THE RIGOURS OF YOUTH
Benavidez must look back and learn from this vicious war, writes Kenneth Bouhairie
DAVID BENAVIDEZ hasn’t reached legal drinking age, but he’s old enough to go to war. Benavidez and Ronald Gavril engaged in one for 12 rounds with the former overcoming a non-stop assault and a flash knockdown to win a split decision and the vacant WBC supermiddleweight crown.
Benavidez, still three months shy of his 21st birthday, is now boxing’s youngest current champion and the youngest in 168lb king history. There’s work to be done if he’s to unlock another achievement, but this fight will teach him plenty. The Mexican-american is still learning on the job, after turning pro at 16 with only 15 amateur bouts. A fixture in the west coast gyms, heads took notice of the teen during his sparring sessions against Gennady Golovkin and Kelly Pavlik, where he more than held his own.
Last May, Benavidez stopped former world title challenger Rogelio “Porky” Medina with an insane seven-punch combination in the eighth (look it up on Youtube, if you haven’t already). Gavril figured to lose in similar fashion. An accomplished amateur of 180 bouts, the Romanian hadn’t been as successful in the pros, suffering a points loss to journeyman Elvin Ayala in 2015.
The setback didn’t deter Gavril, who continued to work at his craft at the Mayweather Boxing Club under the tutelage of former light-heavyweight champion Eddie Mustafa Muhammad. The refinement showed on this night. Gavril dictated the pace, applying a sound gameplan that exposed several flaws in his young opponent.
Benavidez, however, was the more explosive of the two. Gavril landed several notable body punches in the first but a powerful one-two toward the end of the round snapped his head back.
That pattern continued during the first six rounds: Gavril focusing his attack downstairs but eating plenty of hard counters in return. He was visibly hurt by several blows but, to his credit, never took a step back. The crowd at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino warmed to the action quickly; what was supposed to be a formality for Benavidez was turning into a Fight of the Year candidate. Trainer Muhammad urged Gavril on between rounds, screaming, “He’s tired!” He was right. Benavidez, who barely threw a punch in the sixth, admitted afterward that he must learn how to pace himself. His shots carried more pop, but Gavril was throwing and landing more—and his punches weren’t exactly soft either.
The seventh and eighth featured more of the same. An upset appeared to be brewing, but Benavidez found his second wind in the 10th. He enjoyed an even better 11th, throwing 92 punches, most of them hurtful combinations. Gavril wisely clinched when he could but also fought back, urged on by seemingly the entire Mayweather Promotions stable sitting ringside, including ringleader Floyd and star pupil, Badou Jack.
Benavidez came forward in the 12th with his hands down and paid for it when Gavril caught him off-balance with a hard left jab. Benavidez tumbled to the mat, popping up unhurt. They then engaged in a non-stop exchange that kept ringsiders on their feet until the final bell sounded.
The final cards didn’t reflect the action: 116-111 for Gavril while the other cards read 117-111 and 116-111 for Benavidez. Boxing News had it 114-113 for the winner.
In the second bout of this Showtime Championship Boxing super middleweight triple-header, J’leon Love and Abraham Han fought to a draw after an accidental headbutt midway through the eighth opened a terrible cut on Han’s forehead and forced the bout to the cards.
Love was fortunate to escape with a draw. Other than the fourth, he threw sparingly and rarely landed when he did. Han controlled the action and landed the harder punches. Cards read 79-73 for Love and two scores of 76-76.
Floyd Mayweather, the show’s promoter, gave super-middleweight
Caleb Plant a “C” grade for his performance against late-substitute
Andrew Hernandez in the television opener. Plant shut Hernandez out on all three cards, but against an outclassed journeyman who lost fought at 154lbs (and lost), he should have ended it earlier.
Peter Quillin ended a 21-month layoff with a tougher-than-expected, eight-round unanimous decision over
Dashon Johnson. Johnson, whose record prior to this fight was an unsightly 22-21-3, hurt Quillin several times before fading down the stretch.
THE VERDICT Benavidez hangs tough to claim title but there’s plenty he needs to learn.
WORK IN PROGRESS: Benavidez ploughs his right into Gavril