Why Manny Pacquiao couldn’t say no to Yordenis Ugas fight

LAS VEGAS — Twenty years earlier, Freddie Roach was a nascent fitness instructor. His coach, Eddie Futch, had actually set him off on his own and Roach was showing to be a deserving follower to the master.

The star of Roach’s steady at that point was James Toney, the previous middleweight champ who stayed among the most gifted figures in boxing.

Roach remained in Las Vegas to train a fighter on the undercard of an Oscar De La Hoya battle. A press reporter approached Roach to inquire about Toney, however all Roach might speak about was his undercard fighter.

He wouldn’t be an undercard fighter a lot longer.

Manny Pacquiao damaged Lehlo Ledwaba that week to win a very bantamweight champion and to begin an unrivaled collaboration that exists to this day.

On Saturday (9 p.m. ET, PPV) at T-Mobile Arena, Pacquiao will handle Yordenis Ugas in the primary occasion of a Fox Sports PBC card in the Filipino senator’s very first bout given that beating Keith Thurman for a belt in 2019.

He’s a couple of months far from a run for the presidency of his nation and he’s quickly surrounding his 43rd birthday. However Roach stated the love of the video game, the desire to prosper and the passion to handle all comers stays.

Social media was filled with fears for Pacquiao’s safety in June when he announced he’d fight Errol Spence Jr. in a welterweight title bout. But when Spence tore his retina and needed surgery on his right eye last week, Pacquiao never hesitated.

Had he opted to wait until Spence was healed, the entire card would have been scrapped. And if he had, he’d have had good reason: Ugas is a right-hander and Pacquiao spent nearly his entire camp preparing for a left-hander.

That he stated yes so quickly and without reservation is one of the things that makes him arguably the most beloved figure in the sport.

“Manny has been the same way ever since I’ve known him,” Roach said. “He loves what he does and you can tell by the way he trains.”

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - AUGUST 13: Eight-division world boxing champion and Philippine Senator Manny

Manny Pacquiao stretches before training at the Wildcard Gym on Aug. 13, 2021 in Los Angeles. “Pacman” will face WBA welterweight champion Yordenis Ugas on Saturday in Las Vegas. (Photo by JP Yim/Getty Images)

When Pacquiao left the Philippines in early July to head to the U.S. to complete his training camp at Roach’s Wild Card Gym in Hollywood, California, a medical emergency on the plane he was on forced it to divert to Tokyo.

The plane then went back to the Philippines while passengers waited several hours before it departed again for the U.S. It was more than 30 hours but the day after he arrived, he was in the gym training.

“I just do my job,” he said with the humility of one just starting in life not one of the most iconic figures in the world.

By doing his job, he saved the payday for all the fighters on the card, as well as their corner people and managers. And he gave the fans the show he promised, a chance to see one of the all-time greats in what could be his final battle.

Pacquiao: ‘My title was given to Ugas’

A big deal has been made about how quickly Pacquiao accepted the bout, but listen to him talk and it’s like he doesn’t understand what the fuss is about. He took the fight against Ledwaba on short notice and went out and won in dominating fashion.

Now, he’s taking the change in opponent from Spence to Ugas in stride and said he’ll be prepared to fight at his best when he hits the ring on Saturday.

“This was a great opportunity,” Pacquiao said of fighting Ledwaba on short notice. “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. Ugas 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. I know what Ugas is feeling because 20 years ago I was Ugas.

“I am not taking him 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 Ugas, that I am still here.”

Pacquiao has championships in eight weight classes to his credit, and so the fact that a sanctioning body stripped him of the belt he had won by beating Thurman shouldn’t faze him that much.

Part of his motivation for fighting Ugas is that the WBA gave his belt to Ugas who became the super champion while sitting on the sidelines.

That’s not the way Pacquiao does business and it gnawed at him.

“My title was given to Ugas,” Pacquiao said. “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.”

His fighting skills are stellar, but it’s that attitude that has made Pacquiao so beloved. A Nevada regulation requires promoters to offer refunds if the main event changes, as it did in this case. There have been fans who took advantage of that and got their money back for tickets they’d purchased to see Pacquiao fight Spence.

However those who kept their tickets are the genuine winners. This might be the last time this famous fighter ever slips in between the ropes with gloves on his hands.

It’s difficult to put a cost on seeing that personally.

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Jobber Wiki author Frank Long contributed to this report.