The former WBC World Super Middleweight Champion is putting everything behind him as he faces J’Leon Love in a 168-pound showdown Saturday night on FOX PPV.
When David Benavidez was 18, he drove up to Big Bear Mountain to help super-middleweight contender Julius Jackson prepare for a world title shot against Venezuela’s Jose Uzcategui. Benavidez was then a fledgling professional with a handful of fights, but he did not lack for confidence. Like his older brother Jose, who turned heads as an amateur sparring Manny Pacquiao at Wild Card gym in Los Angeles, Benavidez had pedigree, albeit less publicized.
“I was always overlooked (compared to my brother), but I always thought it was just a matter of time before people started noticing me,” Benavidez said. “You go to any of the gyms I trained at and they’ll tell you the dudes I was beating up on.”
Before he was even eligible for a driver’s license, the Phoenix, Arizona native had gone rounds with the likes of Gennady Golovkin, Kelly Pavlik and Gabriel Rosado. So when it came time to spar Jackson, Benavidez knew he could hold his own. He ended up doing better than that.
“I’m not even lying, I just went up there to get some work,” Benavidez recalled. “But then I beat Julius up pretty bad. I ended up impressing his trainers.”
It would turn out to be a significant day for Benavidez. He soon connected with Jackson’s co-promoter Sampson Lewkowicz, the globetrotting fight agent-cum-promoter credited with discovering Pacquiao and Sergio Martinez.
In three years, Benavidez would go from toiling in club shows in Mexico to defeating Ronald Gavril in 2017 for the vacant WBC super-middleweight title, an achievement that made him the youngest active titleholder in the sport.
And then that all changed. Just as soon as he was getting noticed, as soon as it seemed like he was capitalizing on the potential he flashed during that sparring session in Big Bear, Benavidez found himself in freefall.
In September 2018, the WBC announced that Benavidez had tested positive for cocaine during a random drug test administered by VADA. Benavidez lost his title and was slapped with a six-month suspension. His reputation was tarnished, his career derailed.
“When all of that went down, I saw how big the situation became,” Benavidez recounted. “It destroyed my name and my reputation. I got stripped of my belt. It hurt me financially. It disappointed my friends and my family. I realized how everything I worked for could just be gone, just like that. I saw how everyone was reacting and I just told myself, ‘I can’t let this happen again.’”
This Saturday Benavidez, now 22, has a chance to straight out his boxing career when he steps into a ring for the first time in 13 months against J’Leon Love (24-2-1, 13 KOs) on the undercard of the Errol Spence Jr.-Mikey Garcia blockbuster on FOX PPV (9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT).
Benavidez adamantly claims his faux pas was not a harbinger of things to come, but an aberration.
“I know what people are going to think, but for me this was really a situation where I was in the wrong place at the wrong time, nothing more,” Benavidez explained. “I was young and I’m still young now — I’m only 22 — but look, I understood what happened and I owned up to it.
“ I was young ... I understood what happened and I owned up to it. ” Former World Super Middleweight Champion - David Benavidez
Indeed, unlike many other boxers in recent years who have been outed for taking a banned substance, Benavidez did not issue a grievance, feign innocence or blame the findings on an over-the-counter drug he had unwittingly ingested. Instead, he manned up and took to Twitter to acknowledge his mistake.
His father, Jose Benavidez Sr., says he shares in the blame and that he may have been a bit naive with his son.
“Man, you know, I knew [something bad outside of the ring] was coming in the back of my mind,” Benavidez Sr. explained. “I tried to be a little bit blind. I tried to say ‘no, no, no, it’s not going to happen to David, it’s not going to happen.’ But the reality is that there’s a lot of people and distractions in Arizona, the girls and parties and all that.”
The incident prompted Benavidez Sr. to examine his relationship with his sons.
“When it happened, I was very disappointed in myself, like, what did I do wrong? I think I was a little too strict. I’m the cook, the trainer, the manager, I do everything. Maybe they get a little tired of it since I’m with them 24 hours. I learned you have to create a balance. I think it was a blessing in disguise because now we’re closer than ever.”
While others may thrive off of unsavory headlines, for Benavidez, the ordeal has made him realize that a sordid public persona is the last thing he wants in his life as he aims to reclaim his world title.
“I’d rather this happen now then later when I’m deeper in my career,” said Benavidez. “I’m a lot more grounded now. I don’t hang out with a lot of friends anymore. I’ve seen the way this one thing blew up and changed how people look at me. I didn’t like it at all, I didn’t like my name out there like that.”
Cocaine use was not the only issue that nearly sabotaged his career. Earlier in May 2018, Benavidez had thrust himself into a promotional quandary when he accepted a $250,000 under-the-table signing bonus with Top Rank, even though he had an existing contract with Lewkowicz. But after a long discussion, Benavidez returned the money and remained with his longtime handler.
Of that incident, Benavidez simply said, “We’re good now, that was all just a misunderstanding. We all moved past that. I’m in a real good situation now.”
To prepare for Saturday, Benavidez (20-0, 17 KOs) has been training with light heavyweight titlist Dmitry Bivol.
“I know for a fact that J’Leon Love isn’t as sharp as Bivol,” Benavidez quipped. “So, I know I’m going to be 100% prepared when I get in that ring.”
But make no mistake, it is a sense of gratefulness, not bluster, that informs Benavidez’s mood these days.
“Now I’m on my first PPV in Dallas fighting at one of the biggest stages,” he said. “After what happened, I couldn’t ask for anything more.”
For a closer look at David Benavidez, check out his fighter page.