Appeal opens door for Errol Spence Jr. three-belt welterweight unification
A personal appeal from welterweight contender Eimantas Stanionis to the WBA convinced the sanctioning body to re-think its mandatory order, which has paved the way for a three-belt unification fight between IBF/WBC titleholder Errol Spence Jr. and WBA titlist Yordenis Ugas.
The result will be a pay-per-view card, probably in March or April, on which Spence and Ugas will meet to unify titles in the main event with WBA “regular” titlist Radzhab Butaev facing Stanionis in the co-feature. The WBA will order the two winners to meet, which would result in the victor being the singular WBA 147-pound titlist.
“WBA president Gilberto Jesus Mendoza along with the championship committee have officially approved the Ugas versus Spence unification fight,” WBA chief of staff Gary Shaw told World Boxing News on Sunday. “Butaev versus Stanionis will be ordered to fight. The resolution with all details will follow shortly. We at the WBA are very excited to be hosting a unification fight and the Butaev (against Stanionis) world title fight on the same card.
“This could not have been possible had Stanionis not written a letter, stepping aside and wanting to fight Butaev for the (secondary) world title.”
Initially, the WBA had different plans. In late October, as part of its title reduction plan, the WBA denied a petition from welterweight “super” titleholder Ugas for an exception to his mandatory fight against Stanionis in order to first face Spence Jr. in a unification bout.
Ugas (27-4, 12 KOs), 35, a Cuba native fighting out of Miami, fresh off his high-profile decision win over Manny Pacquiao on Aug. 21, was critical of the WBA for not allowing him to have the unification fight with Spence next and immediately ordering his mandatory fight with Stanionis (13-0, 9 KOs), 27, a 2016 Olympian from Lithuania, to take by Jan. 15 as part of a four-man box-off.
The other fight in the box-off saw Jamal James lose the “regular” title by ninth-round knockout to Butaev on Oct. 30 in a Showtime-televised main event at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas.
Butaev (13-0, 10 KOs), 27, a New York-based Russia native, was awaiting the Ugas-Stanionis winner but now will face Stanionis instead on the Spence-Ugas undercard with the Spence-Ugas winner mandated to face the Butaev-Stanionis winner.
Ugas voiced his appreciation for the WBA’s change of heart on social media.
“Thanks to the WBA for doing the right thing,” Ugas posted on Twitter. “It is an award for my dedication and for being a brave man in and out of the ring. I will be fighting one of the best (pound for pound). I’m a warrior. First Cuban fighting (for) three belts (in) one night. Thanks (to) all the fans who asked for this fight.”
ERROL SPENCE vs. UGAS
Whether Spence (27-0, 21 KOs), 31, a southpaw from Desoto, Texas, and Ugas will agree in writing that if they win, they will face the Butaev-Stanionis winner has not yet been settled, but the WBA said it will seek that promise in its forthcoming resolution on the matter.
Spence was originally supposed to fight Pacquiao in the Fox Sports pay-per-view main event on Aug. 21 but was forced to withdraw less than two weeks before the fight when he was diagnosed with a torn retina during a routine pre-fight medical exam. He had surgery days later and Ugas, who was already scheduled to defend his title on the undercard, stepped in and faced Pacquiao instead. Spence has been cleared to resume training and is expected to be fine to fight by the spring.
They all have Stanionis to thank for the new order of bouts. Shelly Finkel, Stanionis’ manager, told World Boxing News that he, Stanionis and Probellum president Richard Schaefer, Stanionis’ promoter, believe Stanionis’ request to the WBA was the best thing for everybody concerned.
“The thought process was it’s bigger and better for the sport. Eimantas is going to be on the (Spence-Ugas) undercard against Butaev, which is bigger than not being on a card like that fighting Ugas,” Finkel said. “That’s one of (the reasons). He’s fighting for a title but they have multiple titles and he’ll fight the next one for the unified (title as long as he beats Butaev).
“We all discussed it. I asked him his preference knowing all the parts of the equation. He told me and then when (the WBA ordered) the Ugas fight we went, ‘Look the last chance is for you to appeal personally,’ and he said, ‘I will.’ He made it clear (to the WBA in his letter) that if they rejected it he’s ready, willing and able to fight Ugas on the date they say. So, it wasn’t like, ‘I’m stepping aside and that’s it.’ It was like, ‘I want the fight. I’ll fight either one and I think this is a better way to go first, and if you grant me that I appreciate it. If not, I appreciate you having me as your mandatory.’”
Finkel added that it also means that Butaev will not have to sit idle for many months awaiting the winner of an Ugas-Stanionis fight.
“The other thing that’s good about it, which most people overlook, is that if (Stanionis) were to fight Ugas, Butaev is basically on the shelf until whenever (waiting for the winner),” Finkel said.
Award-winning writer Dan Rafael is the Lead Boxing Contributor for World Boxing News. Follow Dan on social media @DanRafael1.