From the Root to the Fruit: David Benavidez was Bred for Boxing

The moment has arrived for the undefeated former champion as he battles WBC World Super Middleweight Champion Anthony Dirrell Saturday night on PBC on FOX Sports PPV.

Most famous people can pinpoint that exact moment in their lives when they knew they would be successful. It’s that moment Eminem raps about in “Lose Yourself.” For some, it’s a clairvoyant moment of sorts.

Though she likes to say, “I was always famous, you just didn’t know it yet,” singer Lady Gaga recalls with clarity the first time she walked past the Madison Square Garden marquee as a child and envisioned her name illuminated above.

For others, like rugby star, Carlin Isles, it’s a somber moment. Isles was just starting grade school when he saw his mom taken away in a police car, her cuffed wrists locking her arms in an “x” formation behind her back. About a year later, a starving Isles found himself in a foster home with an empty fridge, the only food in the house the brown stuff in the dog’s bowl. Satisfying his hunger with the breakfast of poodles, Isles knew right then that he would amount to something in his life.

For David Benavidez (21-0, 18 KOs), that moment came when he was nine.

For his father, Jose Benavidez Sr., the moment came shortly after.

On September 28, the younger Benavidez, 22-years-old, faces his biggest challenge when he meets WBC World Super Middleweight Champion Anthony Dirrell (33-1-1, 24 KOs) on PBC on FOX Sports PPV (9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT).

Like always, Jose Sr. will work the corner. Each knew this moment would come. Because of what they have been through, they’re confident Benavidez is ready.

Arcelia, Mexico is a picturesque town of green mountainsides and brightly colored homes. The charm wears off the closer you get. The homes have rusted roofs and the crime in the city was bad enough to have forced Coca Cola to shut down their plant until rival crime families settled their differences.

When Jose Sr. was four years old, his father walked out on the family and his mother made her way to the United States.

“My grandmother was supposed to be taking care of me, but she was too old and, in reality, I took care of her,” said the elder Benavidez.

Though his mother sent money when she could, it often wasn’t enough. At about the age of five, Jose Sr. walked those mean streets by himself.

“I had to find work.”

Mostly, he found work in the fields, planting and harvesting corn. “Sometimes they’d just give us some food to eat, no pay. They took advantage of us kids.” 

By the time Jose Sr. was eleven, his mother had settled into her new life in San Fernando Valley. She sent for him, ready to live once again as a family. The new man in her life had different ideas. Too toxic to stay, Jose Sr. turned to the street life. At 12, he ran with a gang. At 14, he was an expectant father. Less than 10-years later, he was a separated father of three.

David Benavidez, along with his brother Jose, and sister Isabel, originally stayed with their mother, a Californian of Ecuadorian descent. When Benavidez was nine, he had that moment when he knew he would make something of his life.

“I’ll never forget that day,” Benavidez said. “My father told me if I went to live with him, I would become champion of the world. I’ll never forget that moment.”

Jose Sr. bore no ill-will towards his ex. “I have nothing bad to say about her. Not because she’s the mother of my children, but because there’s nothing bad to say.”

Having grown up fatherless, he didn’t want them to go through what he did.

My father told me if I went to live with him, I would become champion of the world. Former World Super Middleweight Champion - David Benavidez

Though Ecuador has never been a hotbed of boxing activity, the few fighters that cracked the world stage were excellent. Long-time contender Eugenio Espinoza scored wins over Ismael Laguna and Flash Elorde. Segundo Mercado nearly knocked Bernard Hopkins out of the ring, coming within seconds of being champ.

But it’s his Mexican blood that drives Benavidez.

“I grew up watching Oscar De La Hoya fight on Mexican Independence Day.” Benavidez said.

Even before the prime years of De La Hoya, and Julio Cesar Chavez before him, when boxing fans all over the world became hip to the anniversaries of Mexican wars, boxing was ingrained in Mexican culture.

Bob Fitzsimmons and Peter Maher battled for a version of the heavyweight title on Mexican soil in 1896 and the Jack Johnson-Jess Willard fight nearly landed in Cuidad Juarez. Starting in the 1940s, a slew of Mexican boxing films like Campeon Sin Corona, Pepe el Toro, and Guantes de Oro became classics as popular there as the Rocky franchise is here. All of that has contributed to a boxing culture that persists today the world over.

About a month ago, in Brooklyn, NY, a gym opened on a block with a halfway house on one corner, and a brothel on the other. On the window is a handwritten sign that reads, “We Teach Mexican Style Boxing.” The gym has one toilet, two plungers, and half the lights don’t work. The “ring” is not a ring, just ropes tied around four pillars.

Jose Sr. laughed and said, “That’s how it is. You should’ve seen my gym. I opened it up in my backyard in Phoenix – 30 kids boxing on dirt. Instead of helping me, the city made me shut it down. I was helping kids stay off the streets.”

Benavidez started out in that gym, though only halfheartedly at first. “Once my brother started doing well, I wanted to be just like him.” Before any of that could happen, Jose Sr. had to endure the kind of life you hear about in a Notorious B.I.G. song.

“I didn’t know what a holiday was. I was working every day. Christmas, birthdays, those were just another workday for me,” says Jose Sr., a man who was never a kid.

But he had a moment like Lady Gaga, Carlin Isles, and his son had. That instance when he knew all the hard work was worth it.

He was crashing in Freddie Roach’s house, hoping for his eldest son, Jose, to get signed by a promoter.

“I took out all my savings and trained at the Wild Card Gym. I waited months and no offer came.”

He packed his belongings and got in his car. He stopped at a McDonalds with one dollar in his pocket and even less in the bank.

“I was so happy when I saw the Dollar Menu had two burgers for a dollar. I gave one to Jose and the other to David.”

He told his sons he wasn’t hungry and sat back while they ate, hoping they wouldn’t hear the growls that emanated from the hollow pit of his stomach.

“I was ready to give up that day,” Jose Sr. said

Then he got lost in the music. His sons were too good to give up. He didn’t drive all the way to Los Angeles or deplete his savings only to end up with a pair of fifty-cent burgers. His sons were future champions.

He called the promoter's office.

They were looking for him.

For a closer look at David Benavidez, check out his fighter page.

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