By EDDIE G. ALINEA, Sports Editor/Columnist
LAS VEGAS, Nevada – This Saturday (Sunday in Manila), Filipino boxing legend Manny Pacquiao will battle Cuban WBA welterweight super champion Yordenis Ugas for the latter’s ill-gotten diadem in what is a flashback of the now Philippine Senator’s fight against South African Lehlo Ledwaba 20 years ago that set the tone to his long, nine-year journey to becoming the first and only man on planet earth to crown himself world titlist in eight weight divisions.
At their weigh-in press conference, Pacquiao expressed confidence of victory as he vowed to give the boxing fans a good and entertaining fight which he said he will dedicate to the Filipino people and his country.
Early this year in January, Pacquiao was stripped of his welterweight super title by the World Boxing Association, due to inactivity brought about by the Covid 19 pandemic only to offer the same to Ugas, who accepted the plum without throwing a single punch.
Twenty years and two months ago on June 23, 2001, in his debut on American soil, a young and still untested Kibawe, Bukidnon-born Filipino, a two-week substitute to an ailing challenger Enrique Sanchez, surprised the title-defending African and thousands at the MGM Grand Arena stands as well as millions of radio listeners and viewers on their television screens worldwide.
Pacquiao annihilated Ledwaba from the opening bell on, sending Ledwaba thrice on his knees on way to a sixth round TKO win, crowning himself the new IBF super-bantamweight titlist that made him an instant superstar.
That was, too, Pacquiao’s first outing under the tutelage of Hall of Fame trainer Freddie Roach that represented his second world crown of eight he was destined to capture nine years later. That followed his KO (8th round) WBC flyweight title conquest of Thai Charchai Sasakul three years back on 14 December 1998.
From 2001, Pacquiao went his way to collect six more world plums, adding 49 pounds where he started as a junior-flyweight at 105 pounds in 1995 to 154-pound super welterweight category in 2010, traversing the road from featherweight (126 lbs.), suoer-featherweight (130 lbs.), lightweight (135 lb lbs.), junor welterweight (140 lbs.), welterweight (147 lbs), and super-welterweight (154 lbs.O).
To accomplish the feat, the father of five with former beauty queen wife Jinkee had to survive fellow future Hall of Famer Marco Antonio Barrera, Juan Manuel Marquez, David Diaz, Ricky Hattton and Antonio Margarito.
Prior to his retirement in 2006, “Hands of Stone” Ledwaba amassed a professional record of 36 wins (23 KOs), 6 losses, and 1 draw, including a 23-fight winning streak from 1993 to 2001.
He died last July 2, a victim of Covid 19 Pandemia.
With undefeated WBC/IBF welterweight champion Errol Spence sidelined while he recovers from retina surgery, all eyes are on Ugás, who stepped up from the card’s co-main event and will defend his title against boxer laureate, the Philippines’ own Pacquiao.
Pacquiao reminisced that June 23, 2001 fight against Ledwaba, saying in a statement released through public relations man Fred Sternberg and furnished this reporter on Monday: “I know what Yordenis Ugas is feeling because I was Yordenis Ugas twenty years ago.”
“I was in very good shape since I had recently fought in the Philippines and had just begun to work with Freddie,” recalled Manny, who ended his Wild Card Boxing Club training camp that day. “I was a day away from going home to the Philippines when the fight was offered to me. I was so excited. This was a great opportunity.”
“There was no way I was going to pass it up. Freddie and I worked every day those two weeks until the weigh-in. That is how we started to get to know each other, the former two-time congressman added. “Ugás is in a similar situation. He was already training for a welterweight title fight on the same card as mine so he too is ready to make the most of this opportunity.”
He said he is not taking the Cuban titlist for granted. ”In fact I am taking him as seriously as I took Errol Spence. I will not make the same mistake Ledwaba made with me. I still have the same hunger to win. I live for it.”
“I have had a great training camp and I am well-prepared. I want to prove to everyone, especially Yordenis Ugás, that I am still here. My title was given to Ugás. That is not how you become a champion. You earn it by winning it inside the ring. We will fight for the title. That is the proper way a champion is crowned,” he stressed.
Roach has joined the conversation, saying: “What Manny had going for him when he fought Ledwaba was that he was unknown in the U.S. which gave us the element of surprise. They (Ledwaba’s camp) obviously didn’t do their homework on Manny, which was lucky for us.
“The important lessons Manny and I learned from that fight were never underestimate your opponent, take nothing for granted, and never cut corners in training. And Manny never has. He gives it everything he has every day of every training camp and respects every opponent who is brave enough to enter a ring, “the seven-time ‘Trainer of the Year’ honoree of the Boxing Writers Association of America cautioned.
LAS VEGAS – Filipino boxing legend Manny Pacquiao, in his more than a quarter of a century as a prizefighter, has battled and beaten an array of excellent ring warriors worldwide since turning pro in 1995. The likes of Ricky Hatton of Great Britain, Joshua Clottey of Ghana, and Miguel Cotto of Puerto Rico.
The former two-time congressman, now senator, has conquered, too a bevy of Mexican rivals and those of Latin-American descent, including 1992 Barcelona Olympic gold medalist Oscar De La Hoya, Juan Manuel Marquez, Jorge Solis and Oscar Larios that earned for him the moniker “The Mexicutioner.”
On Sunday (Manila time) the now 42-year-old will be dancing with another Latin-American in Cuban WBA welterweight super champion Yordenis Ugas, seeking to reclaim the title denied him unceremoniously and given on a silver platter to his opponent.
Ugas, thus, will earn the distinction as the 19th such Latino-speaking campaigners who will be crossing Pacquiao’s path since the Filipino disposed off Gabriel Mira via fourth round TKO on April 24, 1999.
The Pacman has won four world titles at the expense of Mexicans/Mexican-Americans, including Hector Velazquez, David Diaz, and Jujan Manuel Marque, who later in his career would turn out one of his bitterest rival. He also defended various championship belts against fighters from south of the US border, including Emmanuel Lucero and Mira.
The future first ballot Hall of Fame inductee owns an envious 14-2-2 win-loss-draw record against Latino dancing partners highlighted by 9 KOs. His first defeat at the hands of a Mexican was inflicted by soon-to-be bosom pal Erik Morales and the second by Marquez.
Marquez who he was to fight four times, was the guy from he took away the fourth of the eight he was destined to claim on way to emergin g as the only man to crown himself world champion in eight weight classes. Marquez was actually one of five Pacquiao victims in capturing such unprecedented honor no one is expecting to match or surpass in the near future.
Marquez lost his WBC super-featherweight diadem to Pacquiao via a 12-round unanimous decision on March 15, 2008. Others who suffered the same fate as Marquez were Marco Antonio Barrera (featherweight), Diaz (lightweight), Cotto (welterweight) and Antonio Margarito (super-welterweight) .
The Kibawe, Bukidnon-born Pacquiao, though never fought in Mexico or any of Latin American country in the entirety of his 27-year pro career.
Pacquiao, actually, has been given several moniker by media and fans like “The Destroyer,” “Pacman,” and what have you but the word “Mexicutioner” is one he didn’t want due to his closeness to the Mexican boxing fans.
“I do not like the nickname ‘Mexicutioner,” Pacquiao often says when referred to as Mexicutioner. “I love the Mexican boxing fans and that name does not reflect my true feelings about Mexico and its people.”
Pacquiao’s record against notable fighters of Mexican decent was, to date 11-1-1, with seven knockouts.
Pacquiao’s first significant victory over a Mexican legend began with an 11th-round knockout over Mexico City native Barrera in November of 2003, a man he later unanimously decisioned in their return bout in October of 2007.
Pacquiao, too, owns knockout triumphs over Morales in the 10th and third rounds of their match-ups in January and November, respectively, of 2006.
The Filipino star also owns a decision over Oscar Larios and knockouts over Hector Velazquez, Jorge Solis, David Diaz and De La Hoya.
DLH was the first man he battled as a 147-pound campaigner whom he retired on December 6, 2008 in a bloody encounter called “The Dream Match” held at the MGM Grand Garden Arena, Las Vegas.