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Manny Pacquaio was good but not good enough, not at 42, not against an opponent as capable as Yordenis Ugas.
The Cuban didn’t exactly make Pacquiao look like an old man but he did reveal the Filipino’s limitations more than a quarter of a century into his professional career, winning a clear unanimous decision to retain his WBA welterweight title Saturday at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.
Pacquiao fought as hard as he ever has, throwing an astounding number of punches for a man his age – 815, according to CompuBox. That was the good news. The bad news was that he landed only 16% of his shots, he didn’t move as fluidly as he once did and he was easy to hit at times. Ugas landed 37% of his punches, 59% of his power shots.
Ugas found a home for his jab all fight long but it his wide right hand – which Pacquiao could never completely avoid – that was the most-effective punch in the fight.
Pacquiao had his moments, darting inside to throw still-quick combinations and then darting back out as we’ve grown accustomed to seeing over the years. He was competitive. However, he simply didn’t do enough to win the fight, as the official scorecards indicate.
Ugas won by scores of 115-113, 116-112 and 116-112. Boxing Junkie scored it 116-112 for Ugas, who left no doubt that he’s the rightful owner of the WBA belt.
Pacquiao won the WBA title by outpointing Keith Thurman two years ago but he was designated “champion in recess” because of his inactivity, after which Ugas was elevated to full champion.
“Everyone said he was the champion. Now they know who the real champion is,” Ugas said through a translator.
Ugas (27-4, 12 KOs) was scheduled to fight Fabian Maidana on the card when he received a phone call 11 days beforehand. Errol Spence Jr., Pacquiao’s original opponent, had pulled out because of an eye injury. Was Ugas willing to step in?
Absolutely. It was like winning the lottery, both in terms of money and an opportunity to record a defining victory. And he took full advantage of it.
Pacquiao (62-8-2, 39 KOs) came out aggressively at the opening bell, apparently in an attempt to build a lead on the cards as he had against Thurman. And he was able to win rounds with his activity; he outworked Ugas early in the fight.
However, Ugas remained patient. He wasn’t as busy as Pacquaio but he consistently landed his jab and sharp follow-up powers shots, which were cleaner than the punches his opponent landed.
And eventually Pacquiao began to look his age. He continued to fight hard but his output declined as the fight progressed. At the same time, Ugas, as fresh as he was in Round 1, picked up his pace and took firm control of the fight.
His dominance in the final rounds gave him the victory of a lifetime, one that will surely lead to more big-money, high-profile fights in the near future. Fellow titleholders Spence and Terence Crawford are on notice.
“Now the plan is to unify the title at welterweight. … [Spence] is the next one I want to fight,” Ugas said.
Meanwhile, Pacquiao was as gracious as ever in his post-fight interview. He repeatedly said “that’s boxing,” his way of saying that one fighter wins and the other loses. He just happened to be the latter on this night.
One thing people will be talking about in the coming days was his inability to move as well as he used to. He addressed that by explaining ominously, “My legs were so tight. … That’s why it was hard to move.”
That’s not a good sign for a fighter who turns 43 in December.
And Pacquiao made it clear that he could never figure out how to cope with Ugas’ jab and quick, accurate power shots or manage to get inside enough to land his own combinations.
He was frustrated from beginning to end.
“I had a hard time making adjustments [to] his style,” Pacquiao said. “I think that was the problem for me. I didn’t make adjustments right away. Also, my legs were tight.”
The natural question in light of the loss and those comments: Will we see the living legend in the ring again?
“I don’t know,” he said. “Let me rest first, relax and make a decision whether to continue to fight or not.”
If that was Pacquiao’s final fight, the fact he lost it will be hard for the former eight-division titleholder to swallow whether or not “that’s boxing.” At the same time, he can say truthfully that he went out like a champion, fighting with as much passion as he did when he turned pro as a 16-year-old in 1995.
He was warrior to the end.
“I’m sorry we lost tonight,” he said. “You know I did my best.”