[OPINION] The Pacquiao-Ugas bout – what goes around comes around

Ryan Hafey / Premier Boxing Champions

FOR some uncanny reason, I felt that Manny Pacquiao was going to lose to Yordenis Ugas, the Cuban substitute for WBC and IBF champ Errol Spence, Jr.  last August 21.

Pacquiao was supposed to fight the 32-year-old Spence for his titles. But the bigger, taller Spence, considered a favorite among odds-makers, had to beg off due to an eye injury sustained during training.

At 42, Pacquiao is considered ancient in a sport that demands too much of an athlete’s body. When he fought WBA welterweight champ, Keith Thurman two years ago, Pacquiao was not given much of a chance against his much younger and bigger opponent. But Pacquiao surprised – nay, shocked – everyone by scoring an early knockdown of Thurman and gaining a split decision win over the hitherto undefeated fighter.

That victory made Pacquiao an oddity in boxing. But the ring-wise still felt that his aging legs and body could not outlast Spence over 12 rounds, although several boxing analysts felt otherwise.

Uncannily, I also had a hunch that Pacquio would beat Spence if not by KO, at least by a unanimous decision. And yet, the same uncanny feeling told me that Ugas would beat Pacquiao!

Except for frequent childhood brawls and fantasizing about a pugilistic career, as a kid, my ring IQ is average – and my feelings about a Pacquiao victory or defeat were not based on any insider tip.

Perhaps what could qualify as the basis for my foreboding is the fact that, in my youth, as a writer of several dozen Tagalog movie stories and screenplays, I had a penchant for unpredictable twists (in “7 Deadly Roses,” a spy thriller, I unpredictably made all 7 leading ladies die; predictably, they all appealed to the producer and the director and, predictably, I had to revise the script to keep them alive).

I am also fascinated by the quirks, twists and turns of fate, as well as in “poetic justice,” and the saying, “What goes around, comes around!”

Now, what do these esoteric concepts have to do with the Pacquiao-Ugas championship fight?

How did Manny Pacquiao, an unknown kid from the Philippines, first make an impact on the consciousness of America and the world? By an unexpected twist of fate – that’s how!

In June 2001, Pacquiao was chosen as a last-minute substitute to fight IBF super-bantamweight champion Lehlohonolo Ledwaba of South Africa. Unexpectedly, however, the underdog substitute KO’d the much-feared  champion. This catapulted the scrawny Pinoy to world fame.

Was it a quirk of fate that a hitherto uncelebrated Cuban boxer should become a last-minute substitute for the injured Spence to fight Pacquiao?

Of course, Ugas was no push-over. He was the official WBA welterweight title-holder and he had won a gold in the 2005 World Championships and a bronze medal in the 2008 Olympics, all in the lightweight division.

However, with so many big-name welterweights like Spence, Shawn Porter, Keith Thurman, Terrence Crawford and Pacquiao hogging the sports headlines, Ugas did not figure prominently among boxing enthusiasts, until he was designated  welterweight title-holder by the WBA – because of Pacquiao’s inactivity wresting that crown from Thurman in July 2019.

The inherent drama did not escape me. Here was a Cuban fighter, who had not seen his family in 9 years while scrambling for survival and success in America, suddenly being pitted against the most celebrated boxer in the world, who just happened to be seriously considering retirement.

Indeed, Pacquiao needs to hang up his gloves, while he is still in relatively good health, unlike another legend, Muhammad Ali.

As the only 8-division champion in boxing history, Pacquiao has a record that may never be matched. He is counted among the greatest boxers of all time (maybe, even the greatest), on top of being a senator and a potential contender for the presidency of the Philippines.

I think that, in arranging to fight the best, most dangerous opponent in his weight class, Pacquiao just wanted a spectacular curtain call – a heroic exit from the profession that had seen him rise from the gutter to international fame and fortune.

It was even said that even if Spence were to dispatch Pacquiao on a stretcher, that would still be a dramatic exit for the living legend – like a great warrior being carried off the battlefield on his shield.

Pacquiao had never picked the easy fights, daring to face much bigger, heavier, celebrated opponents like Miguel Cotto, Oscar de la Joya, Sugar Shane Mosley, Antonio Margarito and Keith Thurman – and, finally, Errol Spence, Jr.

His meteoric rise, starting as a substitute in a championship match, had all the elements of cinematic drama.

And suddenly, as quirky fate would have it, history would repeat itself: the substitute fighter from a third world country facing a formidable champion – except that the roles had now been reversed with Pacquiao as the champ and Ugas as the substitute.

Expectedly, the odds-makers were not betting on Ugas to win against Pacquiao. Ugas had just lost a split-decision to Porter who, in turn, had lost to Spence, also by a split-decision.

In spite of being an ardent admirer of Pacquiao as a boxer and as a human being, I could not dismiss the possibility – the drama, the poetic justice – in his possible defeat in the bout with Ugas.

History could repeat itself. What goes around, comes around in a literal sense.

And it did!

The underdog substitute beat the legendary champ. Sunrise. Sunset.

My only consuelo de bobo is that Pacquiao only suffered a loss on the judges’ cards, although it was a unanimous decision. Ugas never landed a solid punch on Pacquiao, although he appeared strong enough to have put Pacquiao to sleep.

What about Pacquiao?

Trainer Freddie Roach admitted that Pacquiao had difficulty penetrating Ugas’ peek-a-boo defense. The aging legend, on the other hand, admitted that his legs were stiff, not springy and mobile.

Must be old age. I have experienced the same stiffness in my legs – but then, I just turned 82.

Hopefully Pacquiao will finally leave the ring, although he may go on to fight in the no-holds-barred arena of Philippine politics – perhaps as a candidate for president.

If you, my dear readers, are in the mood for some unexpected and dramatic twists of fate, who wants to be for or against presidential wannabe, Emmanuel Pacquiao? Me? I’m hedging my bets!

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The opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints of the Asian Journal, its management, editorial board and staff.

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