxing on his back for well over a decade and his fight nights were can't-miss affairs. He provided joy for millions of fans and helped grow the sport, teaching aspiring fighters the world over that boxing can be a force for good. It can lift fighters, families, communities and even nations.

Ugas celebrates his victory
Photo courtesy of Ryan Hafey

As for Ugas, Saturday was very much the product of good fortune, but he is not an undeserving recipient. If Ugas had faced the Pacquiao of years ago the result most likely would have been different; however, Ugas had put himself in position to be at the right place at the right time. Similar to a number of instances in his recent run, he was called in as a last-minute replacement. When the phone rang, he said yes, a valuable lesson for fighters in this era, where too many of them need a Goldilocks scenario to get in the ring. Ugas never complained about the lack of preparation or a full camp, he just beat who was put in front of him. He's a talented fighter who had been released by a previous promoter, retired in frustration with the sport and rededicated himself to boxing upon his return. And at 35, no spring chicken either, he achieved a defining moment. No longer just a tough contender or a rugged "opponent," Ugas is now rightfully a champion. 

Pacquaio-Ugas was not a fight for the ages. It didn't give me much pleasure when watching. Ugas was better. He deserved to win, but it was more that he was good enough than truly dominant. I hope that he gets additional opportunities to fight top welterweights. But the story was truly about Manny, his fall from the top-level of the sport and a reminder that even the greatest fairy tales have a final page and come to an end. 

Adam Abramowitz is the founder and head writer of saturdaynightboxing.comHe's a member of Ring Magazine's Ring Ratings Panel and a Board Member for the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board. 
snboxing on twitter. SN Boxing on Facebook. 

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