By Harvey I. Barkin
LAS VEGAS – It wasn’t billed as the fight of the century but to many Manny Pacquiao fans, the 2-year, 1-month long wait felt almost that long.
It was the world welterweight championship bout between reigning champ and Cuban Yordenis Ugas, 35, against the oldest pro boxer and only eight-division title holder Manny Pacquiao, 42, at the T-Mobile arena last August 21.
For Pacquiao it was an opportunity to take back the title that was given to Ugas after Pacquiao’s 25 month absence in the ring. For Ugas; a validation.
Earlier that day there was disappointment when Pinoy John Dato from Bangar failed to stop Mexican Angel Contreras in the eight-round Featherweight bout.
But the crowd roared back to life when Tagbilaran native Mark Magsayo knocked down Mexican Julio Ceja a minute after the first round of their WBC featherweight 12-round bout. Ceja got back at Magsayo and knocked him down on the fifth round. But Magsayo knocked out Ceja and he remained downed on the 10th, eliminating the Mexican.
Maybe it was Magsayo’s 23 wins – 0 loss record or the fact that his promoter was Pacquiao. But hopes were up. The crowd was impatient as the 10-round welterweight bout pitting Robert Guerrero against Victor Ortiz seemed to slow down the pace. When the big screen would flash Manny’s and Jinky’s arrival, the crowd would come back to life.
The die-hard and aficionados began streaming into the T-Mobile arena by the eighth round of the last card. Before the end of the 10th round, the crowd numbered more than 17,000.
The main event opened like a script scenario by Sylvester Stallone. Pacquiao and entourage entered through the strains of Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger, ” used in the 1982 movie Rocky III. The crowd went wild with all the pent-up anticipation fueled by the 100-degree heat outside. When Pacquiao disrobed, revealing a shirt that proclaimed, “God’s Warrior,” the chants and cheering grew to super spreader proportion.
There was the familiar fast and furious flurries of punches from the legend. Pacquiao slipped, still trying to get his pace in the first round.
In the second and third rounds, both Ugas and Pacquiao traded blows. But by now, Ugas’ two-inch advantage in reach was proving to be an obstacle for Pacquiao. Ugas could just push him off.
The hometown crowd began to annoy Ugas. From somewhere in the crowd, a first gen fan was adding an “n” to Ugas name and calling out the invective. Ugas’ blow made Pacquiao reel. But Ugas was cited for a low blow. Ugas slipped.
Ugas was cited for another low blow in the fifth. Both traded blows to the other’s face in the sixth and seventh rounds. But Ugas’ longer reach blocked off a number of Pacquiao’s blows.
Ugas dominated in the eighth round.
By the ninth round, Pacquiao began to work on Ugas’ puffy eye brows. But Ugas ended Pacquiao’s flurry of punches with clinches.
By now, Pacquiao must have felt like Apollo Creed (played by Carl Weathers) fighting Drago(played by Dolph Lundgren) in Rocky IV. It finally hit Pacquiao that he was up against an Olympian and a Bronze winner at that. Ugas wasn’t going down. Pacquiao’s effective blows were glancing off Ugas’ hands. Pacquiao needed more time that wasn’t there.
The unanimous score was close: 115 hits by Ugas vs. 113 by Pacquiao.