Thurman: ‘It’s been a long time coming for my return to the ring’

Former unified welterweight world champion Keith “One Time’’ Thurman will return to the ring to take on former super lightweight world champion Mario “El Azteca” Barrios in a 12-round welterweight showdown that headlines a jam-packed FOX Sports PBC Pay-Per-View lineup on Saturday, February 5 from Michelob ULTRA Arena at Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino in Las Vegas.

In the co-feature, four-division world champion Leo “El Terremoto’’ Santa Cruz will battle Keenan “Bedo’’ Carbajal in a 10-round super featherweight match, while battle-tested all-action welterweights Abel Ramos and Josesito “Riverside Rocky’’ Lopez clash in a 10-round attraction. The pay-per-view telecast begins at 9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT with former two-division champion Luis “Pantera” Nery battling unbeaten Carlos Castro in a 10-round super bantamweight duel.

Both Thurman and Barrios will look to rebound from their first career defeats with statement victories on February 5 to put them back on the path toward another world title. Thurman will be returning to the ring after a 30-month absence, which is the longest of his career. Barrios will be testing himself at 147-pounds for the first time in his pro career and against one of the best and most experienced welterweights in the sport.

The 33-year-old Thurman (29-1, 22 KOs) has assembled one of the most impressive resumes among the top welterweights of this generation, having defeated former champions like Shawn Porter, Danny Garcia and Robert Guerrero. The Clearwater, Florida native took the first loss of his career when he dropped a close decision to Manny Pacquaio in a 2019 Fight of the Year in his last outing.

Thurman proved that he is must-see TV when his welterweight title unification match against Danny Garcia peaked at 5.1 million viewers in prime time on network television. It was the largest audience to see a live boxing match on prime-time network television since 1998.

“It’s been a long time coming for my return to the ring, and I can’t wait to compete again,” said Thurman. “In 2022, I will remind the world of boxing that Keith ‘One Time’ Thurman is a fighter not to forget. I look not to the past nor to the future, I’m back now, and I’m ready to fight. I dream big, and now is the time to make that dream a reality. Get ready, because I’m putting in the work to put on a show against Mario Barrios on February 5 on pay-per-view. It’s begun and my time is now.”

Barrios (26-1, 17 KOs), 26, will be stepping up to a major challenge when he faces Thurman. The San Antonio native will be going against a seasoned welterweight in Thurman. Barrios will own a three-inch height advantage against Thurman and will look to use that to his advantage in establishing himself at 147 pounds.

Barrios lost his super lightweight world championship when he suffered an 11th-round TKO loss to Gervonta Davis in his most recent fight on June 26. The 5-foot-10 Barrios operates in the ring under the tutelage of renowned trainer Virgil Hunter. The pairing has proven to be successful as Hunter helped guide Barrios to the WBA 140-pound title when he scored a unanimous decision over Batyr Akhmedov in 2019.

“I’m excited to be making my welterweight debut against a great fighter and former world champion like Keith Thurman,” said Barrios. “A lot of fighters wouldn’t take this fight, but that’s why I wanted it. Both of us like to throw a lot of bombs and I believe this will be an all-out war. The fans know I’m a warrior and that I don’t back down from any challenge, that’s why everyone should order this fight. ‘El Azteca’ is going to make a statement on February 5.”

A four-division world champion, Santa Cruz (37-2-1, 19 KOs) has established himself as one of the best Mexican boxers of his generation. The 33-year-old Santa Cruz, who was born in Michoacan, Mexico and now lives in Rosemead, California, cemented his legacy with world championships at 118, 122, 126 and 130 pounds. He’s coming off a loss to Gervonta Davis in a lightweight and super featherweight world title bout on Oct. 31, 2020. Before that the only other blemish on his record was a majority decision loss to Carl Frampton in 2016, which he was able to avenge in the 2017 rematch.

“I’m excited to be back after a year out of the ring,” said Santa Cruz. “I’m looking forward to giving the fans a great fight on February 5 in Las Vegas and hopefully everyone will enjoy my fight and a great night of boxing.”

The 30-year-old Carbajal (23-2-1, 15 KOs) is the nephew of five-time world champion, Olympic silver medalist and Hall of Famer Michael Carbajal. But Carbajal is making a name for himself in boxing and is looking for a world championship of his own. A victory over Santa Cruz will go a long way toward helping him carve out his own niche in the boxing world. He thrilled the hometown crowd at Footprint Center with an impressive TKO victory over Josean Figueroa-Bonilla in his most recent fight on Nov. 13.

“This is my introduction to the world, and like the Phoenix, I will rise to the occasion,” said Carbajal. “I’m preparing to be at my very best and give everything I’ve got against a great champion in Leo Santa Cruz.”

Ramos (27-4-2, 21 KOs) is part of a boxing family out of Casa Grande, Arizona, which includes his nephew, rising welterweight undefeated contender Jesus Ramos. The 30-year-old Ramos has built a reputation as a hardnosed boxer who doesn’t back down from a fight and gives as good as he gets. He turned the tables on Omar Figueroa, Jr. when he went toe-to-toe and forced Figueroa to quit on his stool in his last fight on May 1. He also owns a split decision defeat to welterweight world champion Yordenis Ugas and showed a flair for the dramatic when he scored a TKO victory over Bryant Perrella in the waning seconds of their fight in 2020.

“I’m excited to start off the year with a big fight,” said Ramos. “Josesito is a very good fighter and I expect this fight to be a war. This matchup will be action-packed and fight fans will not be disappointed.”

Lopez (38-8, 21 KOs) earned the nickname “The Riverside Rocky’’ because of his go-for-broke style in the ring. He has stepped in across from some of the top boxers in the sport, including champions Canelo Alvarez, Marcos Maidana, Andre Berto and Victor Ortiz. The 37-year-old from Riverside, California is always a tough out in the ring as noted by his narrow majority decision loss to then-champion Keith Thurman in 2019. Since that loss Lopez has put together back-to-back victories, defeating John Molina, Jr. and Francisco Santana.

“I’m extremely motivated and ready to take on my next assignment,” said Lopez. “I’m expecting a tough challenge from Ramos, but I’m more than ready to display my skills and prove that I’m one of the best fighters in the world.”

The 26-year-old Nery (31-1, 24 KOs) suffered the first loss of his career when he was stopped by Brandon Figueroa in a super bantamweight title unification fight on May 15. Before that loss, the Tijuana, Mexico native had blown through two divisions (118 and 122 pounds) with knockouts in 12 of 13 consecutive fights. He scored a unanimous decision victory over Aaron Almeda to pick up the WBC super bantamweight world title in 2020 and will look to move back toward a world title trajectory with a win over Castro.

“I am looking to start the year off with a bang in Las Vegas,” said Nery. “I didn’t want any easy fights, and I asked for the best ranked opponent I could get. Castro has a great record and is ranked highly in the super bantamweight division. A win over Castro puts me back in the world title mix and that’s where I’m looking to be.”

Ugas: ‘I want all the big names in the welterweight division’

Yordenis Ugas scored a split-decision victory over Abel Ramos Sunday night to win the WBA Welterweight Championship(secondary belt) in the main event of FOX PBC Fight Night and on FOX Deportes from Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles.

“I set a goal when I was a child back in Cuba to become a world champion and I accomplished that goal tonight,” said Ugas. “I’m so grateful to everyone who helped me along the way. Ramos was a very tough opponent and I knew it was not going to be easy, but I wasn’t going to let this opportunity slip away.”

Ugas set the tone from the outset, peppering Ramos with his jab early and often, as he would throughout the ensuing 12 rounds. Off of his jab, Ugas was able to slowly expand his offensive arsenal and keep the typically aggressive Ramos off-balance and unable to charge forward.

After the feel out first round, Ugas landed 10 jabs or more in the next 11 rounds according to CompuBox. In total, Ugas threw a career-high 504 jabs, landing 160, also a career-high.

In round three, Ramos landed a left hook at the end of an exchange that appeared to buckle Ugas, but he was unable to hurt Ugas on his follow up attack. By round four, Ramos’ left eye began swelling from the onslaught of jabs and right hands.

Ugas continued to mix up his attack as the fight wore on, dragging Ramos into the center of the ring for big exchanges at the end of rounds five and six. In round nine, Ugas began to fight from a closer distance and focus even more on attacking the body, even though he took some return fire from Ramos for his troubles.

While Ramos was able to rock Ugas late in round 12, Ugas was able to make it to the final bell to claim a split decision victory, and the WBA title, with scores of 117-11 for Ramos, overruled by two cards of 115-113 for Ugas.

“I came into this fight in the best shape of my life and it showed,” said Ugas. “Now that I’m a world champion, I want all the big names in the welterweight division.”

In the co-main event, sensational prospect Jesus Ramos (13-0, 12 KOs) delivered an impressive second-round knockout of previously unbeaten Esteban Garcia (14-1, 6 KOs) in their super lightweight showdown.

The 19-year-old nephew of Abel Ramos, Jesus Ramos continued to flash the considerable power that has helped him earn a 92% knockout rate in his early pro career. Ramos used his jab early to try to find the distance for his offense, while Garcia had some success countering his aggressive opponent in the first round.

In round two, Ramos found a lane for a big left hand and immediately buckled Garcia with the powerful shot. Garcia was able to stay on his feet and attempted to hold to survive the round, but was eventually hurt again with a follow-up flurry from Ramos.

That final flurry prompted referee Rudy Barragan to jump in and halt the action, giving Ramos the TKO victory 2:45 into the second round.

“I’m happy with my performance tonight,” said Ramos. “We wanted to make a statement and I think I did that tonight. I thought Garcia was going to come out to fight but I was more than ready and it showed in the ring.”

In a special bonus feature on the broadcast, rising prospect Omar “El Relámpago” Juárez (9-0, 4 KOs) earned a unanimous decision over Dakota Linger (12-4-2, 8 KOs) after eight rounds of super lightweight action.

“We knew that Linger would be a tough fighter, but we prepared for anything,” said Juarez. “I stay active and I’m always ready. It felt really good to get the eight rounds in. I showed that I’m a smart fighter. In my first couple of fights when I was getting early knockouts, I felt like I wasn’t really getting the work I needed. Tonight I felt really good and really strong. I’m ready for more.”

Juarez set the tone early with his impressive activity, especially a body attack that targeted Linger throughout the fight. While Linger was content to counter in the opening rounds, he upped his aggression in round three and had some of his best moments of the fight.

As the fight wore on, Juarez’s pace proved to be too much for Linger to keep up with, alternating between pot-shots and brawling to slowly break Linger down. Linger managed to keep moving forward and throwing dangerous shots, but was unable to break through against the 21-year-old Juarez.

Juarez enjoyed a 199 to 113 advantage in punches landed, including 150 to the body, landing 37% of his attack to 27% from Linger. Juarez came close to a stoppage in the final round, pelting Linger with big right hands that caused blood to pour out of from his nose. Linger made it to the final bell, but Juarez was victorious by the scores of 80-72 and 79-73 twice.

“We’re going to take a couple of days off and stay in the gym,” said Juarez. “I always want to be ready no matter what. I love having these opportunities and learning experiences in the ring.”

Preceding FOX PBC Fight Night, FS1 PBC Fight Night action saw Cody Crowley (19-0, 9 KOs) defeat Joseph Torres (22-7-2, 13 KOs) via unanimous decision by the score of 100-90 three times after 10 rounds of welterweight action. Plus, Batyr Akhmedov (8-1, 7 KOs) dropped Rey Perez (24-11, 8 KOs) twice on his way to a knockout victory 2:19 into the first-round of their super lightweight attraction, and Leduan Barthelemy (16-1-1, 8 KOs) sent Recky Dulay (11-9, 8 KOs) to the canvas three times to score a knockout 2:39 into the third-round of a lightweight battle.

Photo;  Sean Michael Ham/TGB Promotions

Ugas: ‘I feel I beat Shawn Porter, so I know I belong with the elite boxers at 147 pounds’

Top contender Yordenis Ugás shared insights into his training camp and more as he prepares to take on hard-hitting Abel Ramos for the vacant WBA Welterweight Championship this Sunday, September 6 in the FOX PBC Fight Night main event and on FOX Deportes from Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles.

Ugás returns to action after scoring a stoppage victory over Mike Dallas in February on FS1. Prior to that fight, Ugás had battled then WBC Welterweight Champion Shawn Porter in a March 2019 title fight on FOX that saw the Cuban fighter lose a narrow decision.

To earn the title shot, the Olympic bronze medalist Ugás returned from a nearly two-year layoff in 2016 and beat then unbeaten fighters Jamal James and Bryant Perrella. Ugás turned that into an eight-fight winning streak, including triumphs over Thomas Dulorme, Ray Robinson and Cesar Miguel Barrionuevo.

Here is what Ugás had to say from training camp in Las Vegas with his coach, Ismael Salas:

On his recent training camp:

 “Training in Las Vegas at the Salas Boxing Academy with coach Ismael is a great time because he provides a championship atmosphere. The gym is filled with excellent fighters and the sparring I’ve gotten has been incredible. More importantly, Salas is a great teacher who knows exactly what is needed to improve my game. We got a lot done in this camp and you will see a more polished version of myself on fight night.”

On his matchup with Abel Ramos:

“Ramos is a very tough fighter who has a tremendous amount of heart, as shown in his last fight when he knocked out Perrella in the final seconds of that fight. This will be one of those fights that the fans will be talking about for many years, because we are not going to be backing up. I’m expecting an all-out war.”

 On his quest to become the first Cuban Welterweight World Champion in 45 years:

“If I’m not mistaken, there hasn’t been a Cuban welterweight world champion since Jose Napoles in 1975. It will be an honor to become the first Cuban welterweight world champion of this millennium, God willing I come out victorious.  Becoming a world champion is a goal I set for myself when I first started boxing, and I’m not going to let it slip by this time around.  My goal is to not leave the decision in the hands of the judges, so I’ll be going for the knockout.”

 On the state of the welterweight division:

“Everyone knows the welterweight division is always loaded with the best fighters in boxing, and I consider myself as one of those guys. I feel I beat Shawn Porter, so I know I belong with the elite boxers at 147 pounds. I must get past Ramos first, then I’m coming for everyone.”

Photo: Team Ugás