Five days from today on Saturday (Sunday in Manila), Filipino boxing legend Manny Pacquiao will battle Cuban WBA welterweight super champion Yordenis Ugas for the latter’s ill-gotten diadem in what is a flashback of the now Philippine Senator’s fight against South African Lehlo Ledwaba 20 years ago that set the tone of his long, nine-year journey to becoming the first and only man on planet earth to crown himself world titlist in eight weight divisions.
Early this year on January, Pacquiao was stripped of his welterweight super title by the World Boxing Association, due to inactivity brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic only to offer the same to Ugas, who accepted the plum without throwing a single punch.
Twenty years and two months ago on June 23, 2001, in his debut on American soil, a young and still untested Kibawe, Bukidnon-born Filipino, a two-week substitute to an ailing challenger Enrique Sanchez, surprised the title-defending African and thousands at the MGM Grand Arena stands as well as millions of radio listeners and viewers on their television screens worldwide.
Pacquiao annihilated Ledwaba from the opening bell on, sending Ledwaba thrice on his knees on way to a sixth round TKO win, crowning himself the new IBF super-bantamweight titlist that made him an instant superstar.
That was, too, Pacquiao’s first outing under the tutelage of Hall of Fame trainer Freddie Roach that represented his second world crown of eight he was destined to capture nine years later. That followed his KO (8th round) WBC flyweight title conquest of Thai Chatchai Sasakul three years back on 14 December 1998.
From 2001, Pacquiao went his way to collect six more world plums, adding 49 pounds where he started as a junior-flyweight at 105 pounds in 1995 to 154-pound super welterweight category in 2010, traversing the road from featherweight (126 lbs.), super-featherweight (130 lbs.), lightweight (135 lb lbs.), junior welterweight (140 lbs.), welterweight (147 lbs), and super-welterweight (154 lbs.).
To accomplish the feat, the father of five with former beauty queen wife Jinkee had to survive fellow future Hall of Famer Marco Antonio Barrera, Juan Manuel Marquez, David Diaz, Ricky Hatton and Antonio Margarito.
Prior to his retirement in 2006, “Hands of Stone” Ledwaba amassed a professional record of 36 wins (23 KOs), 6 losses, and 1 draw, including a 23-fight winning streak from 1993 to 2001.
He died last July 2, a victim of Covid-19 Pandemia.
With undefeated WBC/IBF welterweight champion Errol Spence sidelined while he recovers from retina surgery, all eyes are on Ugás, who stepped up from the card’s co-main event and will defend his title against boxer laureate, the Philippines’ own Pacquiao.
Pacquiao reminisced that June 23, 2001 fight against Ledwaba, saying in a statement released through public relations man Fred Sternberg and furnished this reporter on Monday: “I know what Yordenis Ugas is feeling because I was Yordenis Ugas twenty years ago.”
“I was in very good shape since I had recently fought in the Philippines and had just begun to work with Freddie,” recalled Manny, who ended his Wild Card Boxing Club training camp that day. “I was a day away from going home to the Philippines when the fight was offered to me. I was so excited. This was a great opportunity.”
“There was no way I was going to pass it up. Freddie and I worked every day those two weeks until the weigh-in. That is how we started to get to know each other, the former two-time congressman added. “Ugás is in a similar situation. He was already training for a welterweight title fight on the same card as mine so he too is ready to make the most of this opportunity.”
He said he is not taking the Cuban titlist for granted. ”In fact I am taking him as seriously as I took Errol Spence. I will not make the same mistake Ledwaba made with me. I still have the same hunger to win. I live for it.”
“I have had a great training camp and I am well-prepared. I want to prove to everyone, especially Yordenis Ugás, that I am still here. My title was given to Ugás. That is not how you become a champion. You earn it by winning it inside the ring. We will fight for the title. That is the proper way a champion is crowned,” he stressed.
Roach has joined the conversation, saying: “What Manny had going for him when he fought Ledwaba was that he was unknown in the U.S. which gave us the element of surprise. They (Ledwaba’s camp) obviously didn’t do their homework on Manny, which was lucky for us.
“The important lessons Manny and I learned from that fight were never underestimate your opponent, take nothing for granted, and never cut corners in training. And Manny never has. He gives it everything he has every day of every training camp and respects every opponent who is brave enough to enter a ring, “the nseven-time ‘Trainer of the Year’ honoree of the Boxing Writers Association of America cautioned. (philboxing)