At the age of 20, David Benavidez is already a seasoned veteran in the ring who is moving quickly toward a world title shot.
The Phoenix native made his professional debut in Mexico in August 2013 when he was only 16, and went 7-0 with seven knockouts south of the border before competing in his hometown just three days after his 18th birthday.
The 6-foot-2 Benavidez sparred with former world champions Kelly Pavlik and Peter Quillin before he could even get a driver’s license, and also spent time in the ring with 160-pound kingpin Gennady Golovkin while still just a teen.
David Benavidez (17-0, 16 KOs) is now preparing for the biggest fight of his young career: a 168-pound title eliminator against onetime world title challenger Rogelio “Porky” Medina (37-7, 31 KOs) in Laredo, Texas, on May 20 in the main event of a PBC on FS1 card (10 p.m. ET/7 p.m. PT).
With a victory, the switch-hitting Benavidez will remain on track to possibly become the youngest 168-pound champion in boxing history, besting Darrin Van Horn, who was 22 years and 8 months old when he won his world title in May 1991.
Before getting in the ring, though, Benavidez took some time out in training camp to discuss his quest to make history, sparring with Triple G and where he ranks in the 168-pound division.
How old were you when you sparred with Kelly Pavlik and Peter Quillin?
I was 15 years old. The first champion I sparred was Kelly Pavlik when his trainer was Robert Garcia at Garcia’s gym in Oxnard, California.
We had an amazing sparring session and I dug really deep because he hit really hard. Kelly called me back and we sparred the rest of the week. It was a great learning experience for me.
With Kid Chocolate (Quillin), I already knew these guys had amazing punching power, but I was a lot younger so I had to really push myself.
What was it like sparring with Gennady Golovkin?
Gennady Golovkin was a different animal. I was 16 years old. Gennady and his trainer, Abel Sanchez, really liked me a lot. The relationship’s been established and we’ve been working with them ever since.
I helped him get ready for the Daniel Jacobs fight. It was great sparring. Nothing’s changed. He’s an amazing fighter with tremendous power and he knows some other tricks to use in the ring.
It helped me a lot to see that I could fight with guys at his level who are pressure fighters with good power. I used it to my advantage and studied him.
I know I’ve got this fight coming up with Medina, but Golovkin does things a lot better [in the ring]. Every time I sparred Golovkin it was for six four-minute rounds on a Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
We did that for about a month. Julius Jackson was also in camp with us. John Jackson was there. Through all of those experiences, we’ve learned more tricks, have more power and use the jab more to set things up.
After gaining first-round stoppages in six of your first seven professional fights, did you fall in love with the knockout?
I was 16 years old for my first fight. Yeah, I was going for knockouts. But as opponents got better, my dad told me to make adjustments and do everything according to specific game plans, and the knockouts still came.
How big were your second-round knockout of Phillip Jackson Benson, who was 16-2 with 15 KOs, and your first-round stoppage of Felipe Romero, who had gone the distance with former 200-pound world champion Steve Cunningham?
I think the Romero fight was one fight that put me on the map and showed that there’s a new young guy in town. The fight against Benson was even bigger, so we worked our tails of for that fight.
We took out Benson pretty easily when he was a power puncher with a lot of knockouts. I really wanted to make a statement against a really tough guy. I overwhelmed him and ended up taking him out.
What stands out most about your 10th-round TKO of Denis Douglin in Philadelphia last August?
I really had to overcome adversity by digging deep and being more versatile after hurting my right hand in the first round. When I first hurt it, it was a shockwave through my hand.
Douglin was throwing a lot of punches and coming at me, so I didn’t have much time to worry about it. My dad got me through a tough situation, but I was alone in there.
I had to make the adjustment, sticking the jab, taking a round off to come back and get the job done. I still ended up knocking him out in the 10th round with the right hand that I injured.
I felt like I had won all of the rounds, but there was nothing like getting that stoppage with the same hand that I had injured.
Where are you training now?
This is our fourth or fifth camp in a row in Big Bear, California. We’re training with [fellow 168-pound contender] Jose Uzcategui. Uzcategui (26-1, 22 KOs) beat Medina and he’s knocked out Julius Jackson. He’s getting ready to fight Andre Dirrell [for an interim world title on May 20] and he’s giving us really good sparring.
Uzcategui is a little taller than I am. He uses his distance a little bit, so it’s been good for me to have to work to get inside and to try some different things. We’re working angles and body shots and mixing it up, so we’re getting the most out of it.
We’ve looked at his (February 2013) fight with Medina quite a few times. Medina uses a lot of pressure, and he’ll try that against me. Uzcategui has been pressuring a little bit in sparring, but I’m using the jab and distance as well as going to the body.
“ I’ve been training for that opportunity since I was a little kid, and I believe that the title belt is only one or two fights away for me. At this point, I’ve never been this motivated for anything in my life. ” David Benavidez, on becoming the youngest 168-pound world champion in boxing history
What are your thoughts on Medina, who has gone the distance with James DeGale and Uzcategui, beaten J’Leon Love, and lasted six rounds with undefeated world champion Gilberto Ramirez?
People come see me because they know they’ll get their money’s worth, so I’m looking to knock out “Porky” Medina on May 20. I know it’s not going to be an easy fight, but I want to make a statement and turn the lights out on Medina.
Medina’s got so much experience. He’s fought champions and he’s fought for belts, and at the end of the day, he’s a strong and powerful puncher. I’m not going to say that I’m going to overwhelm him with punches and power. I’m going to do things correctly and break him down.
Medina probably thinks I’m just going to be a walkover and an easy fight because I’m a young boy, and I think I want it more than he does, so I’ll wait for him to open up. When the opportunity presents itself, I’ll take him out.
I will have been training for this fight for about four months when we get into the ring, and at the end of the day, that’s what’s going to get it done. I want to let everybody know that David Benavidez is here and that he’s ready.
How do you rank the top fighters in your division?
Of course, you have to put the champions up there, with the IBF (James DeGale). He has to be No. 1. Then you have the WBO (Gilberto Ramirez), and I think the WBC title is vacant right now.
Ramirez has to be up there, and the champion from Germany [Felix Sturm] The Dirrell brothers, Anthony and Andre, have been around for a while, so I would have to give them their respect. But then after them I would put me, because I’m right here.
If I win this fight as impressively as I’m anticipating, this is a title eliminator, so of course I’ll be expecting an immediate title shot. If you were to ask me if I would want to fight any of the champions, then of course I’m going to say yes. I would be an honor to fight all of them.
What would it mean to become the youngest 168-pound world champion in history?
I’ve been training for that opportunity since I was a little kid, and I believe that the title belt is only one or two fights away for me. At this point, I’ve never been this motivated for anything in my life. I see that title right there and I’m ready to go and get it. Nothing’s going to take that opportunity away from me.
How much would you like to win a world championship and then fight Gilberto Ramirez in a title unification?
I don’t remember the last fight between super middleweight champions who were Mexicans. It would be huge. Gilberto Ramirez is a good friend and I worked with him in a couple of his training camps.
I was there for his fights with Arthur Abraham [in April 2016] and his most recent one [against Max Bursak]. For Abraham, they needed me to go in and brawl with Gilberto. We sparred several days a week, 10 to 12 rounds.
What fighter in history would you most like to have fought, and what would be the result?
It would be Joe Calzaghe at 168. He retired undefeated, and he beat Bernard Hopkins and Roy Jones. He’s a legend. It would be an honor to fight him and to just be in the same ring with him.
What is your favorite punch to throw and in what fight did you land it perfectly?
One of my favorite punches is the left hook to the body. Everybody’s going to feel that punch when I land it to the right spot. The most satisfying left hook I landed was in the Felipe Romero fight. I dropped him twice with the left to the body.
But I also like the jab, which is the range finder that sets everything up and throws the guy off his rhythm. That’s our bread and butter, and I use that for everything.
If Hollywood made a movie about your life, what actor would do the best job portraying you?
Of course, you’ve got to get Denzel Washington. That’s the only person who could play me, right? Denzel, whether he speaks Spanish or not, he’ll figure out a way to get it done.
Finish this sentence: If not for boxing, I would be …
… I don’t know where I would be in life. Boxing’s taught me discipline and helped me grow as a man.
If you could have dinner with four people in the history of the world, who would be on your guest list?
Muhammad Ali; Alexander the Great; Sun Tzu, who wrote “The Art of War;” and Floyd Mayweather.
If you could pick the brain of any fighter in history, who would it be and what would you ask?
It would be Mike Tyson, Sugar Ray Leonard and Floyd Mayweather. I would ask Tyson how he prepared for his fights, how he generated so much power and what he was thinking in his fights to end them so ferociously.
I would ask Sugar Ray about his work ethic and his speed. I would ask Mayweather how he maintains his distance and what workouts he does to maintain his reflexes.
I would also ask all of them about their wisdom, how to be smart with money and what to do with my life after boxing.
“12 Rounds With …” is published Wednesdays at PremierBoxingChampions.com. Next week: undefeated former two-division world champion Rances Barthelemy.