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  El Bandera Roja –
The Road To Redemption Has One Final Challenge

By Idongesit Obong

“David Benavidez has become the youngest fighter to win a world super-middleweight title, claiming the vacant WBC belt aged 20 years and nine months” read the headline in BBC sports on the 9th of September 2017. He captured the WBC Super Middleweight title at the Hard Rock Casino and Hotel in Paradise Nevada defeating Ronald Gavril via split decision. It was a night of many firsts: In his first Super middleweight title bout, first fight outside of Mexico or his US home state of Arizona, Benavidez became the youngest middleweight champion ever. “It feels amazing to win this title. It’s everything I’ve dreamed about since I was a little kid.” The champ was elated despite noise out of some quarters who felt Gavril won the fight after he put Benavidez on the canvas in the 12th round. 5 months later when both men returned to Paradise Nevada at the Mandala Bay for the rematch, David Benavidez silenced those criticisms with a clear unanimous decision over Gavril. He had won his first title defense against his toughest opponent yet. Nevada looked good on him; future big fights 20 minutes north of Paradise in Las Vegas were in view. He had reached the summit and now he needed to stay there and make his case for “El Bandera Roja” becoming a household name like “GGG” or “Canelo” in the division.

With an air of ease around him and a gentle smile, David was a promoter’s dream. His promoter, Sampson Lewkowicz believed him to be the competitive and commercial successor to Saul Canelo Alvarez, who carried the torch as the ‘golden boy’, ‘the good guy’, ‘the face’ of pound for pound boxing since Oscar De La Hoya’s exit from the stage. There was even short-lived drama around boxing promotion legend and Top Rank chief, Bob Arum, signing Benavidez with a $250,000 signing bonus which was quickly squashed after Lewkowicz sued and the bonus was returned. David was from a boxing family; Father, Jose Benavidez Sr. trained both David and older brother, welterweight, Jose Benavidez Jr. who was also undefeated at the time but recovering from gunshot wounds and uncertain about his boxing future. Racking up 20 wins in 5 years with 17 knockouts, David Benavidez’s in-ring style of focused pressure, using his 6ft 2inches height advantage behind an effective jab and a sleek, awkward defense did little to prepare viewers for the wonder that was his offensive prowess. The combination of power, hand speed and ability to throw combinations made for great television. With his size he could conquer super middleweight and even test the waters at light heavyweight. Even more impressive was that David had been able to achieve this without having an extensive amateur resume (he fought only 16 amateur fights and won them all). Some quarters even spun this as a positive: He wasn’t set in his ways, was teachable and getting better with each fight.

… Enter VADA

El Banders Roja translates to “the red flag” in English. The irony is not lost that on the 19th of September 2018, a red flag was raised for the popular white narcotic, cocaine. It was reported that David had failed a random drug test under the auspices of the WBC. Punishment was swift: David was stripped of his world title and a four-month suspension followed. The sentence itself was light (David had been fighting in 4-5 month intervals anyway) but the real challenge was the reputation damage and the questions that were sure to follow: Was this a mistake of youth or had the sport elevated a skilled young man with a drug habit? The difficult road back began immediately: David publicly apologized, taking responsibility and vowing not to let all those behind him down; frankly the only logical move for someone with as much potential and investment behind him. Rumored tensions with his father and trainer Jose Benavidez Sr. were promptly denied and the team worked behind the scenes to prepare for David’s return to the ring in March 2019.

The fight took place in Dallas on the undercard of Errol Spence Jr. vs. Mikey Garcia. The unfortunate opponent was J’Leon Love, a Mayweather promotions fighter and notorious power puncher. The hand speed gap was overwhelming, and David Benavidez got Love against the ropes in the second round before unleashing a barrage of punch combinations worth replaying, forcing the referee to stop the fight. After that victory, a title shot was within view: While Benavidez was separated from the title, veteran southpaw and former Olympic medalist Andre Dirrell defeated Avni Yildrim for the vacant title. The victory came via stoppage after an accidental headbutt and in the aftermath, the WBC ordered that Dirrell face Benavidez next and the winner take on Yildrim. The September 28th date was set on the undercard of another Errol Spence Jr. Fight against Shawn Porter in Los Angeles. Things have come full circle for David Benavidez and in the Dirrell fight, a year’s worth of introspection, questioning, growth and desire to return to the pinnacle will come to an apex. Can David surmount the challenge? The bookmakers think so: 1/7 odds for a Benavidez victory. If I were a betting man, I like those odds.


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