Around this time three years ago, Yordenis Ugas had removed from the sport of boxing for nearly two years on a two-fight losing streak.
The once highly-touted prospect from Cuba with the impressive amateur hadn't reached the heights that past Cuban fighters had achieved. When Ugas lost to then-unbeaten prospect Amir Imam in May 2014, Ugas would be out of the sport for 27 months, essentially falling off the face of the Earth.
Now fast forward to today and Ugas is about to challenge for the WBC welterweight title in the main event of a PBC card that will be televised nationwide on Fox. Ugas is riding an eight-fight win streak, all at welterweight, and is not the fighter that he once was, losing consecutive fights as a junior welterweight. So what happened that caused this magical run that could result in Ugas crashing one of boxing's most glamorous divisions?
"I needed a change of scenery, a change of coaches and a better way to stay focused. And those other losses, they were majorities and splits. I did feel I won some of those fights but I still needed a change. And now I've got the change and feel perfect," Ugas told Fightful through a translator on a recent media call.
The Cuban star did hold on to hope that he would always get to this point one way or another. Even when he was out of the sport for more than two years, Ugas believed that he still had the ability to become a world champion at the pro level.
"Well, absolutely. I always knew in my heart that I could fight at this level and be at the highest level. I needed a little break away from boxing," Ugas said.
During that time away from the sport, Ugas moved to Las Vegas get back to his peak and the results have been a complete success thus far. Ugas also made the switch from 140 to 147 pounds where he has won all eight of his bouts at that weight class.
"I just felt like I needed a change of team and just a change of lifestyle, a different view. Moving to Las Vegas and working with Ismael Salas I kind of just went back to being the old Ugas that I always was. It was just boxing only and let everything else play its role. So I think a lot has to do just with changing the scenery and getting good input in his boxing career. When you think positive and do positive things, positive outcomes occur and that's what I've been doing lately," Ugas said later in the conference call.
But now moving on towards his present day challenge, his fight against Porter may be bigger than what it shows on paper. Perhaps it is fate that the end of Ugas' journey to a world title opportunity is Porter, who became a two-time world champion last September with a competitive bout against Danny Garcia.
Ugas' first true in the national spotlight since his return to boxing took place in 2017 when he was a late replacement and fought Thomas Dulorme in the main event of the prelim card for Floyd Mayweather's return fight against Conor McGregor (a phrase that is still as baffling now as it was back then).
Who was the person Ugas replaced at the last second? Shawn Porter.
Had Porter not withdrawn from the fight against Dulorme due to personal reasons, Ugas would not have had a chance to shine on the national stage where he dominated Dulorme en route to a wide unanimous decision victory, extending his win streak at the time to five fights.
Ugas had fought on televised bouts prior to the win over Dulorme, most notably against Jamal James on ESPN in August 2016, but the fight against Dulorme had the most eyeballs watching it. Since then, Ugas' stock continued to rise and rise as he kept winning fight after fight put in front of him. But that wasn't the first time Ugas and Porter's paths crossed.
Sometime in 2017, the two had a sparring session and the subject was brought up when the two had an extended face-off that was shown on television. The two fighters didn't reveal what happened during that fated sparring session. It's an unwritten rule to not talk about what happens during sparring sessions behind closed doors. Looking at the reactions between the two fighters when talking about it showed that there may be something noteworthy that had occurred between the two of them. We probably won't ever know what happened, but we will see these two at their absolute best when they fight on March 9.
And how does Ugas figure to beat Porter? Ugas is bigger than Porter and does more pop in his punch than his knockout ratio would lead some to believe at first glance. So Ugas was asked why by Fightful he thinks he can defeat a champion who says we will see the best version of against Ugas.
"Because I'm a competitor at the highest level whether, it's the amateurs or the pros now and I just know it. I know I'm prepared mentally. I know I'm prepared physically. But on March 9 I'm going to have the chance to show the world why I'm one of the best welterweights in the whole world and better than Shawn Porter. You'll see that on March 9 yourself as well," Ugas said.
The fight between Porter and Ugas will headline a PBC on Fox card from the Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson, California. You can listen to Ugas talking to Fightful in the video at the top of the page.