David Benavidez heard the bell ending Friday’s crowd-pleasing, Fight of the Year caliber 168-pound battle, and a short time later, a hat was literally tossed into the ring on behalf of his opponent, Ronald Gavril.
“I was taking my gloves off when it fell right in front of me,” said Benavidez.
The hat came bearing the name of Gavril’s promoter Floyd Mayweather Jr. The 20-year-old newly crowned champion tossed it back into the sea of screaming fans in The Joint at The Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas.
The 6-foot-2 Benavidez (19-0, 17 KO) handled everything thrown at him by Gavril (18-2, 14 KOs) and his fans. He overcame an injured left knuckle on his left hand in the fourth round and a final-round knockdown to secure a split-decision victory that made him the youngest world champion in division history and the youngest current world champion in boxing.
“Every jab caused sharp pain in my fist, but champions push through obstacles finding ways to win. I gave up the knockdown going for the kill, but I got up and came out on top,” said Benavidez, a native of Phoenix, Arizona.
“I can attack the body more, use more head movement, work more combinations, but the crowd was going crazy after every round. I gave an exciting fight showing I’m a champion they want to see.”
Benavidez failed to earn his 11th straight stoppage, but surpassed 22-year-old Darrin Van Horn’s accomplishment in May 1991 by beating Gavril, a 31-year-old Romanian who had a seven fight win streak (five by KO) coming into the match.
“ Every jab caused sharp pain in my fist, but champions push through obstacles finding ways to win. ” 168-pound champion David Benavidez
His father and trainer is Jose Benavidez Sr., whose oldest son, Jose Jr., is an unbeaten former 140-pound titleholder.
“You can push your kid so much that sometimes they end up hating you,” said Jose Sr. “My dreams were for them to be champions, and after all the hard work and sacrifice, my dream has come true.”
After the fight, Benavidez was confronted by Caleb Plant. Plant (16-0, 10 KOs) won a lopsided 10-round decision against Andrew Hernandez (19-7-1, 9 KOs) on the undercard. Benavidez has sparred against Hernandez.
“He said, ‘Get ready, I’m coming after you,’ and if Caleb wants it, he can get it," said Benavidez. “Caleb couldn't stop a guy with six losses. Hernandez is a friend, but I’ve knocked out Hernandez a couple of times. Trust me, Caleb’s not ready for me.”
Perhaps even more intriguing is an all-Mexican title unification against unbeaten southpaw Gilberto Ramirez (35-0, 24 KOs) of Mazatlan, scheduled to make his third defense against Jesse Hart (22-0, 18 KOs). Benavidez sparred Ramirez in preparation for their fights.
“He’s a native Mexican and I’m a Mexican-American, and sometimes the Mexican-Americans are considered fake Mexicans by the [native] Mexicans,” said Benavidez. “We’re friends, but if we ever fight it’ll be a spectacular brawl since I know his style and he knows mine. But there might be a rematch with Gavril, and my motivation would be to work that much harder for the knockout.”
Benavidez's perspective on the highs and lows of champions includes the fall from grace of Mike Tyson, who, at 20 years and five months, stopped Trevor Berbick in the second round to become the youngest man in history to win a heavyweight title in November 1986.
“I have to remain a dedicated young fighter, not let money or fame get to my head,’’ Benavidez said. “I talk to a couple of girls, but boxing comes first. I’m trying to do whatever it takes to make history as one of the best fighters of my era.”