Errol Spence (27-0, 21 KOs) and Yordenis Ugas (27-4, 12 KOs) meet Saturday for a three-belt welterweight unification at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. In addition to the inherent drama of two of the top fighters at 147 lbs. squaring off, Spence's physical health brings added intrigue to the matchup. Spence was slated to meet Manny Pacquiao last year, but he failed an eye exam. Ugas stepped in as the late-replacement opponent and won a unanimous decision over Pacquiao. Spence subsequently had retinal surgery and let's also not forget that he recently had missed a significant period of time due to a serious auto accident.
Spence's left eye may be the most important factor in this fight. Retina injuries can be career-threatening and although Spence has received the all-clear from the relevant organizing authorities, there are physical and psychological concerns about his injury that are important in assessing the fight. Will Spence's repaired eye allow him to go 12 hard rounds against a top-level fighter? Ugas's counter right hand might be his signature punch and that lines up perfectly with Spence's left eye. You can bet that Ugas will target it.
And then there are the psychological ramifications of the eye injury. Will Spence try to limit exchanges because of a concern for his eye? Will he fight with the same type of aggression and comfort level that he had prior to his injury? These are all open questions heading into the fight and shouldn't be minimized. Spence in theory has edges over Ugas in terms of volume and being the effective aggressor (a scoring criterion), but if he fights more passively, does he lose those two advantages?
|Spence and Ugas at the fight announcement
Photo courtesy of Amanda Westcott
This leads to a discussion about fighting styles. Ugas is a counterpuncher. He can carve up opponents that have defensive shortcomings. He can counter well with either hand. His top three weapons are his counter right to the head, his straight right to the body and his left hook to the body. He's accurate with his punches and he's also rugged on the inside. He can work expertly in the clinch and he is also adept at catching, blocking and parrying shots. Ugas does hits solidly, but he's not a knockout puncher. You won't find a stoppage over a champion or a legit contender on his resume.
Spence is one of the few fighters in the sport who excels at every range. He has a great jab when he wants to use it. He can slug it out from the outside or at mid-range and he's adept at coming inside and throwing combinations in tight quarters. He's a vicious body puncher and often finishes up combinations with a pinpoint right hook.
As Spence has matured as a fighter he has learned how to pace himself. He'll have rounds where he applies a lot of pressure, but then he also knows when to take a breather on the outside and use his legs. He can hold his ground and trade or use the ring to his advantage.
Both Spence and Ugas will have distinct advantages early in the fight. The angles of Ugas' counters often surprise opponents. Many of his shots, especially to the head, are somewhere between a straight punch and a hook. He'll also throw wider hooks with both hands. It often takes fighters several rounds to acclimate to his punching style, and some never do.
Spence's length and expert combination punching trouble opponents. When he's in his groove, his punches flow effortlessly. He puts four and five shots together with ease and he expertly varies his punches to the head and body. And his game isn't about hand speed, but precision. He takes the extra split second to land his shots. This premeditation also allows him to be more defensively responsible. He doesn't wing shots off-balance or out-of-position. His feet are in the right position and he throws his punches with perfect weight distribution.
Where Spence can get into trouble is against the unconventional or when he misjudges range when leaving the pocket. He never seemed fully comfortable against Shawn Porter's ferocious onslaught, which included many untraditional punches. He also got tagged by a number of Danny Garcia right hands from distance late in their fight. Spence wasn't in danger of losing that bout at any point, but there were a few occasions were Spence thought that he was out of range, but really wasn't. And make no mistake, despite the relatively lopsided scoring of the fight, he got hit with some very hard shots.
In my estimation I don't see either guy winning by stoppage. Ugas doesn't have KO power and Spence has been slightly more risk averse as he has matured. If the knockout isn't there for him, he's not going to force it. I believe that the judges will have a hard task in this fight. They will need to determine if Spence's overall offensive package or Ugas' sharp, single counter shots will carry each round. And it might not be an easy task to arrive at that conclusion.
I must admit that I've changed my pick since the fight was originally announced. Initially I liked Ugas to win because I think that he'll be able to land his counter right frequently against Spence. And I also believe that he'll surprise Spence with the quality of his body shots.
However, I think that optics and politics will play a big role in the scoring of the fight. Remember, aggressors have an inherent advantage in scoring rounds. Effective aggression is a scoring criterion in it of itself. Spence will more often be making the fight. He'll have the crowd behind him. He's the bigger star. There will be periods of the fight where he will land three shots to Ugas' one, and although Ugas' connect will be solid, it still might not be enough to nullify Spence's success in the exchange.
Counterpunchers need to win rounds clearly, especially when they are the B-side. They can't leave doubt among the judges. Spence will be doing more work and I will expect him to end the fight with more punches thrown and landed. Although I don't think that he will dominate, I believe that he will do enough to have his hand raised at the end of the night. And I am also assuming that his eye holds up.
I believe that Spence-Ugas will be an intriguing tactical fight that will contain periodic moments of excitement where both will land impressive shots. And I think that we'll also see high-level exchanges between two who are masters of their craft. But Spence will let his hands go more frequently and that will be enough to carry the day. Punch-for-punch, these two fighters might have similar effectiveness. But when things are close, the natural tendency will be to gravitate to the fighter who is doing just that little bit more.
Errol Spence defeats Yordenis Ugas, winning 7 or 8 rounds in the fight.