David Benavidez was sparring with world champions by the time he was old enough to drive.
Before making his pro debut in August 2013 at the age of 16—earning a first-round KO of Erasmo Mendoza in Sonora, Mexico—Benavidez worked out with Gennady Golovkin at the 160-pound world champion's camp in Big Bear, California, where he made a strong impression.
“David was a baby weighing about 185 pounds, but he held his own and made Gennady work for three or four days,” said Golovkin’s trainer, Abel Sanchez. “I thought, ‘Wow, what a talent.’
“Gennady didn’t go all out, but he thought a lot of David, not only as a fighter, but as a real down-to-earth kid with a lot of talent.”
Now 19 years old, David Benavidez (15-0, 14 KOs) will once again put his talents on display Friday when he takes on veteran southpaw Denis Douglin (20-4, 13 KOs) in a headlining 168-pound bout at the 2300 Arena in Philadelphia (ESPN, 9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT).
In addition to Golovkin, Benavidez also sparred with former champions Kelly Pavlik and Peter Quillin before beginning his ascent up the professional ladder.
“[Benavidez’s father and trainer] Jose Benavidez Sr. is a good friend of mine and said his 15-year-old kid needed work,” said Robert Garcia, who trained Pavlik. “[David] came to my gym in Oxnard, California, sparred Kelly Pavlik and did really well.
“I said, ‘This kid’s gonna be a superstar. He’s an unbelievable talent with the power and heart to be a sensational fighter.”
Through his first 15 pro fights, the 6-foot-2 Benavidez has been living up to the lofty expectations put upon him. The Phoenix native has gained nine of his 14 KOs in the first round, with three more coming in the second.
Benavidez was 7-0—all knockout wins—before his 18th birthday while fighting entirely in Mexico, where the legal fighting age is 15. He made his U.S. debut in Phoenix three days after turning 18, and he shut out Azamat Umarzoda over six rounds in the only bout he hasn’t won by stoppage.
Benavidez was 11-0 with 10 KOs when veteran boxing manager Luis DeCubas Jr. began working with Benavidez's promoter, Sampson Lewkowicz, to help advance the fighter's career.
“For David Benavidez, the time is now,” DeCubas said. “I think he’s going to try to be the youngest champion ever at 168."
Benavidez will be fighting on the East Coast for the second straight time when he takes on Douglin. In his last fight June 25, Benavidez earned a seventh-round TKO of then-unbeaten Francy Ntetu at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York. It was the longest bout of his career to date.
“I have power and a record that speaks for itself, but the fans were amazing for my first fight in New York," Benavidez said. “They were loud and rowdy, and that motivated me to fight.
“I’m inspired to live up to my Mexican heritage and the tradition of bringing a good fight, and to display my skills in my first televised main event.”
When Benavidez, the younger brother of unbeaten 140-pound contender Jose Benavidez Jr., was 13 years old, he stood 5-foot-4 and weighed 250 pounds. In addition to a tremendous growth spurt, Benavidez dedicated himself in the gym as he reshaped his entire body.
“I was concerned about health problems with him being obese like that,” Jose Benavidez Sr. said. “I told him, ‘You can no longer box unless you lose weight and show me you want it, because your life’s on the line.’
“It was hard, but he did it, so I started putting him in with good professionals.”
To ready himself for the more experienced Douglin, Benavidez has sparred this year with unbeaten 168-pound southpaw champion Gilberto Ramirez, as well as right-handed contenders Vyacheslav Shabranskyy and Alexander Brand, who are a combined 41-1 with 32 KOs.
“I had worked with Gilberto before his [April 9] fight with Arthur Abraham, and got a solid two weeks of sparring with Gilberto for the Douglin fight,” Benavidez said. “We had to be really cautious because Gilberto’s a power puncher, has an amazing jab and he’s a thinker.
“We learned a lot [about] patience and use of head movement and to believe in my punches. Brand's an awkward fighter, so we had to use jabs, angles and pick our spots. If I get past the awkwardness of Alexander Brand, I'll be ready for whatever Denis Douglin can do."
For a closer look at Benavidez vs Douglin, visit our fight page.