Cuban contender talks about how enduring “tough challenges” outside the ring has provided extra motivation for his Showtime-televised clash with Ray Robinson.
It was 2 p.m. on Monday, April 24, 2017 when Yordenis Ugas received a call.
Could he replace Mario Barrios against an overweight Nelson Lara at 154-pounds on Tuesday night in Tunica, Mississippi?
“I was at the airport in 20 minutes with only the clothes on my back.” Ugas said.
After a layover in Texas, he arrived in Mississippi for a weigh-in around 2:20 a.m., went to sleep and was prepared to go 12 hard rounds later that night.
“I work hard in the gym and wake up ready to fight. My ability to win on short notice scares fighters,” said Ugas, who stopped Lara that night in the second round.
The welterweight contender should carry a card that says: “Have Gloves. Will Travel.”
But the 31-year-old Cuban (20-3, 9 KOs), who now lives in Las Vegas, has had plenty of time to prepare for his upcoming bout—a February 17 IBF title eliminator against Ray Robinson (24-2, 12 KOs).
“I’m a fierce finisher and counter-attacker with solid defense and endless energy,” he said. “I'm always waiting for the next phone call and another chance to provide explosive action for my fans.”
The bout is on the undercard of the Danny Garcia-Brandon Rios main event airing on Showtime from Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Ugas ran his record to 5-0 over a 12-month span since returning in August 2016 from a 27-month ring absence. During that stretch of being a late replacement, Ugas fought twice on short notice and fought twice within 46 days.
Jamal James and Bryant Perrella were a combined 34-0 with 22 KOs before falling to Ugas by unanimous decision and fourth-round stoppage, respectively, in 2016
Ugas followed the Perrella victory with a hard-fought split-decision over Levan Ghvamichava in February. He won his last fight by 10-round unanimous decision over welterweight contender Thomas Dulorme on eight days notice on Aug. 26.
“ I was honored seeing him as a world champion cheered by millions of people. Now, I’m motivated to do the same in boxing. ” Yordenis Ugas, on watching friend and fellow Cuban Aroldis Chapman win the World Series
A replacement for former 147-pound champion Shawn Porter on the Floyd Mayweather-Conor McGregor undercard, Ugas twice scored second-round knockdowns and rose from the deck in the seventh against Dulorme.
“That was my first time being dropped as a pro,” Ugas said. “It was a great comeback on a big night. I showed the mentality to overcome adversity. I’m ready for anyone in the division.”
Ugas has had his share of challenges in his life. A bronze medal winner on the Cuban national team in the 2008 Olympic Games, Ugas defected from Cuba in 2010, taking a circuitous route from Mexico to Miami. He left behind his parents and several cousins. His 2-year-old son, Yordenis Jr., and fiancée, Alejandra Yacdolin Barahona have become his motivation in life and in his career. Barahona is in remission from thyroid cancer after undergoing surgery in 2016.
“It was difficult leaving family to start a new life, but it’s worth it to rebuild my career with five wins this past year,” Ugas said. “The biggest victory is Alejandra, the mother of my son, surviving cancer. That’s the No. 1 victory of our lives.”
Ugas is also inspired by two baseball-playing Cuban exiles—the late Miami Marlins pitcher Jose Fernandez and New York Yankee’s pitcher Aroldis Chapman.
Fernandez died in a boating accident on Sept. 25, 2016. Two days later Ugas defeated Perrella, memorializing his friend with a tribute written on his T-shirt and trunks.
“Before I left the corner to start the fight, I said a prayer for Jose,” Ugas said. “For sure that was a motivation that helped me through it. I felt his spirit throughout the fight.”
Ugas attended the final game of the 2016 World Series when Chapman, who was then the Cubs closer, helped pitch Chicago to an 8-7 victory. The next day at a rally and parade, they rode together on a float honoring Chicago’s first series title in 108 years.
“Aroldis is my best friend, like a brother. I’ve attended many of his games,” said Ugas, of Chapman—who has reciprocated the support, sitting ringside for his fights against Ghvamchava and Lara.
“When Aroldis is here in Miami in the offseason, we train together. I was honored seeing him as a world champion cheered by millions of people. Now, I’m motivated to do the same in boxing.”
Ugas said he ran into a period of time when he wasn’t performing up to his level of expectations.
“I knew I was better, but for a year and a half, I basically lost motivation,” he said.
A disillusioned Ugas nearly hung up his gloves before meeting legendary Cuban trainer Ismael Salas, who had worked with lightweight champion Jorge Linares and former 130 and 135-pound champion Rances Barthelemy.
“Salas has a unique history of mentally and physically preparing Cuban boxers,” Ugas said. “He gradually restored my willpower to regain my gym regimen and rhythm, suggesting the move to 147 was perfect, re-energizing me after having trouble making 140.”
- Yordenis Ugas