There’s heat in and around Phoenix, Arizona. After the Suns’ dramatically capsized in the NBA championship, dropping the series to the Milwaukee Bucks, the city continued wiping sweat from its brow, this time born of its searing temperatures, not stress or anticipation. But ahead of native two-time WBC world champion David Benavidez’s return to the ring – and to Arizona – they wait for and expect unequivocal success.
Catching up with Boxing Social, the returning Benavidez seemed immovably focused. He has very publicly made his mistakes at a young age, having his coveted, green world championship belt removed for indiscretions that occurred in his personal life. He was young and he came from next-to-nothing – what did you expect? Now, years later and the father of a young boy himself, Benavidez is ready to take over boxing’s middle divisions.
“I wanna be remembered as a dominant, two-weight unified champion. The world titles that I’ve won before, both of them, they mean nothing now. I want to win on August 28 in front of the Phoenix crowd and then go on to fight Canelo; I really think I have what it takes to beat Canelo,” Benavidez (24-0, 21 KOs) told Boxing Social. “He’s more towards the end of his career than he is at the start, and I still have that time, I’m only 24. I’ve been boxing for 23 years, but I’m only 24 [Editor’s note: you read that right]. I’m more motivated now than ever and everything is boxing for me. That’s all it is now: boxing and family.”
Nothing. Those world titles captured when beating Ronald Gavril and Anthony Dirrell have been discarded because it has to be that way to ensure future success. Not many fighters become two-time champions of the world in their chosen division, let alone by their 22nd birthday. But Benavidez did. He succeeded – albeit against some of the super-middleweight division’s mid-tier talent. Now it’s time for the big fights, the money fights, the legacy-defining fights, and that’s entirely his focus ahead of his bout opposite former IBF champion Jose Uzcategui.
“I think he’s a good fighter, yeah. He’s like me, he comes to fight, and he comes forward. It should be a good fight and I’m really excited to be fighting at the [Phoenix] Suns arena in front of my home crowd for the first time in a long time,” said Benavidez. “It will be great to be back fighting in Arizona and I’m really looking forward to it. [But] I want to fight Canelo, you know. After I win this next fight, that will be the second world title eliminator that I’ve won, so he will have to fight me or vacate that belt. But I want to fight him. I want to be the best in the division and right now, he is one of the best fighters in the sport and probably one of the best Mexican fighters of all-time.”
Benavidez continued, breaking down a potential mega-fight with the red-haired, consensus pound-for-pound titan: “You know, if we fight, I think I’d have to use my size and my speed. The guys who do better against Canelo are the guys who have that power; they’re the guys who can stand their ground like Gennadiy Golovkin or Danny Jacobs. It’s the guys who are constantly moving that get into trouble, you know guys like Callum Smith or Billy Joe Saunders, they look like they’re already beat by the time they get to the ring. I don’t know when I’ll move up to 175-pounds, I feel like there’s a lot of great opportunities here at super-middleweight, so there’s lots of great fights to make in this division. But guys like [Jermall] Charlo and Caleb Plant, they say they want to fight and then nothing happens. We’ll see.”
While he looks at potential fights down the road, the youngest of two, fighting Benavidez brothers remains focused. Older brother Jose hasn’t been seen in the squared circle since his late stoppage defeat against Terence Crawford (LTKO11) and it was interesting to hear that the youngest of the siblings was left behind, as both Jose Jr and Sr chased professional success in California. The unlikely, prodigious 168-pound talent followed suit, but only after reaching out to his father in hope of shedding excess weight.
“I didn’t really get ‘picked on’ as such, you know,” Benavidez replied, when pressed about ballooning in weight during early adolescence. “I didn’t get bullied, but I always heard people talking about me. And what they were saying was true – I was fat. I weighed about 260-pounds, and I don’t know if you’ve ever been that big before, but you can’t get clothes to fit you, you get out of breath, you can’t exercise, so it’s bad. And through that verbal bullying, I just knew I wanted to make a change. I called my dad and asked if I could join him out in California – he’d been out there with my brother because he was about to go pro – and I flew out there and stayed with them, and I started losing weight and training again.
“My brother [Jose], he had about 200 amateur fights or something like that, but I wasn’t really like that. I was just always in the gym; I was just always training. I’d go from gym-to-gym boxing, sparring, training. Then when I was 16, I decided I’d turn pro. I’d been sparring with all of the big names in California at the time: Kelly Pavlik, Gennadiy Golovkin, all of these world class fighters, I’d be in there sparring with them whenever I could, so I knew I was ready [to turn professional] and that’s we did. I fought in Mexico and I’ve been fighting as a professional for about eight years now.”
Uzcategui presents just enough of a challenge to keep Benavidez on his toes – but the Venezuelan is no world beater. It’s another fork in the road; another stepping stone on the seemingly eventual path to a potential mega-bout with Saul “Canelo” Alvarez. The David Benavidez of now though differs from the version who succeeded four years ago. Money changed him and then changed him back. That won’t happen again, he’s sure of it.
“I don’t really get too embarrassed talking about this stuff [his failed drugs test for cocaine] anymore. I did it, you know. It was weird because for me: I was paid about $500 for my first nine fights, and then for my first world title fight, I was paid about $200,000. That’s not the most money in the world – but it’s a lot of money for somebody who never had any. All of a sudden everybody wants to know you, you’re out all the time, doing stuff you shouldn’t be doing and that’s it. I tested positive for cocaine and had a bit of a wake-up call.”
The proud Mexican-American expanded: “It is like that [fame brings new friends]. Nowadays, I don’t really like to have many people around me – just my brother. Any time I spend away from boxing I invest that time with my family. When I had those issues, I experienced that first-hand, those people don’t text you or don’t call you. I went from earning $200,000 from that one fight to not fighting for around a year. They don’t wanna be around you anymore. But like I said, it just makes me more motivated. It’s how you rebound from these things, and I have my son and my girlfriend, and I’m more motivated to do things for them now. That’s the way it’s gonna be. I don’t even really give my number out anymore because I don’t like those kinda people having it.”
Family first, boxing later. Those are solid principles to live by, assuming heads aren’t turned by temptation should he topple a modern boxing legend like Alvarez. Sure, it’s easy to say thing won’t change, but living that truth is far more difficult. Benavidez – father, friend and fighter – seems content. At just 24, it’s better to have made your mistakes and to have learnt your lessons now, rather than suffering from indiscretion at the peak of your powers.
It’s Uzcategui in August and world titles after (he hopes), perhaps venturing north towards the champions at 175-pounds. Even then, Arizona’s Benavidez remained realistic: “I think a great fight for me would be [Gilberto] ‘Zurdo’ Ramirez, I’ve been doing a bit of work with him. Him or Bivol. I’ve sparred Bivol in the past as well and that would be a good fight for me, but I think I have to work my way up towards a Beterbiev; I gotta get my feet a little wet first, you know. I think Beterbiev is the hardest puncher, the best boxer in the division, but I’d be ready to fight these guys. I’m looking for the big fights only.”
While some boxers have yet to turn professional at the same age, Benavidez is on course to capture a third world title. The trappings of success have come and gone, the money meant something then, and means something altogether different now. He sits on his sofa at home, alone, enjoying a brief break from fatherhood and enjoying a lengthier, more permanent break from flashing lights and nightclubs.
Facing Canelo Alvarez would propel him into the sport’s spotlight for the right reasons again and, with potentially years to run at top level, could Benavidez, with his machine gun speed combinations and ungainly physical attributes, be the future of the super-middleweight and light-heavyweight divisions?
Main image: Amanda Westcott/Showtime.