After Loss, Manny Pacquiao Is Left to Consider His Future
22nd August 2021

An hour after defeating Manny Pacquiao in their welterweight title fight, Yordenis Ugas strode into his news conference sporting a glittering watch and a matching, two-stranded necklace, a pair of shades and the wide smile of a man who knew he had just ascended.

From here, Ugas, the World Boxing Association champion, can push for bouts with other titleholders in the 147-pound welterweight class, or grant Pacquiao a rematch, if the 42-year-old ex-champion wants one. And before the fight, Ugas, a Cuban based in Las Vegas, expressed hope that a win over Pacquiao would help focus attention on the anti-government protests and fight for better conditions in his home country.

In the afterglow of his unanimous-decision victory, the biggest win of his professional career, Ugas, 35, calmly answered questions about the fight and his future. But when Pacquiao arrived, Ugas politely ceded the dais to the fighter who, starting in the late 2000s, spent a decade as one of the sport’s biggest stars and audience draws. Already the oldest welterweight champion in history, Pacquiao tried, and failed, to become the first boxer to win title fights in four decades.

Ugas was the winner on Saturday night in Las Vegas, but Pacquiao was still the story.

Since his pro debut in 1995, Pacquiao has won world titles in a record eight weight classes and parlayed boxing fame into political clout. Since 2010, he has served as an elected lawmaker in the Philippines — first as a congressman, now as a senator. In recent months, he has publicly considered running for president, and though he didn’t announce his retirement from boxing after his loss to Ugas, he dropped some strong hints.

“I’m thinking about my future in boxing,” Pacquiao said at the news conference. Later, he added, “You might not see Manny Pacquiao again to fight in the ring.”

Pacquiao, now 62-8-2, had originally been training to fight the undefeated I.B.F. champion Errol Spence Jr. in the main event of Saturday’s card, while Ugas was scheduled to face Fabian Maidana in the cofeature. But on Aug. 10, Spence’s prefight eye exam revealed a torn retina, and Maidana suffered a severe cut in training. Both fighters were sidelined and Ugas shifted into the headline fight against Pacquiao.

Before the fight, neither camp seemed bothered by the late switch. Pacquiao’s trainer, Freddie Roach, dismissed Ugas as an “ordinary fighter,” whom Pacquiao could handle after some minor tactical adjustments.

After his win, Ugas said he trusted his strategy, even if it came together quickly.

“We had a plan,” Ugas said. “We only had 10 days, but we had a plan.”

Ugas nearly retired in 2014 — after two straight losses, his promoter at the time, Top Rank, terminated his contract. He relocated from New Jersey to Las Vegas and connected with the trainer Ismael Salas, a fellow Cuban émigré, who nicknamed his gym the House of Fundamentals. Ugas has won 12 of 13 fights since then, and dealt Pacquiao a painful boxing lesson on Saturday.

Early in the fight, Pacquiao flashed superior speed with his hands and feet, diving into punching range, unloading combinations and darting out of danger. But Ugas boxed like a pitcher who changes speeds and arm angles to keep batters off balance. As rounds progressed, Ugas increasingly set the tempo with his left jab, bouncing it off Pacquiao’s forehead and spearing him to the body. Often he paired those jabs with right hands — straight ones to Pacquiao’s face, roundhouse blows to the temple and heavy shots to the stomach.

Ten seconds from the end of the 11th round, Pacquiao set his feet and cocked his left hand, and in the split second before he could throw his punch, Ugas landed a roundhouse right to the side of the head. The passage encapsulated Ugas’s plan, to control distance and tempo with his length and accurate punching.

“I knew I had to do my job, and not his job,” said Ugas, who is now 27-4. “I’m happy. I showed what kind of fighter I am.”

Two judges scored the bout 116-112, and a third scored it 115-113, all for Ugas.

According to CompuBox, Pacquiao threw 815 punches and landed 130, a rate of 16 percent. Ugas threw just 405 punches, but landed 151, for a 37.3 percent success rate. Ugas also landed 59.1 percent of his power punches, compared with 25.9 percent for Pacquiao.

Those numbers illustrate efficiency from Ugas, and highlight Pacquiao’s trouble both avoiding punches and landing his own. For Roach, the statistics portend trouble for Pacquiao’s future as an elite boxer.

“I’m a little bit worried about it, yes,” Roach said at the news conference. “I’d hate to see that day when he retires, but this could be it.”

For Ugas, potential opponents abound, even if straightforward matchmaking doesn’t. Spence and Shawn Porter, who defeated Ugas in 2019, are all signed with the Premier Boxing Champions managerial outfit, which should simplify pairing them with Ugas, who also fights for PBC, with fights airing on Showtime and Fox. But the World Boxing Organization champion Terence Crawford is signed with Bob Arum’s Top Rank, which is partnered with ESPN.

Sometimes rival promoters and their broadcast partners cooperate to stage big fights — like the Tyson Fury-Deontay Wilder series — but often they make matches from within their own ranks.

As for Pacquiao, before the fight he said age hadn’t dimmed his intensity in training, and that smarter recovery, plus a two-year gap since his previous fight, had him feeling recharged.

Afterward, Pacquiao said his leg muscles cramped and conceded that age might have overtaken him.

“Too much hard work, training,” he said. “We’re not young anymore.”

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