Sunday, April 17, 2022

Opinions and Observations: Spence-Ugas

Every once in a while, a trainer and fighter come together to devise and execute a masterful game plan that makes boxing a joy to watch. Errol Spence's comprehensive victory over Yordenis Ugas on Saturday was such a case. Trainer Derrick James did his homework on Ugas. He understood exactly what was in front of him. Ugas was a counterpuncher who could be outworked. In addition, James determined that Ugas' counter right hand was his best weapon, and that he needed space to throw it. Thus, James created a brilliant game plan, where Spence would crowd Ugas' left side and attack with volume, which in theory would significantly reduce the effectiveness of Ugas' right hand. 

A game plan can be great, but a fighter needs to buy in to it, to commit fully for it to be realized. And where Spence deserves credit is that he understood a certain portion of his skill set would be required to win the fight, but other attributes of his could be detrimental to the cause, such as power shots from range and utilizing his back foot. Furthermore, Spence needed to commit exclusively to inside fighting, a style that he hadn't totally embraced in recent years. Over his last few fights, Spence had blended aspects of fighting from all ranges, but against Ugas, he agreed to the grueling and risky approach of coming right into the kitchen and working relentlessly. 

Spence (left) landing his left uppercut
Photo courtesy of Amanda Westcott

The results were stunning. Spence scored a tenth-round stoppage as Ugas' right eye completely closed from the inside carnage that Spence had administered. Ugas at best won two or three rounds and after the sixth he was reduced to sporadic single shots here and there. 

The geography of the fight was mostly Spence operating on Ugas' left shoulder, where Spence could work his left hand freely, but he was at such an angle where Ugas couldn't throw his right hand with much effectiveness. Spence and James were giving Ugas the opportunity to use his left, especially to the body, but they correctly gambled that by taking away Ugas' right, Spence would hold a huge advantage in the fight. 

Ugas wasn't ineffectual every second of the fight. He was able to land some cracking counter rights at the end of the third and he did unload on Spence during an unusual moment in the sixth where Spence lost his mouthpiece and was looking at the ref to stop the action; Ugas connected with his best right in the bout, which flung Spence to the ropes. And in fairness, a knockdown should have been called at that moment since the ropes kept Spence from going down. But those were really all of the highlights from Ugas' performance. He did get through with some solid body shots on occasion, but he seldom was able to put punches together or seize momentum in the fight, even for small periods.  

Spence's left uppercut was his money punch on Saturday. James and Spence noticed that Ugas leaned his head forward with a high guard, protecting straight shots to the head. But there was room between his gloves, especially coming from underneath. Spence landed his uppercut dozens of times throughout the fight and they were punishing blows. Ugas was never able to make a defensive adjustment to neutralize the punch. 

Spence mixed in other power punches from close range as well. His right hook to the body cracked Ugas on numerous occasions. His straight left to the body was pulverizing. 

Often, we talk about boxers who make fights harder for themselves than they need to be; but Spence-Ugas was the opposite. Ugas is a skilled and rugged fighter who has proven that he can defeat top-level welterweights. However, Spence looked levels above anything that Ugas had to offer. But I want to stress that it didn't have to be that way. Spence capitalized on Ugas' weaknesses and succeeded. It may have looked somewhat easy, but that's only because he followed a great game plan. If he decided to fight at mid-range or retreat, it could have been a much different fight, a much more competitive one. 

Spence and his team celebrate the victory
Photo courtesy of Amanda Westcott

It was not a great night for Ismael Salas, Ugas' trainer. Round after round, a similar pattern of the fight manifested and yet Ugas remained tethered to the spot right in front of Spence. Ugas rarely tried to move forward. And except when he was hurt, he rarely used his back foot. Ugas has the capacity to attack or retreat and be effective, but he chose to do neither of those things. Instead, he remained a target for Spence, as if he couldn't process what was happening to him. The fight demanded a radical adjustment for Ugas to turn it around, but nothing of note was implemented. 

Let's also give Spence credit for additional aspects of his performance. Having survived a car crash that wrecked his body and undergone retinal surgery on his left eye, it would have been perfectly understandable and even reasonable if he insisted on fighting Ugas with more caution. But Spence attacked ferociously the enitre fight, demonstrating that he had put both traumas behind him. Furthermore, Spence's agility and stamina looked much better than it had in his last fight, against Danny Garcia. Spence made weight without any outward signs of difficulty and moved around the ring on Saturday like a much younger version of himself. He didn't labor. He didn't need to take a round or two off. There was no retreating to avoid wear-and-tear on his body. He was fresh and energized. 

Spence did not look like a fighter in decline on Saturday. His commitment to the sport was evident in how he fought and how he prepared for the match. Yes, he can be hit, but he hits back, and he keeps coming with power and volume. He remains a force at welterweight, a big draw, and one of the best in the sport. Fortunately, injuries didn't derail his career. He's an elite talent and I'm thankful that we'll get to see more of him.    

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. 
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