The former Cuban Olympian withstood early setbacks and is now fighting for his first world title versus WBC Welterweight World Champion Shawn Porter Saturday night on PBC on FOX.
Miami, Florida isn’t exactly a work destination, as Yordenis Ugas can attest.
“When Yordenis was down in Miami, he had a lot of distractions,” said Ismael Salas, head trainer of the top-rated welterweight contender.
After winning bronze at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, Ugas turned professional in 2010 and relocated from his home in De Santiago, Cuba, to America. He began his professional career in Miami, without Salas, and started with an 11-0 record at super lightweight.
Despite the strong start, Ugas, 32, went 3-3 in his next six fights to drop his record to 14-3. The first two of his three defeats came against then-undefeated fighters, Johnny Garcia and Emanuel Robles. Both fights were close, controversial split-decision verdicts that did not go his way.
After losing for a third time, this time in clear fashion to super lightweight contender Amir Imam in May 2014, the former amateur-standout knew he had to make a change if he was to succeed in the professional ranks. Following that fight, Ugas took a two-year break from the sport.
“At that time, I was reflecting and organizing my life,” said Ugas. “I was thinking of the next step. The idea was always to return to the sport and compete.”
“He had many personal problems,” said Salas, who also migrated from Cuba to the United States. “His wife was sick, and then later on pregnant. Just many different personal problems and distractions.”
When Ugas returned to the ring in 2016, he did so as a welterweight. He also moved from Miami to Las Vegas while enlisting Salas as his new head trainer.
“I told him if you want to move to the next level, you have to be very focused and very motivated,” said Salas. “As you can see, he's now been beating undefeated guys.”
Upon his return, Ugas was thrown into the fray with an unbeaten up-and-comer in Jamal James. He looked better than ever, winning a clear 10-round unanimous decision.
Defeating James kickstarted an eight-fight winning streak that included an impressive unanimous decision win over welterweight contender, Thomas Dulorme on the Floyd Mayweather-Conor McGregor undercard in August 2017.
“ I’m looking at the hardest night of my career, but I will succeed. ” Welterweight contender - Yordenis Ugas
“The change of division was good,” said Ugas, regarding the move from 140- to 147-pounds. “I changed the type of work I was doing. I changed trainers and made changes in my life. That is what’s made a difference.”
Unlike most top-flight Cuban fighters, Ugas is not a slick boxer, such as countrymen Erislandy Lara and Guillermo Rigondeaux. Instead, he prefers to fight at mid-range or up-close, inviting exchanges in the center of the ring. He can box and counter, but for the most part, his feet are planted while doing so.
“When he came to us, he was too stiff. He liked to be different than the normal Cuban fighter,” said Salas. “He was sitting too much on his punches. Where he comes from in De Santiago, Cuba, it has the most beautiful of all the Cuban styles. So, I told him let’s take it back to the starting point, to bring you to where you were.”
During his two-and-a-half-year unbeaten streak, Ugas has indeed loosened up and grown into his professional style. He’s incorporated a body attack that has led to four KOs in his eight victories since returning, including a “KO of the Year” candidate in February 2018 against Ray Robinson.
This Saturday, Ugas (23-3, 11 KOs) will put his improved skills to the test in his first world title shot, versus WBC welterweight world champion, “Showtime” Shawn Porter (29-2-1, 17 KOs). The bout headlines a PBC on FOX show at Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson, California (8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT).
The combination of Ugas’ style and the frenzied in-and-out aggression of Porter could make for a thrilling scrap. Porter is never one to shy away from a firefight. Ugas should expect nothing less from the champion in his first title defense.
Ugas must counter the aggressive, athletic world champion and find a way to outbox him at a distance. Further, it’ll be a tough task for the Cuban to match the elite conditioning of the 31-year-old Porter, 31.
“I have great conditioning as well and I’m a competitor,” said Ugas. “It’s going to be a good fight, an exciting fight. A first-class, strong fight.”
Scoring an upset victory over Porter would complete Ugas’ journey, from his early setbacks to the champion he always believed he’d be coming out of the Olympics.
“I’m looking at the hardest night of my career, but I will succeed.”
For a closer look at Yordenis Ugas, check out his fighter page.