Something is reassuring about the end of the improbable. Yordenis Ugas was and is an incredible story. That story culminated last August when Ugas (replacing the injured Errol Spence) made a full-time politician of Manny Pacquiao. It was the defining victory of Ugas’s career, one he reveled in unabashedly. Yet was there not always a sense that the title Ugas took from Pacquiao was merely on loan? His championship reign an interregnum explained not by Ugas or Pacquiao but by the torn retina in Spence’s left eye?
The answer to that question—and others more pressing—was provided Saturday, when Spence and Ugas met at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, to consolidate their welterweight hardware. That’s where Ugas’s improbable title run ended, the neighborhood ringside physician halting the fight in the tenth round. Ugas protested genuinely enough, but a broken orbital bone and plummeting punch output were sufficient cause for saving Ugas from a fight whose outcome was no longer in doubt.
And that’s reassuring. Reassuring because it reminded us that narrative has its limits; it does not supersede reality, however much it may influence our expectations or hopes. In boxing, the fairy tale must eventually reconcile with the truth. When the bell rings, there are only you, the man across from you, the desiderata, the reckoning. Ugas understands that, as will the people in his life who will witness how his body reacts and recovers from his failed attempt to extend the improbable.
It is reassuring too because it confirms Spence is the fighter he promised to be—the one who took Kell Brook’s title by knockout in Sheffield, whose ascension seemed slowed so his stablemates might fatten their pockets before slaughter. There were signs Spence was moving away from that version of himself. Before wrecking his Ferrari and face in 2019; before having eye surgery in 2020, Spence won an uninspiring decision over former featherweight Mikey Garcia. Spence explained that he was instructed to box intelligently that night (those words from the mouth of a proven destroyer smacked of risk-aversion, of ignorance of the moment). A winning strategy, yes—and a disappointing one. Anything but competitive, Spence–Garcia should have been brutal, or short, or both. It was neither. It was a somnambulistic transaction, an anti-spectacle, and Spence bore responsibility for that.
Perhaps mercy made Spence spare Garcia, whose throaty devotees helped Spence pack Jerry’s World for the first time, mercy that saved Danny Garcia from the beating Spence teased but left unfinished. But in the ring, mercy is best entrusted to the referees, doctors, and cornermen. And thankfully, Spence showed none against Ugas. Against Ugas, Spence was merciless.
This was ultraviolence, a piercing reminder of the abyss that can separate even the best fighters in a division. Spence burrowed into Ugas and pulverized him, taking the fight where Ugas could match neither his prowess nor his effort. His bodywork was relentless, a symbol of his supreme confidence. Spence places his body shots well, but not because he is concerned with missing. His withering assault is the culmination of the punches he lands and those that don’t. Land or not, the message in those punches is the same: you will neither deter nor withstand me. Ugas resisted as best he could, fighting the kind of fight he is poorly suited for against a superior fighter in his element.
In the sixth round, a still-resolute Ugas dislodged Spence’s mouthpiece with a right hand and staggered him into the ropes. But Ugas froze with Spence at his most vulnerable (an error boxing’s apex predator would not make), and the possibility of another improbable victory evaporated. Did Spence’s strange reaction to the punch confuse Ugas momentarily? Possibly, though this much is true: were the roles reversed, Spence would have slugged Ugas onto the scorer’s table. Such are the terms of engagement. Before round’s end, Spence was again ripping Ugas with rear uppercuts, hunting his organs, shrinking the ring and Ugas’s chances of victory with it.
Ugas hurt Spence to the body in the seventh, but here (as it had throughout the fight) his pursuit of the perfect kill shot thwarted him. Ugas could not war with Spence, he had neither the firepower nor the fitness for attrition. But rather than creating opportunities to slow his rampaging opponent, Ugas too often waited for Spence to make a critical mistake that never came. And Ugas’s prospects only worsened when an uppercut swelled his right eye shut in the eighth. Still, Ugas never conceded defeat. And while the abuse Ugas suffered mitigated the threat he posed, the Cuban fought hard whenever he had a chance to gather himself. Ugas demanded Spence take his title by force and Spence obliged, which is the highest compliment “The Truth” can pay him.
Spence had a change of perspective following his car accident, one that he has made considerable efforts to live by. That his decision to escape the urban crush and try his hand at raising farm animals came after his near-death experience speaks to a greater appreciation for life and the rewards of living responsibly. The man who now lives on a 60-acre ranch in DeSoto, Texas, would never allow reckless living to imperil what and who he fights for. When Spence speaks of this new outlook on life he employs the kind of language often captured in quotations, italicized for effect; the lexicon of therapy, simple terms of profound weight. There was a time when that too seemed proof of a milder fighter. But when asked about his future, Spence said clearly and distinctly the only name that has mattered for the better part of three years.
“Terence, I’m comin’ for that motherfuckin’ belt.” Simple terms of profound weight.