Real or Not: Manny Pacquiao vs. Errol Spence Jr. will happen; Yordenis Ugas is being overlooked

It seemed that the welterweight division was finally going to succeed in delivering a fight between two of the top boxers that’s been starved for big bouts. Everything was looking good in the lead-up until an eye injury for Errol Spence Jr. scuttled his fight against Manny Pacquiao.

Because another big welterweight fight was on the card, and similarly fell apart due to an eye injury, Pacquiao will still be in a title fight on Saturday facing Yordenis Ugas. As good as that fight might well be, fans are rightly wondering whether or not Pacquiao will push back the date on his expected retirement and still fight Spence down the line.

There’s also the matter of winning Saturday’s fight, and despite Ugas being a +280 underdog at Caesars Sportsbook as of Monday evening, he presents a significant challenge for Pacquiao.

Despite the shake-up in plans for this coming weekend, boxing is ramping back up as the summer winds down and the fall draws near. That began in earnest over this past weekend, and Vergil Ortiz was likely the biggest winner of all across three major cards, stumbling early against Egidijus Kavaliauskas before surging back to score a KO victory. Was it enough to push Ortiz to a world title shot, or is there still some road to travel?

Finally, the trend of MMA fighters crossing over into boxing will take two of the most iconic champions of the UFC’s breakout years — both 46 years old — and put them into the ring against one another. When the bell rings, will Anderson Silva or Tito Ortiz be able to garner something meaningful from a victory inside the squared circle?

Our panel, which features Mike Coppinger, Brett Okamoto and Ben Baby, digs into the biggest headlines of the moment to separate what’s real from what’s not.

Manny Pacquiao will face Errol Spence before he retires

Coppinger: There’s certainly a chance Pacquiao and Spence can reschedule their title fight down the line, but I wouldn’t bet on it. If Pacquiao loses to Yordenis Ugas — a very real possibility, despite the odds — then the allure of that fight is gone.

But win, lose or draw, it’s more than likely Pacquiao calls it a career after Saturday. He turns 43 in December, and he’s gearing up for a presidential run in the Philippines, with the election to be held in May.

There’s also another variable: Spence’s health. A torn retina is, of course, a serious injury. Spence underwent surgery Wednesday in Dallas to repair the tear and faces an uncertain future. By the time Spence is fully healthy and ready to fight, Pacquiao might already be retired. So for those reasons, I’ll say not real. That would make this just another highly anticipated fight that was canceled, never to be rescheduled.

What a blow that would be to Spence, who was favored to add the legend to his growing résumé of victories. There’s no replacement for the kind of push he would have received from sharing the ring with Pacquiao. For now, we can only wait to see how Pacquiao performs against Ugas, what Pacquiao decides to do after that fight, and how long it takes for Spence to return to the ring.

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Manny Pacquiao shares his thoughts on his new opponent Yordenis Ugas, following Errol Spence Jr.’s withdrawal due to injury.

Yordenis Ugas is more of a threat to Manny Pacquiao than the odds reflect

Coppinger: This is absolutely real. Ugas was a decorated amateur from the vaunted Cuban boxing program who won a bronze medal at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. And even at 35, Ugas seems to be peaking.

When he fought Shawn Porter in 2019, Ugas proved he’s one of the best welterweights in the world. The consensus opinion was that Ugas deserved the decision, but instead, the judges narrowly gave Porter a split decision win.

Ugas has a history of fighting on short notice, too. He has fared well since restarting his career; Ugas took two years off after starting 15-3, but ultimately latched on with Premier Boxing Champions and hasn’t lost outside of the Porter fight. Ugas has defeated Thomas Dulorme, Abel Ramos and Omar Figueroa along the way.

Pacquiao was preparing for a fellow southpaw in Spence, but Ugas is a right-hander, which could prove problematic. And unlike most Cuban fighters, who are all about defense and movement, Ugas likes to mix it up on the inside and has proved his toughness in the ring time and again.

On Saturday, we’ll see what Ugas is capable of. The Porter fight was Ugas’ only appearance against a true top-level opponent to this point, and now he gets to prove himself against a giant in the sport.

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Chris Mannix and Mike Coppinger join Max Kellerman to share their thoughts on celebrity boxing exhibitions.

Anderson Silva vs. Tito Ortiz in a boxing fight carries some intrigue and meaning

Okamoto: Not real. And that’s fine. This fight isn’t for me. It’s not for someone who watches dozens of fights every week, and is immersed in the sport. It’s for curious onlookers. It’s for the casual or nostalgic MMA fan, who probably doesn’t watch every event but remembers getting together for the big ones that featured names like Silva and/or Ortiz.

For the record, I’m all for these guys taking this opportunity, and I hope they make a ton of money for the fight. Any time you’re talking about a combat sports athlete competing past his or her prime, I can get a little squeamish. I don’t want to see older, compromised fighters — who can’t take a punch like they used to — sacrifice their health for the sake of money.

But this is a fair fight, albeit one in which Silva will be a big favorite. It’s not a fight between an old legend and a young talent. If Silva and Ortiz can get in the ring, entertain some fans on a Saturday night and walk out with a big paycheck each, there’s nothing wrong with it. And I do think there is some selling power left between them.

But for someone like me, or any other hard-core fan out there who is following MMA in a consistent way, this fight means nothing. The result means nothing.

Vergil Ortiz Jr. will get a title shot in his next fight

Baby: Not real — but not because Ortiz isn’t ready. I mean, what else do we need to see from Ortiz? The 23-year-old cleared his third fight since moving up to the 147-pound division by doing the same thing Terence Crawford did — beating Egidijus Kavaliauskas. Ortiz continued to show why he’s Golden Boy Promotions’ most talented fighter (yes, even better than lightweight Ryan Garcia).

The issue with putting Ortiz in a title fight next is finding a current champion willing to take him on. As of Saturday night, the three legitimate champions are Spence, Crawford and Ugas. Spence pulled out of his fight against Pacquiao, and into that vacancy slipped Ugas. That leaves Crawford, whom the WBA has ordered to fight Porter — one of the few good things the sanctioning body has done recently.

As with everything in boxing, this will probably come down to politics. Crawford’s deal with Top Rank will be up by the end of the year. The other three belts are held by PBC fighters. If Crawford goes over to PBC to quell criticisms of lackluster welterweight title defenses, that would put the division further in the grasp of PBC exec Al Haymon.

If Spence’s eye surgery goes well and he can fight the winner of Pacquiao-Ugas soon (and Pacquiao hasn’t retired by then), that would tie up the two major belts. The winner of that bout could then face Crawford next.

Where would that leave Ortiz? On the outside, unfortunately. But that shouldn’t be the case for too much longer.

Ortiz is tied with Ugas for sixth in ESPN’s welterweight rankings. After his latest win on Saturday, Ortiz is making a great argument for being the best 147-pounder aside from Crawford and Spence.

At some point, champions will have to reckon with Ortiz. And based on what we saw against Kavaliauskas, Ortiz will be ready.