Just Keep Punching, The Career Resurrection of Yordenis Ugas

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By Cliff Rold

Henry Armstrong is one of the greatest prizefighters ever to lace gloves. No one argues about that. It’s almost a fundamental principle of the sport.

Henry Armstrong was stopped in his professional debut. It would only happen one other time in a career spanning over 180 fights, but there would be more defeats. Before he became the whirlwind who held the featherweight, lightweight, and welterweight titles at the same time, Armstrong started his career 1-4.

It’s hard to imagine a fighter who starts out of the blocks so rough becoming a great one today. Everyone can’t be Henry Armstrong in any era. With far fewer fights, just getting into contention after some rough defeats can be hard enough in the 21stcentury.

It’s hard, but not impossible.

And no one has to be Henry Armstrong to do it.

This Saturday (Fox, 8 PM EST), 32-year old Cuban welterweight Yordenis Ugas (23-3, 11 KO) will attempt to win his ninth fight in a row. If he does, it will be at the expense of 31-year old IBF welterweight titlist Shawn Porter (29-2-1, 17 KO). Ugas getting to a title fight isn’t a surprise. The 2005 lightweight world amateur champion and 2008 Olympic bronze medalist always had the chops of a championship hopeful.

The road he took to this weekend was just a little more scenic. Consecutive losses to Emanuel Robles and Amir Imam in 2014 turned out to be the beginning of Ugas finding his best self as a professional. We’ll see how far he’s come in a few days.

Ugas is the latest example of a fighter who just keeps punching until they get it right.

It’s a lesson more can learn from. Almost all fighters lose at some point. Early losses can hurt more because they come before the title shots and potential for bigger money is realistic. But it really doesn’t matter if a fighter is 23-3 in their first title shot or after several title fights.

In boxing, the question is what the total body of work looks like at the end.

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A good current example is IBF 130 lb. titlist Tevin Farmer. Farmer was stopped in his pro debut, and again in his twelfth fight at the hands of future titlist Jose Pedraza. Farmer kept punching and hasn’t lost since, running his record after Pedraza from 7-4-1 to 28-4-1.

Future Hall of Famer Bernard Hopkins lost his first professional fight, his first title opportunity to Roy Jones in 1993, and was held to a draw after suffering two knockdowns against Segundo Mercado in his next title fight.

It turned out all right from there.

Hall of Fame candidate Rafael Marquez went eight rounds and was stopped by former world titlist Victor Rabanales in his first fight and was stopped two more times before opportunity knocked in a pair of fights with Mark Johnson. He won both and opened a path to a bantamweight title and brief stint as the lineal king at Jr. featherweight.

The poster child for overcoming early adversity in the 1990s was lightweight Freddie Pendleton. Pendleton was 24-16-3 when he turned heads in what was supposed to be a much easier night in an unexpected crack at the great Pernell Whitaker for the lightweight title in 1990. Pendleton won eight in a row after Whitaker and, after a technical draw the first time, beat Tracy Spann for the vacant IBF belt in 1993.

Pendleton didn’t hold the title long, and went back to losing often the rest of the way, but he kept punching and no one can ever say he didn’t achieve what he did.

Ugas is a far less unlikely story than Pendleton but, at 32, if he’s going to do something big now is probably the best chance he’ll ever have. Win or lose, he got to his moment and he didn’t need a “0” to get there.

He’s just another fighter who can say to others that if they keep punching, keep working, keep going, then they can dream real dreams about having a final say in the ring.

Cliff’s Notes…

Glad to see Luis Nery will ultimately appear on the undercard of Errol Spence-Mikey Garcia. Nery’s issues with clenbuterol and the scale in his battles with Shinsuke Yamanaka hampered an enthusiastic hardcore following for the bantamweight. Here’s hoping he gets back on track and keeps away from controversy. He’s a tremendously skilled talent and fun to watch in the ring…The whole Captain Marvel vs. Captain Marvel (Shazam) thing is all made up, right? They both look like fun flicks for different reasons and there’s room for everyone. It’s like in boxing: there can be a Robinson and a Leonard. They’re both Sugar Ray with plenty of reason to appreciate both…Luis Ortiz didn’t look great against Christian Hammer but reading too much into it could be a mistake. Ortiz hasn’t always been impressive. Even at 40, with his skills, assume he’s a handful for anyone until proven otherwise…The Roman-Denehy/Sor Rungvisai-Estrada II card might be the best on paper in boxing so far this year…It’s going to take a lot of work to care about Terence Crawford-Amir Khan.

Cliff Rod is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene, a founding member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board, and a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America.  He can be reached at [email protected]

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