It’s the kind of moment you want to see how a truly elite fighter handles: In the 6th round of his welterweight battle with Yordenis Ugas Saturday night, Errol Spence Jr. finally got rattled.
It was a situation he gift-wrapped for Ugas, which is, certainly, a bit incriminating. With his mouthpiece knocked out, Spence just started ignoring Ugas in some kind of ill-considered gesture toward recovering said mouthpiece, whereupon Ugas whacked him a few more times, bouncing Spence off the ropes.
And wouldn’t you know it, after the fuck-up, he handled himself like a boss. In the very next round, Spence landed the left uppercut that would spell the beginning of the end of the fight, fracturing Ugas’ orbital bone — eventually swelling his eye all the way shut by the 10th, forcing the ref to halt the match for good. (That ref, Laurence Cole, is always a lock for several “what the hell?”s a night. He stopped things at weird times, like having the doc look at Ugas’ eye near the end of a round and with no real break in the action; he found a questionable moment to get Spence that mouthpiece back, too.)
This was the kind of fight that could’ve made Spence look like something less than special, and not just for that harrowing 6th round action. Ugas has that Cuban style, the one with the conservative offense and lots of counterpunching that can make anyone look bad. Spence was also coming off a retina surgery and a year and a half away from the ring. Other than being a knucklehead for a few seconds, you can’t fault Spence much for the performance. That 2019 Ferrari-flipping car accident that could’ve ended his career looks all the further in the (pardon the remark) rear-view mirror.
One thing Spence did against Ugas early on established what would come later. He simply refused to allow Ugas to tie him up, ever, immediately pushing or pulling himself free, even risking taking a counterpunch to do so. That let Spence get into an uncomfortable range for Ugas, that range being “really damn close.” Spence was more than capable on the inside, doing a lot of damage with body shots, uppecuts, right hooks, you name it. He also probably led with his head enough to blunt Ugas offense, too, which, OK, a little dirty — but smart, smart like refusing to be clinched.
This was one of Spence’s best wins, if not his best, and the lone time anyone beat Ugas by anyone other than a sliver on the scorecards. That “signature” win is still missing and who knows when or if it will come; Terence Crawford is THE target to try to get a win like that, and these two have been magically managing to avoid making that fight for years, although perhaps Crawford’s departure from Top Rank… check that thought, maybe that’s more of a mess with a wild lawsuit than a situation that can give us one of the best match-ups in all of boxing.
It doesn’t seem like that long ago that Spence was a “young” fighter. He’s not old; he’s in his prime. But suddenly he’s 32 and Jaron Ennis and Vergil Ortiz, Jr. are the youngbloods at 147. All the signs are there that he is who we thought he was, talent-wise. Now there’s no time to waste proving they’re more than mere signs.
(Photo: Yordenis Ugas, left, Errol Spence Jr, right; credit Amanda Westcott, Showtime)