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LAS VEGAS — Two weeks ago, Manny Pacquiao was preparing to fight Errol Spence Jr., the unbeaten unified welterweight champion and perhaps the biggest test of his career since he fought Floyd Mayweather in 2015.
Spence is left-handed, as is Pacquiao. And because southpaws don’t often face other southpaws, that was a focus in training for the 42-year-old senator from the Philippines.
But 12 days before the fight, an ophthalmologic examination revealed that Spence had a detached retina and would need surgery that would prevent him from fighting Pacquiao on Saturday at T-Mobile Arena.
So Yordenis Ugas, who was supposed to fight in the co-main event, stepped in to take the fight. He, though, is right-handed, and so Pacquiao and trainer Freddie Roach had to make a quick U-turn in training. Pacquiao said it would have been harder had he originally been facing a right-hander and then a southpaw was picked as the replacement.
Stephen “Breadman” Edwards, one of the bright minds and best trainers in boxing, told Yahoo Sports though that the switch from a left-hander in Spence to a right-hander in Ugas wouldn’t be the biggest issue facing Pacquiao.
“The technical stuff, they can work that out,” Edwards said in a conversation with Yahoo Sports breaking down the fight. “They both had the same amount of time to get prepared.”
From Pacquiao’s perspective, Edwards said the biggest difficulty in the change would be to get Pacquiao as motivated to fight Ugas as he was to face Spence.
“I think the biggest adjustment in my opinion is mentally,” Edwards said. “Older fighters oftentimes take really tough fights and the public says stuff to them like, ‘Why are you taking this fight?’ The reason why is, they’ve been around so long and they don’t get up for just any fight. Errol Spence was a major challenge to Pacquiao. He was favored to beat Pacquiao and a lot of people favored him to stop Pacquiao. I remember Ray Leonard talking about the [Marvelous Marvin] Hagler fight saying he wouldn’t get up for tune-ups. He had to have the kind of challenge in front of him [that motivated him].
“If you listen to someone long enough, they’ll eventually tell you the truth. Roy Jones would constantly say, 'I have to get up for certain fights.’ Manny Pacquiao lives in the Philippines and he has to come over here, leave his family, work his butt off, get in shape and he boxes his butt off against these bigger guys going through all the tasks of a training camp.”
He knew he needed to push himself against Spence, who is ranked fourth on Yahoo Sports’ pound-for-pound list.
He knows at some level he’ll have to push against Ugas, a 2008 Olympic bronze medalist who is 11-1 since hiring Ismael Salas as his trainer.
Still, Edwards says it’s a concern.
“The mental part of getting up for Ugas — not that Ugas isn’t an excellent fighter, because he is, but he’s not Errol Spence,” Edwards said. “Errol Spence is undefeated, he has the prestige of being an Olympian and he’s a pound-for-pound guy. There’s just a different threat level. It doesn’t mean Ugas is not threatening and it doesn’t mean that he can’t beat Manny, but it just means that the perception of Ugas is different than the perception of Errol Spence [in Pacquiao’s eyes].”
There are things, though, that make it look better for Pacquiao. Ugas is bigger than Pacquiao and under Salas, he’s been a guy who moves forward and throws a lot of punches.
He’s not going to be elusive and doesn’t have the complex style that many Cuban boxers do.
“He’s more into Manny’s wheelhouse,” Edwards said. “He brings the fight, he’s more aggressive, he comes forward. He doesn’t seem like he’s a huge puncher, but he’s a strong puncher and he’s very strong physically. He was able to back up Shawn Porter, who is a really strong guy. If you watched, Ugas was the one pressing forward.”
Edwards said that though Pacquiao is the shorter fighter, he doesn’t fight much on the inside. Pacquiao has a little hop he does to get into punching range. He’ll throw his punches and then slip back out.
Edwards said Ugas needs to disrupt that and the best way to do it is to repeatedly pump a jab in his face.
Jeff Horn, who in 2017 upset Pacquiao in Australia, said a challenge he faced was Pacquiao’s hop, which allowed him to get into punching range faster than one expects.
“I remember Manny being extremely fast at covering distance,” Horn said. “His explosiveness off his feet and his hand speed meant I had to stay way out of range of him or have him right there in front of me to hit. Because I am bigger than Pacquiao, our plan was to fight him hard in close and always try and outwork him. The goal was to answer last and throw the last punch in the exchanges.”
Edwards essentially agreed. He said Ugas needs to disrupt Pacquiao’s timing with the jab and try to pin him on the ropes and make him fight there.
“Believe it or not, as weird as this may sound, if I’m Ugas, I try to back Manny up to the ropes,” Edwards said. “It’s risky, but the advantage of doing that would be if you’re up against the ropes, you don’t have anywhere else to go. So what it does, is it takes [Pacquiao’s] rhythm away.”
Edwards, who said he’d like to see Pacquiao press Ugas, said he thought Pacquiao would win a decision.
Most decidedly, though, he said this is not a walkover.
“I’ll say Manny Pacquiao, a 7-5 decision where there’s a tad of controversy, but it’s clean enough that it’s not a robbery,” Edwards said.
More Pacquiao-Ugas coverage from Yahoo Sports: