Pacquiao in top form vs Cuba’s Ugas in Las Vegas

WORLD BOXING ICON Manny Pacquiao with Cuba's Yordenis Ugas during their final press conference in Las Vegas (Photo by Wendell Alinea)

Sports Editor and Columnist
Special to Philippine News Today
LAS VEGAS/LOS ANGELES – Handlers of Filipino ring great Manny Pacquiao has declared the eight-division world champion in shape, exactly a week to his WBA welterweight title showdown with substitute opponent Yordenis Ugas of Cuba set August 21 at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.
This writer learned the news from Pacquiao’s  Australian conditioning coach Justin Fortune in an interview from  Los Angeles where the Filipino, who will be trying to get back the championship belt the World Boxing Association (WBA) stripped him of last January has been in deep training since July 5. 
Pacquiao and his team has moved to Las Vegas from their Los Angeles training camp and met his opponent for the first time during a press conference infront of the T-Mobile Arena. 

“Yeah, Manny’s already in top fighting form and ready to face anybody that crosses his path anytime from today,” Fortune assured Philippine News Today and following Pacquiao’s four-hour training session at the world famous Wild Card Boxing Gym along Vine Street in Hollywood.  

Fortune said that starting that Thursday, three days before then fighting senator and his team depart to Las Vegas, training consultant Freddie Roach, chief trainer Buboy Fernandez and assistants Nonoy Neri and Rogeer “Haplas” have agreed to taper off their boss’ training regimen they’ve been following religiously since last month.  

In fact, instead of the usual six to eight rounds of sparring, Pacquiao only did two rounds each against three dancing partnerts — promising welterweights Giovanni Cabrera, AB Lopez and Ivan Redcach on Thursday.

He also worked the mitts with Roach for nine rounds, visited the double end ball for a couple of rounds before ending the session with a six-minute punching the speed ball and his routine calisthenics and limbering up exercises.

 “Kondisyon na si Boss,” boyhood friend Buboy and his assistants chorused. “Two and and a-half months na kami dito sa L.A. ang counting an almost two months build up program that we started in GenSan (General Santos City) almost four months na kaming nagte-train.”

“Nothing has changed with Manny. Nandoon pa rin ang power niya at speed. In our estimate, he’s stronger now and quicker compared to his last fight two years ago,” the three said in reference to Manny’s last fight he won versus erstwhile undefeated American Keith Thurman July of 2019.

Pacquiao was originally scheduled to battle unbeaten American champion Errol Spence for the latter’s WBC/IBF 147-pound diadems that was cancelled earlier this week after the American suffered a retina tear in his left eye.

On August 21, 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 served 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.

Early this year on 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.), super-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 Pandemic.

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 nseven-time ‘Trainer of the Year’ honoree of the Boxing Writers Association of America cautioned.