The former World Super Middleweight Champion has put past transgressions behind him as he looks ahead to another world title shot.
It will be a long time before David Benavidez even becomes eligible to be voted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame. After all, the former WBC 168-pound champion from Phoenix is still only 22.
But Benavidez, who became the youngest super middleweight titlist of all time at age 20 in 2017, made his first visit to the fistic shrine in Canastota, N.Y., last weekend during induction ceremonies. Benavidez met many of the great champions, and tirelessly signed autographs and posed for pictures for hours, according to his promoter Sampson Lewkowicz.
He also opened his training camp there for his upcoming title bout against WBC World Super Middleweight Champion Anthony Dirrell, most likely in the fall or winter. He held a couple of public sparring sessions and that, says Lewkowicz, is where “El Bandera Roja” showed the grit, power and skills that made him the sport’s youngest active champion, a title that was later stripped from him after a positive drug test.
“Everyone thought he was showing off. But it was three guys trying to beat David. It was crazy,” Lewkowicz explained of the sparring. “One was a heavyweight who quit in the third round because he couldn’t take any more punishment. The second guy he was toying with, and the third guy he left bleeding from the nose and mouth. He beat up the three of them.”
This is David Benavidez 2.0, a young kid with enormous talent who vows to put his problems in his rearview mirror and learn from his mistakes. Benavidez tested positive for cocaine during a random drug test after defending his title in a rematch with Ronald Gavril, who he beat for the WBC’s coveted green belt. He was later suspended for four months by the WBC.
David’s relationship with his father and trainer, Jose Benavidez Sr., suffered during that time and was reported to be “dysfunctional,” which David calls a flat-out lie.
“Me and my dad are really close. People talk from the outside but they don’t know what’s going on from the inside between me and my father,” David says. “Everything is great. We have a lot of chemistry. That’s why he’s been my trainer for so many years. We get along perfectly in the gym so there’s nothing wrong between me and my father.”
As much pain as David’s woes caused his father, the trainer says it might have been a blessing in disguise.
“It was very, very hard for me to take, and sometimes, to be honest, I thank God for that, because now we’re closer than ever,” says Jose Sr. “I think he matured a lot from that and I think he needed all those things to happen to him, because I see him very focused and very dedicated at this time and my job is easier after all that happened.”
Lewkowicz believes Benavidez went from child to grown man overnight.
“He was a real man when he publicly apologized to the fans and the people and to our industry that he made a mistake. And that is the defining moment for him,” the promoter says, adding that Benavidez’s contriteness for his mistakes was the reason the WBC was lenient on the young fighter and allowed him to step right back into a shot to regain his title.
After 13 months of inactivity following the Gavril rematch, Benavidez made an impressive return to the ring in March, knocking out J’Leon Love in the second round at AT&T Stadium in Dallas.
“We’re right back in the spot I deserve to be in,” Benavidez says. “We’re right back in contention for a world title, so everything is playing how it’s supposed to play, and I’m learning from my mistakes, and I’m getting older, and wiser and continuing to work harder. I’m getting stronger through the years, mentally and physically.”
“ I’m getting stronger through the years, mentally and physically. ” Former World Super Middleweight Champion - David Benavidez
He will put that mental and physical strength to the test next against 34-year-old Dirrell (33-1-1, 24 KOs), who won the title vacated by Benavidez in February against Turkey’s Avni Yildirim in a controversial split technical decision that was stopped in the 10th round due to a cut around Dirrell’s eye.
“It’s going to be a great fight. He’s a great champion, but I feel like I’m still the champion because I never got beat for my belt,” Benavidez says. “It’s basically going to be champion versus champion and you can expect fireworks all night long.”
As Jose Sr., David and Lewkowicz were headed to Canastota last weekend, the trainer said by phone that Dirrell is a really good fighter, “but in my mind we’re going to stop him in maybe six, seven rounds. We’re not underestimating nobody, but we’re working really hard. David has matured more and he’s hungrier and in the gym he’s looking much better.
“He’s doing things that I’m not even showing him. He watches a lot of boxing and then we go in the ring and he practices what he sees, and I can see him hurting a lot of people. We have some sparring lined up for tomorrow, and we just have to tell him to take it easy because his hands are too heavy.”
We already know that didn’t turn out well for the sparring partners.
Benavidez, who had only 15 amateur fights – he was 15-0 -- has used sparring as a way of learning the sweet science since turning pro at 16. And he has taken his lumps in his lessons with some of the big names in the sport.
“It helped me a lot because I didn’t have [much of] an amateur career,” Benavidez says. “I feel like it helped me mold my style for the pros. I sparred with [Gennadiy] Golovkin, Kelly Pavlik, Kid Chocolate (Peter Quillin), Gabriel Rosado. I’ve basically sparred with all of them, you know, since I was a little kid. It taught me to have a lot of heart, because I was brought in with these guys, I was boxing with them. It taught me a lot about myself . . . and I’m very grateful that those champions gave me a chance to work with them.”
He learned well, as his 21-0 (18 KOs) record attests. But for this gym rat, the learning never stops.
“Of course. I’m barely 22 years old. I learn a lot every day,” he says. “I love to watch film of some of the great fighters from the past, some of the greats from now. You never stop learning in the ring. Once you think you know everything, that’s when things can go bad. There’s something new to learn every day.”
Benavidez is known for his quick, heavy hands, and he counts that as one of his biggest weapons.
“I feel like people in my weight class, they don’t put the combinations together like I do,” he says. “I feel grateful, like I’m one of a kind with the heavier guys that can actually do something like that because it’s exciting for the fans to see. You know, I just like to mix it up. I can do a whole lot of different stuff, but hand speed is definitely one of the good things I can do.”
Benavidez Sr. believes his son hasn’t even reached half of his potential.
“We’re working on footwork, a lot of angles, head movement, feints, body shots and uppercuts,” the trainer says. “Like yesterday we were working all day on uppercuts . . . There are so many different ways to throw the uppercut. . . . he has a lot of room to improve, and he wants to do it, so I think you haven’t seen even half of what he can do.”
Which makes it believable that if Benavidez can reach that full potential over the next 10 or 15 years, Canastota could come a-calling. Does he believe it?
“Hopefully, man, but I got to put the work in first,” the fighter laughed. “And maybe one day I can be put in there, too.”
For a closer look at David Benavidez, check out his fighter page.
- David Benavidez