The undefeated welterweight king looks better than ever, stopping the brave Cuban to become a three-belt champion in front of hometown fans Saturday night on SHOWTIME pay-per-view.
Three years ago, Errol Spence Jr. looked at himself in a hospital mirror and couldn’t recognize the reflection. On Saturday night, “The Truth” knows what he’s seeing now.
The undefeated Spence put on a virtuoso performance in stopping Yordenis Ugas in the 10th round to unify the WBA, IBF and WBC titles on Saturday night before a partisan crowd of 39,946 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, on SHOWTIME Pay-Per-View headlining a Premier Boxing Champions event.
After a 17-month layoff, Spence (28-0, 22 KOs) looked like Spence, but he had to overcome the most serious adversity of his career, when Ugas knocked him to the ropes in the sixth round, after Spence had his gumshield knocked out.
“I felt a little off with my timing, but I knew I was going to catch on later in the rounds,” Spence said. “I just kept working. I kept throwing punches and then sometimes I was being over patient. I was throwing punches instead of picking my shots. I had a long layoff and I was super excited to get back in the ring. I was trying to push the pace more than I needed to.”
Spence started the night pecking away with the jab, while Ugas (27-5, 12 KOs) tactically stepped back. Ugas did land a solid counter right as time wound down in the opening round.
In the second, Spence went back to the jab, while Ugas was trying to land the overhand right on Spence’s left eye. Through two rounds, neither fighter landed anything substantial, but the southpaw Spence was the more active of the two.
By the third, the two finally had a meaningful exchange, with Spence coming out the better. He cleaved Ugas’ high guard with a left uppercut, a hammer he would use all night, and with 1:15 left in the third, referee Laurence Cole warned Ugas about pushing Spence’s head down.
But it was Ugas, however, who closed the third strong, landing big rights to Spence’s left eye with :18 seconds left in the round, and again landed another big right seconds later.
With 1:50 left in the fourth, Spence burrowed in and landed some thudding shots to the body. Forty seconds later, he was back at it, before Cole warned Spence about keeping his punches up. Spence was again more active, but he was also missing quite a bit, and Ugas again closed a round by landing a right in the last 10 seconds.
In the fifth, Spence had muscled his way inside once more, chopping at Ugas’ body. Ugas went after Spence with a right, but it was Spence’s inside work, especially to the body, that was taking over the fight.
Then in the sixth, Spence faced the first real adversity of his pro career as an overhand right from Ugas followed by a shorter right knocked Spence’s gumshield out. Spence turned to go retrieve it, seemingly thinking the fight was on pause. That’s when Ugas plowed him with a left, then a right, sending Spence staggering into the ropes.
“I thought the ref said stop, so I stopped,” Spence said. “And then he hit me with three or four shots. That’s my fault. That was a rookie mistake. You’re supposed to protect yourself at all times and I didn’t do that. I wasn’t out on my feet. I turned and looked at my mouthpiece and he hit me.
Once Cole interceded to stop the fight to get Spence’s gumshield, Spence never looked back. He opened the seventh with a left uppercut, which had Ugas backpedaling. Ugas’ right eye was in danger of swelling shut, and Spence was unrelenting, continually nailing Ugas with rights to the body, and left uppercuts, targeting the eye.
Ugas’ face was now badly swollen, his ribs bruised. With 1:00 left in the eighth, Cole stopped the action so the ringside doctor could look at Ugas’ right eye.
Now smelling blood, Spence swarmed Ugas, unleashing shot after shot. By then, it was evident Ugas’ right eye was swollen shut. He was a one-eyed fighter trying to survive.
“I feel sad. I trained really hard for this fight,” Ugas said. “All my respect to Errol Spence. He’s a great champion. I’m just sad about what happened tonight. The referee stopped the fight, but I wanted to keep going to the end. I definitely had a chance to win the fight in the sixth round but he recuperated well. Congratulations to him and his team.”
A Spence left uppercut with 1:56 left in the 10th seemed to stun Ugas, who was fighting on instinct and character. Cole again sent Ugas over to the ringside doctor who stopped it at 1:44 into the round.
It was a magnificent performance, one that answered any question critics might have had.
“I believe that you’re going to go through trials and tribulations,” said Spence. “I went through a lot of trials. I got tested and I passed the tests due to my upbringing. My mother and my father always telling me not to quit and not to give up and just believing in myself and my family. I wanted to prove them wrong and I knew that I could come back. Why would I quit now? I can come back and still be at my best. I just have to train hard, stay focused and listen to my coach.
“Everybody knows who I want next. I want Terence Crawford next. That’s the fight that I want. That’s the fight everybody else wants. Like I said, I’m going to get these straps then go over there and take his too. Terence, I’m coming for that belt!”
Isaac “Pitbull” Cruz pounds Yuriorkis Gamboa in five
Cruz weighed in initially at 136.5 pounds and later made the 135-pound limit by weighing in at 134.8 pounds.
If the weight loss weakened him, it didn’t show as he scored three knockdowns, ultimately putting Gamboa away in the fifth.
“I’m here to defeat and dethrone anyone that gets in my way while putting on a show for the fans,” Cruz said. “I wanted to send a clear message to the division that I’m here to be a world champion no matter what.
“Mexico, just wait until we arrive. We have something special planned for you when we come back to celebrate.”
Cruz slammed the 40-year-old Gamboa with a left hook to the temple, leaving Gamboa unbalanced for much of the first round.
A different Gamboa showed up at the outset of the second, winging shots at Cruz. But by the middle of the round, Cruz was again the stalker, charging forward, letting go of sweeping rights and lefts at Gamboa.
Late in the frame, Cruz knocked Gamboa down with a right-left combination. Cruz dropped Gamboa again in the opening seconds of the third with a left hook to the jaw, followed by a shot to his back.
With :30 left in the fourth, Cruz knocked down Gamboa a third time with a perfect left hook on the jaw. In the opening 30 seconds of the fifth, Gamboa may have figured the best defense was going on the offense. He tried standing toe-to-toe with Cruz, and that didn’t last very long.
Already in trouble, Gamboa was hurt badly by a Cruz left hook, followed by a right to the head, which sent the Cuban reeling into the ropes. By then, Calo oy saw enough and mercifully waved it over at 1:32 of the fifth.
Jose Valenzuela leaves no doubt knocking out Francisco Vargas
It didn’t take lightweight Jose Valenzuela long. All of 95 seconds, in fact. A pawing right jab and a wide, winging left hook brutally stopped Francisco Vargas in the first round of a scheduled 10-rounder.
“I feel great,” Valenzuela said. “I worked very hard for this. I was expecting him to come forward and throw a lot of punches and be more aggressive. But I stayed patient, used my jab and went to the body. I learned a lot from David Benavidez. I get a chance to look behind the scenes and see what he does. He just tells me to be patient, take my time with it and that’s what I did.
“I just need to keep finding good fights, guys like Vargas. Whatever my team has planned for me, I’m willing to do it. But I’d like to fight some of these top guys and I want to get back in the ring as soon as possible.
“He came in with a jab, I took a little step back, and I had already hit him with a few body shots, so when I did a little dip, I think he thought I was going to the body. I just swooped him upstairs.”
Valenzuela (12-0, 8 KOs) set up Vargas (27-3-2, 19 KOs) wonderfully, probing with the jab, then landing a crushing left hook to the jaw that knocked out Vargas cold. Referee Mark Calo-oy never bothered to count, waving it over at 1:25 of the first round.
“Valenzuela connected and the ref simply didn’t let me continue. I was perfectly fine,” Vargas said. “The ref didn’t let me do anything else. I think that perhaps his decision was overzealous. It looked clumsy and it may have looked bad, but I was fine.
“This is tough. This is hard to swallow because I had never been dropped like that before. We are going to talk and see what’s next for us.”
Cody Crowley makes a point against veteran Josesito Lopez
Canadian southpaw welterweight Cody Crowley (21-0, 9 KOs) kept his record clean with a 10-round unanimous decision over Josesito Lopez (38-9, 21 KOs). It was Crowley most dominant performance against a viable opponent and featured a seventh-round knockdown.
Midway through the seventh, Crowley tagged Lopez, who tried to convince referee Laurence Cole that it was a slip. By then, Lopez was way behind and needed a knockout to win.
“I just train hard and come in and give it 110% effort every single day,” Crowley said. “I’ve had so much adversity throughout my life. This week, I had a rotten tooth in my mouth that was falling out. I can’t feel my face right now. I had a chest infection. I’m still here. I had no test scale; I came in two-and-a-half pounds light. It’s just one adversity after another but every time I show up and get the job done no matter what.
“It’s been the story of my life. You saw what happened in my last fight. I get put to the test, and the true Cody Crowley comes out. I want to fight the absolute best. You want to see the real Cody Crowley?”
Lopez lost for the second time in his last four fights.
“I got to let go of the result, but I just wasn’t quite feeling myself tonight,” Lopez said. “Not taking anything away from my opponent, he did well, moved well and punched well. Credit to him. He did his job.
“I just felt a little sluggish and I think you could tell. The future is to just rest for a week or two and then go back to the drawing board and keep grinding and working hard. I appreciate all the support from my family, friends and fans from Mexico. I feel like I let them down but I’m a champion at heart and I’ll never give up.”
Eimantas Stanionis highlights the undercard
Stanionis landed 80/264 jabs (30%) to Butaev’s mere 21/341 (6%). Stanionis started well with some sharp jabs to the head, while Butaev pecked at the body. That theme followed throughout the fight, with Butaev coming forward, and Stanionis snapping his head back with the jab.
“I still can’t believe it,” Stanionis said. “It was a dream come true to hear, ‘and the new.’ When I was a kid, I visualized what this would look like and how it would feel to become a champion. It’s because of the hard work, dedication, belief in myself and my team to get me to this big stage. I want to thank my team for everything. What I did in the ring, they did just as much outside the ring. I’m very happy. I just want to tell everybody that dreams do come true. If you believe in it and give your everything, it will happen.”
By the end, both fighters were battered and bruised. With :48 left in the 11th round, referee Rafael Ramos took a point away from Butaev for holding Stanionis’ head down while he continued to punch.
“The fight went like this because the referee allowed Stanionis to fight with his head down the entire time,” Butaev said. “What can I do if the guy is leading with his head down all the time? I don’t know why he took away a point from me. They should have taken the point away from him because he was diving in the whole time.”
“I think that only two rounds were close, the seventh and maybe the ninth,” Lee said. “It was exactly what I expected. Perhaps I could have performed better, my combinations been a bit sharper, but it was a good fight overall.”
Ochoa brought out the best of Lee, to this point.
“I felt great, it was a great fight. Brandun Lee is a really good fighter, a strong fighter,” Ochoa said. “I feel I was doing really well. He caught me a little bit, but I kept my confidence, my poise and when it was time to step it up the last three rounds, I started putting the pressure on him and we went at it. I went all out. He’s never had it like that. I only got hurt one time, maybe at the end of the seventh. I know I buzzed him too.”
Vito Mielnicki, Jr. (11-1, 7 KOs) made a successful debut at super welterweight with an eight-round decision over Dan Karpency (9-5-1, 4 KOs). Super bantamweight and rising prospect Angel Barrientes (9-1, 6 KOs) won a six-round decision over Fernando Garcia (13-5, 8 KOs). Cruiserweight Darius Fulghum (2-0, 2 KOs) stopped Nosa Nehikhare (5-2, 0 KOs) in the fourth round of the scheduled six-rounder. Middleweight Samuel Arnold (5-0, 3 KOs) kicked off the card with a first-round knockout over Darryl Jones (4-4-1, 2 KOs) in a scheduled four-rounder.