Errol Spence Jr unified three of the four welterweight championships on Saturday night, stopping the brave but out-gunned Yordenis Ugas. ‘The Truth’ added the WBA strap to his WBC and IBF titles with a tenth-round stoppage, after breaking the Cuban’s orbital bone. The victory marked the start of what Spence hopes will be a banner year in his career, as he now targets an undisputed title showdown with WBO boss Terence Crawford.
Spence entered the At & T Stadium in Arlington, Texas as the betting favourite. But there were question marks over him going into the bout. The unified king had not fought since a unanimous decision win over Danny Garcia in December 2020. This long lay-off, coupled with the awkward style of Ugas, was expected to present some problems. The Cuban was most impressive in his last bout, when he ended the career of Manny Pacquiao last August. Ugas did have the new champion in trouble in the sixth round, when a short right uppercut sent Spence’s mouthpiece flying. The 32-year-old recovered though, and had things all his own way down the stretch.
The victory sets up Spence for a tilt at Crawford, and a chance to unify the welterweight division. The fight is one of the most attractive that can be made in boxing, as two pound-for-pound candidates prepare to face off. Happily for a sport often marred by fraught negotiations and political posturing, both fighters seem to want this bout. Spence mentioned ‘Bud’ by name in the wake of the Ugas victory. Crawford responded on Twitter, telling the new WBA champion to “keep my belts warm”.
So Spence vs Crawford is next right? Simple? Of course not, because sadly this is professional boxing and whenever there is a fight everyone wants, there is always someone here to offer one we don’t. The WBA are playing that role once again, as the enemies of fun manoeuvre to try and get Spence to fight their WBA ‘regular’ champion, Eimantas Stanionis. No disrespect to the unbeaten Lithuanian, but he is hardly operating on the same decorated level as Spence and Crawford. The WBA claim this fight is necessary to crown one champion per division, but if the sanctioning body had operated with less greed in the first place they would not have more than one world title claimant anyway.
The future for Ugas seems less clear than that of his conqueror. The 35-year-old is a fighter of quality, even if he was fairly comprehensively outclassed on the night. There should be no shortage of fights available to ‘54 Milagros’ when he does return to the ring. He may even find himself well-placed for a tilt at Stanionis’ secondary belt, should good sense prevail and the Spence-Crawford take place. But the question mark hanging over his future is the state of his eye, so brutally pounded and closed by Spence’s cultured combinations. Severe bone breaks around the eyes can be fatal to a boxer’s career prospects. Billy Joe Saunders had his eye socket fractured by Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez in May, and has toyed with retirement in the eleven months since. Hopefully Ugas’ injuries are not too serious, and the brilliant Cuban dazzles us again.
The future of welterweight can go one of two ways from here. Either a fight between two peak champions is made, providing a tremendous boon for boxing as a whole or we are denied the bout. If Spence is wrapped in WBA red tape and Crawford spins his wheels against a WBO appointed challenger, we may never see one of the most desired fights in the sport. Hopefully boxing can take the sensible approach, and put on a fight that would showcase a sport in rude health.