How David Benavidez’s turbulent journey has set him up for success | Boxing
DALLAS — It’s easy to forget that David Benavidez is only 22 years old. When the topic of hottest young talents in boxing is brought up, his name is often left out; however, what he has accomplished in the ring is nothing short of noteworthy. The former WBC super middleweight champion won the title as a 20-year-old, which makes him the youngest boxer in history to accomplish the feat.
“I think they forget how old I am,” Benavidez told Sporting News on the ride back from Thursday’s undercard press conference at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. On Saturday, he’ll be featured in the Errol Spence Jr. vs. Mikey Garcia pay-per-view co-main event against J’Leon Love as he begins his journey back to reclaiming the title. “People don’t realize how young I am because they see the things that I do in the ring. I have a grown man’s power.”
It’s also easy to forget that he’s only 22 and is prone to making mistakes as a young fighter. He’s unbeaten (20-0, 17 KOs), but he was stripped of his title when he tested positive for cocaine last fall. Benavidez has owned up to the mistake, but he was slammed by critics and had to deal with a flood of negativity on social media. Along with losing his title, he was suspended for four months by the WBC and lost out on income.
“It wasn’t really depression, because you can’t be depressed about something that you did,” he said of the incident. “What got me the most was social media. You can’t hide. It was everywhere. I don’t think I deserved the negativity. I was stripped of my title and lost a lot of money; isn’t that enough? But then I had to deal with these comments. I couldn’t even go on Instagram because it just wouldn’t stop. I had to realize the mistake I made and how to come back from it.”
It was a mistake a 22-year-old would make, and it’s one that Benavidez promises not to make again. Fortunately for him, he has a whole lot of fight left in him and he refuses to allow the naysayers the opportunity to bring him down.
After all, everyone loves a comeback story.
“I see it as a great learning experience,” he continued. “I lost so many things. I lost my world title and missed out on a lot of money. My image took a hit. They will always put that situation next to my name. It just made me hungrier. I’m ready to reclaim what’s mine.”
Just a couple of hours earlier, Benavidez and Love were involved in a heated verbal exchange that some thought may turn physical. Benavidez brushed off the notion that he considered laying his bare hands on Love.
“I’m not messing up my money again,” he said with a laugh. “I’m too smart for that.”
Benavidez had to listen to his fired-up opponent tell the attending media how much he had been through heading into the fight. The fighter known as “El Bandera Roja” isn’t going to discredit what Love has dealt with outside the ring, but he isn’t necessarily moved by the struggles of his foe.
“Everybody has been through something,” Benavidez said with a nod that suggested he has been through much more than what happened in 2018. “I have a lot of things that I’ve been through but I don’t tell the world. I prefer to carry that weight myself. I know he’s been through some things, but at the end of the day, he’s at the end of his career and I’m just getting started.”
Benavidez comes from a fighting family. His older brother Jose currently competes in the welterweight division and was handed his first loss by Terence Crawford last October, which made the Benavidez family’s 2018 that much more difficult.
“He wasn’t the only one who took the loss that night,” Benavidez said in reflection. “We all took a loss. I’m not just coming back for me, but for him, too.”
Unlike his older brother, Benavidez wasn’t a standout as an amateur. While Jose amassed an impressive 120-5 record and became the youngest-ever Golden Gloves champion at 16, David only had 15 amateur fights. Prior to that, his biggest fight was one with his weight; he tipped the scale at 260 pounds as a 15-year-old. With his brother and father advocating for him, David managed to bring his weight down with training and a strict diet.
“I doubted myself a lot,” he said of his early years. “I trained through birthdays and holidays while having to cut out things teenagers enjoy like sodas and fast food. I always looked forward to sparring because that was when I released my anger.”
Instead of shining as an amateur, much of Benavidez’s experience came from being thrown into the fire by his father and trainer, Jose Sr., and by fire, that meant sparring sessions with names you may recognize.
“The first big sparring session I had was when I was 14 and sparred with (former cruiserweight contender) Lateef Kayode ahead of his fight with Antonio Tarver,” he recalled. “I thought to myself, ‘This motherf—er is going to kill me,’ but my dad told me I needed to defend myself and go six rounds. Everybody was watching so I didn’t want to be a coward.”
Benavidez made a solid account of himself while going up against a grown man. That led him to being a sparring partner for everyone from former champions Peter Quillin and Kelly Pavlik to Gennady Golovkin. Although he wasn’t as experienced as his brother was as an amateur, he was getting to work against some of boxing’s best before he turned 21.
“That’s how I would get my experience,” he said. “They would start off playing with me and then I’d catch them with something because I wasn’t playing with any of them. They’d come back and try to kill me after that. It just made me a better fighter. That was better than being an amateur because these guys were top-class fighters. I was fighting for my life.”
One thing every sparring partner learned was that the teenage Benavidez could not only take a punch, but also pack a mighty wallop. Rather than toil in the amateur ranks, Benavidez turned pro at 17 and wasted little time making an impression.
He tore through his opponents, registering 17 straight wins with all but one ending inside the distance. He showed a propensity for unleashing vicious combinations that very few seasoned boxing practitioners could pull off with success. An eight-punch combination here and a body-head-hook combo that left his opponents baffled, battered and bruised.
His coming-out party was in 2017 against veteran Rogelio “Porky” Medina, who had fought the likes of James DeGale, Badou Jack and Jose Uzcategui. Benavidez scored three knockdowns before the fight was halted in the eighth round.
The fat kid with little amateur experience had become a serious contender at 168 pounds. He went from contender to champion after defeating Robert Gavril in back-to-back fights in Las Vegas. While people were writing about the top prospects in boxing and mentioning the likes of Teofimo Lopez, Devin Haney and Shakur Stevenson, Benavidez was becoming a world champion and shedding the “prospect” label.
“All of those guys have had good amateur careers with over 100 fights, but I did it with less than 20 amateur fights,” he said. “I fought for my spot and as soon as I was presented with an opportunity, I took full advantage of it. I was immediately thrown in there with undefeated opponents and experienced guys. I won the title at 20 years old.
“You can’t tell me that I’m not special. If there was another fighter who could do it, wouldn’t they have already done it? How come there isn’t another 20-year-old champion walking around right now? I am in my own category, which is why they don’t mention me with those guys.”
As mentioned before, it’s easy to forget just how young Benavidez is. Now, with his turbulent 2018 behind him, the invigorated fighter from Phoenix is ready to resume his demolition derby.
“Fighting at Cowboy (AT&T) Stadium is big. It’s like fighting for a world title but without an actual title being on the line,” he said of his fight with Love. “And if I get a great knockout, people will be asking to see me again.”
Caleb Plant, Callum Smith and Gilberto Ramirez currently hold world titles; Benavidez says he’s ready to roll through them all. He doesn’t want a tune-up fight. He’s prepared to do what he has to do in order to unify the division as soon as humanly possible.
Benavidez has gone through a lot, but the potential is there; all he has to do is execute. He can build a legacy as one of the best and most talked-about fighters of his generation.
“When Oscar De La Hoya fought, it was treated like a holiday,” he said. “I want to bring that type of excitement back to where I’m fighting and people are having barbecues and family gatherings just to see me. I have the tools necessary to do that.
“But I’m not thinking about legacy at all. It’s really one fight at a time. I have a whole lot of fight left in me. Remember, I’m only 22.”
Oh, yeah, how could we forget?