Champions, Challengers and Contenders in Training
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“I know that my fights are getting tougher and opponents are getting better. Thomas Mattice is going to bring out the best in me. A lot of my fights have been quick knockouts, and hopefully now with this fight, people will see that I bring a high skill level.“I have been very focused on the fight, and not focusing on where the fight is taking place. My family, friends, coaches and teachers will all be there, but It doesn’t matter where the ring is, I am at home.
“Every fight, I am looking to make a big statement being that it is a main event on ShoBox against a durable guy. I feel this win will catapult me into the rankings in the 135 lb. division.”
David Benavidez Gives Boxing Fans a Taste of Training Camp
By Kirk Lang
Photos by Alyssa Lang and Kirk Lang
It was billed in a press release as his official start of training camp but David Benavidez’ challenge of WBC super middleweight champ Anthony Dirrell was still months away when he took on three sparring partners under the pavilion at the International Boxing Hall of Fame in upstate New York during the Hall’s 30th annual induction weekend.
“This is not really the start of my camp,” said Benavidez. “I still have 16 weeks left ‘til the fight. So I just came out here, enjoyed the people, got some good sparring and just enjoyed myself. I put a show on for the fans.”
Benavidez, 21-0 with 18 knockouts, became the youngest ever super middleweight champion in September 2017 when, at 20 years old, he won a 12-round decision over Ronald Gavril for the vacant WBC super middleweight championship. However, a career misstep saw him test positive for a banned substance last September and he lost his crown.
At the time, Benavidez was scheduled to make the second defense of his belt against Dirrell. The title subsequently became vacant and Dirrell took possession of it in March with a victory over Avni Yildirim.
The June 7th sparring in Canastota, New York, along with some shadowboxing the following day, provided a little sample of training camp life for approximately 100 boxing fans that crowded around the outdoor ring in perfect weather. Benavidez, who is intent on getting his belt back, didn’t appear to be too far from fighting weight, and looked sharp as he went three rounds a piece with a trio of local sparring partners.
Benavidez, far more experienced than his opponents, clearly seemed to be holding back at times, but he also made sure to work on defensive maneuvers. However, he did let his hands go here and there, including when he positioned Syracuse, New York-based 6-foot-four-inch pro boxer Lawrence Gabriel, whose record currently stands at 3-2-1, into a neutral corner. Benavidez let the crowd know he could turn the heat up whenever he felt like it. In fact, although Gabriel has survived bullets – in 2015 he was the victim of multiple gunshot wounds while trying to stop a crazed gunman at a Syracuse bar – he couldn’t survive Benavidez. He came close though. As his third and final round with the former world champion neared its end, Gabriel got caught with a beautiful hook to the body. He rose to his feet, but needed a break and leaned against the ropes until the bell rang.
“He’s a big puncher and he snaps every single punch,” Gabriel said. “And he gets his body into the right position to get power on all of his punches. He’s tough.”
Next up for Benavidez was the smallest of the three sparring partners – Luis “Azucar” Rojas. What Rojas lacked in stature he more than made up for in aggressiveness. Unfazed by Benavidez’ pedigree as a recent ex-world champion, he’d get in close and confidently let loose with combinations, usually to the head. Benavidez seemed to admire his opponent’s tenaciousness, but a well-placed power punch every so often let Rojas know who the real king of the ring was.
“I think he’s good,” said Rojas, who added, “I think he can be better. I’ve seen him fight before. I know he’s better than that.”
Did Rojas think Benavidez was holding back?
“Sometimes,” he said.
What did he learn from his three rounds with the former champion who is still at the top of the class at super middleweight?
“That you’ve got to stay ready, all the time,” said Rojas, who admitted to not being at his peak physically at this point in the summer.
The last sparring partner for Benavidez was 25-year-old Michael Rycraft, of Utica, NY. Tall and quick with his hands as well as his feet, Benavidez had to work harder in those final three rounds.
“The last one, he was the best one,” said Benavidez. “So I had to use every movement right. There could be no wasted movements.”
As good as Rycraft was, Benavidez left him with a bloody nose his corner-men had to attend to.
Rycraft seemed to appreciate the sparring, the opportunity, more so than the others that scrapped with Benavidez. He was seen talking with him and thanking him well after the sparring was over.
He told The USA Boxing News, “It’s a blessing. It’s a blessing to be in this position, to learn from a champion, a true champion, a young champion at that.”
Avid boxing enthusiast Mark Jones, of Syracuse, NY, who watched Benavidez’ nine rounds of sparring – a pre-cursor to actual training camp -believes Benavidez has the goods to defeat Dirrell.
“I think he’ll beat Dirrell based on his youth and the fact that Dirrell is in the post-prime phase of his career,” he said. “Benavidez has a big frame. I think he could eventually perform well at light heavyweight.”
Dirrell-Benavidez is scheduled to take place in late September in Los Angeles.