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Sunday, April 21, 2024

Pacquiao: I’m ready as ever

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LAS VEGAS, Nevada—Expect a vintage Manny Pacquiao stepping on the ring and battling Yordenis Ugás as if it was his first fight for fame and fortune many years ago or his final display of explosive force his millions of fans wouldn’t forget and world boxing history won’t ever miss chronicling.

“I am ready for the fight,” Pacquiao said on Thursday, two days before he goes after the World Boxing Association welterweight belt that was handed to the Cuban on a silver platter after the boxing body stripped the senator of the title because of “inactivity.”

Pacquiao (62-7-2 win-loss-draw record with 39 knockouts) doesn’t look like a 42-year-old aging warrior, crediting his preparedness for the fight at the T-Mobile Arena to his “best-ever training camp in years.”

“The fans should expect to see the classic version of me. I had the best training,” he said. “It reminds me of the training camp I had when I was preparing for [Marco Antonio] Barrera.”

The fighting senator was still carving his niche on the world boxing stage when he booked an 11th-round technical knockout victory over the Mexican legend in 2003.

Pacquiao didn’t taper down on Thursday. He relentlessly did his running regimen, sprinting past those who joined his workout at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas athletics oval—a 10-minute drive from the MGM Grand Hotel where he and his entourage are billeted.

After running, Pacquiao buckled down to his core and legs exercises while talking to his fans. He signed a few autographs when he was done training.

Chief trainer and coach Buboy Fernandez, assistants Jon Peñalosa and Nonoy Neri and strength and conditioning coach Justin Fortune joined Pacquiao in training. Freddie Roach wasn’t around.

Pacquiao again didn’t say if 35-year-old Ugás (26-4 record with 12 knockouts) will be his last fight but assured “there will be fireworks” on Saturday.

“If this is my last fight, and I do not know if it is, I want to give the fans a great fight with lots of action and get that world title belt around my waist again,” he said. “This fight means everything to me.”

The formal weigh-in is set early afternoon of Friday (Saturday in Manila). Pacquiao, as expected, remained a -375 favorite over Ugás’s (+295), according to BETMGM, while unbeaten Mark Magsayo, who is fighting in the undercard, is -380 favorite over Mexican Julio Ceja (+295).

Ugás: Seize the day

THIS is the life Yordenis Ugás imagined when he decided to leave Cuba. He wanted to be in a boxing ring with somebody like Manny Pacquiao under the Vegas spotlight, fighting for a championship belt in front of the whole world.

Ugás wanted this future so badly that he attempted to defect six times. He said he was sent to prison after the failed attempts, even though he won an Olympic bronze medal in Beijing.

He finally got to Mexico in 2010 after two perilous days in a small boat. He eventually made it to Miami, yet he still paid another price: He couldn’t see his family, including his mother, for nine years.

“This has been a long road for me,” Ugás said through an interpreter. “Obviously it was short notice that I learned I was fighting Pacquiao. But I’m thankful for the opportunity, and I’m ready to take advantage of it.”

Indeed, Ugás’s two decades of hard work and sacrifice finally paid off in a flash earlier this month.

Errol Spence Jr., the vaunted welterweight champion slated to fight Pacquiao in a pay-per-view show Saturday night at T-Mobile Arena, discovered he had a detached retina during a pre-fight physical.

Too often in his life and career, Ugás had been in the wrong place. Now that he has the break he chased for so long, Ugás is determined not to waste it.

“There are no excuses heading into this fight,” Ugás said. “I’ve been in this position taking a short-notice fight before, although obviously never against a fighter the caliber of Pacquiao. I have no concerns, though.”

Although Ugás has found it painful in the past when his life didn’t fit the future he had imagined, he has been through enough to appreciate an opportunity like this without allowing it to consume him.

His pro career has moved on swells and troughs. He started 11-0, but Top Rank unceremoniously released him in 2012 after his first professional loss, a split-decision defeat in which he didn’t look sharp enough for Bob Arum’s promotion.

Ugás then stepped away from competitive boxing for two years from 2014 to 2016 after back-to-back decision losses that he found unfair. He says he was depressed and living in New Jersey, eating ramen and struggling to figure out what to do after failing at boxing.

He found salvation from Aroldis Chapman, the baseball closer who loves boxing and informally sponsors defector fighters from their mutual homeland. Ugás says Chapman paid for him to move to Vegas to resume his training, and he returned to the ring in August 2016 with the first of eight straight wins.

A debatable split-decision loss to Shawn Porter in 2019 prevented him from winning the WBC welterweight title, but only improved his stock in the boxing world. He is with Premier Boxing Champions, which has given him regular platforms—and thanks to Spence’s unfortunate injury, he was in position to take the biggest stage of all.

There are plenty of reasons to believe Ugás has more than a puncher’s chance against the Filipino senator. Pacquiao is 42, and he is coming off the longest layoff of his quarter-century in pro boxing.

“I have prepared for 12 hard rounds,” Ugás said. “If this is Pacquiao’s final fight, then he’s going to be up against a guy who brought his best and who is a world-class fighter.”

But no matter what happens, Ugás will be glad he was in the ring.

After two decades of ups and downs, Ugás is now a successful fighter with a comfortable life and a loving family in Florida. He dotes on his 6-year-old autistic son, Yordenis Jr., and he speaks out on social media about his still-simmering dislike of the Cuban government, saying, “in our country you cannot progress, you cannot think and you cannot live.”

When he stands across from Pacquiao, he will finally be in position to punctuate all of his struggles and work with a performance that would stun fans from Manila to Havana. If he succeeds, he’ll be thinking of how far he traveled to get there.

“More than anything, I am a fighter who represents my country of Cuba,” he said. “This fight is dedicated to all the people who are fighting for freedom in Cuba, I’m fighting for all of them.”

With AP

Image courtesy of AP

Read full article on BusinessMirror

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