MANILA, Philippines -- When Cuba's Yordenis Ugás was announced as the replacement for the injured Errol Spence Jr., Manny Pacquiao's promoter said it was "poetic justice."
Ugás had been elevated to WBA "super" welterweight champion in January, while Pacquiao was declared "champion in recess" by the sanctioning body due to his inactivity. The "Pacman" had not fought since July 2019, with the COVID-19 pandemic affecting his plans to fight.
"The senator got his belt basically ripped off by the WBA and they gave it to Ugás," said Sean Gibbons, president of MP Promotions. "So it's poetic justice now. The senator is going to fight Ugás to get his belt back."
But Pacquiao was unable to get his belt back, as he was instead outboxed by Ugás over the course of 12 rounds in their welterweight showdown on Saturday in Las Vegas (Sunday in Manila).
The bigger Ugás showed superb defense, blocking most of Pacquiao's punches while successfully sticking his jab and landing power punches. He would win via unanimous decision to retain the WBA belt.
For the 35-year-old Ugás, it was sweet validation as Pacquiao and his camp had been adamant that he did not earn the WBA belt.
"I told you, I am the champion of the WBA, and I showed it tonight," Ugás said via a translator after his triumph. "He's a great competitor, but I came in here to show that I am the champion of the WBA."
"I have a lot of respect for him, but I won the fight," he stressed.
Ugás, a bronze medalist from the 2008 Beijing Olympics, entered the bout with plenty of momentum as he had won 11 of his last 12 matches. His lone loss in that stretch, a split decision against Shawn Porter in March 2019, was "very disputed" according to Gibbons.
Though he took the fight on just 11 days' notice, Ugás and his camp put together a terrific game plan and executed it to perfection.
The Cuban is now determined to sustain this momentum against the other top fighters in the welterweight division.
"The plan is to unify the titles in welterweight," he declared. "Everybody said he (Pacquiao) was the champion. Now they know who the real champion is."
Spence Jr., Pacquiao's original opponent, is one of Ugás' targets though the Cuban stressed that what's important is for the American boxer to fully recover.
A torn retina in his left eye, discovered in a pre-fight medical exam, had forced Spence Jr. to withdraw from the lucrative bout.
"He's the next one on the list that I wanna fight, but most of all, I am praying that he recuperates," Ugás said.