Pacquiao faces new foe with Spence out injured
Almost twenty years ago to the date, Manny Pacquiao jumped at an opportunity to prove himself to the world—an unknown, last-minute replacement to fight a champion who lost a bigger-name opponent due to an injury.
Mexican challenger Enrique Sanchez pulled out due to injury just four days before he was to fight South Africa’s Lehlo Ledwaba, which gave Pacquiao the break of a lifetime he wouldn’t bungle.
The rest, as the old cliche goes, is boxing history like no one has written before.
At 42 and eight championships in eight different divisions, Pacquiao’s career seems to have gone full circle. Only this time, he gets to be on the other side of that scenario—the man who is risking everything against someone who has practically nothing.
Start of his legend
Back in June 23, 2001, Pacquiao made his first-ever appearance in the United States when he got in the ring with Ledwaba for the International Boxing Federation (IBF) bantamweight title at MGM Grand.
Back then, nobody expected him to win. He was supposed to be another footnote to Ledwaba’s ascent to greatness.
Fast forward to Aug. 21, 2021, boxing’s only remaining global superstar will climb the ring against a virtual unknown, a champion from Cuba who also lost his title defense opponent to an injury.
Now, nobody’s expecting Pacquiao to lose.
“Good thing the fight will go on,” said Pacquiao after emerging from his afternoon workout at Wild Card Gym in Hollywood. “The sacrifices at the training camp won’t be laid to waste. And this is still a championship fight.”
The Cuban replacement fighter, a two-time world amateur champion, Yordenis Ugas, now holds the World Boxing Association (super) welterweight title, the same title stripped from Pacquiao for being inactive for two years. It’s his title now that will be up for grabs.
“I’m not disappointed because everything has a purpose, Ugas has trained enough because he was supposed to fight in the undercard,” added Pacquiao.
Ugas will take the place of reigning IBF and World Boxing Council champ Errol Spence Jr., who on Tuesday was found to have a torn retina in his left eye and will undergo immediate surgery.
Pacquiao, meanwhile, tweeted: “I pray for a quick and full recovery for Errol Spence.”
It’s a career-threatening injury similar to that of Sugar Ray Leonard and Antonio Margarito. The American vowed to face the winner of the Pacquiao-Ugas fight at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.
There’s no comparison, though, between Spence and the 35-year-old Ugas (26-4-0 with 12 knockouts). And the Cuban is well aware of that, which makes him a very dangerous foe.
“[People] made fun of me when Pacquiao came back [from inactivity] and got into a fight with Spence [instead of me],” tweeted Ugas, who got some mention when Pacquiao was still shopping for opponent.
“I have a tremendous amount of respect for Pacquiao, but I am coming to win this fight.”
His abrupt entry was a tectonic shift insofar as betting and pay-per-view forecast.
But it also brought back parallelism to Pacquiao’s career trajectory two decades ago, which started with a sixth round TKO (technical knockout) win over Ledwaba, who recently passed reportedly because of COVID-19.
“Everyone knows my story, about how I came to America to follow my dreams of becoming a world champion,” Ugas went on. “And now it’s time to stamp my legacy with a victory as one of the best Cuban fighters to ever put on a pair of gloves.”
Looking back now, Ledwaba might have wished that his original opponent for that 2001 fight never got injured to begin with. Pacquiao, on the other hand, certainly would like to prove that he and his camp picked the right replacement.