What a difference a year can make.
In just twelve months’ time young Jose Benavidez Jr. has gone from a standout amateur to one of the sport’s most promising prospects, seemingly poised for stardom given his tremendous skill set and poise inside of the ring. The 18-year old signed an exclusive deal with Top Rank in January and has carved out nine impressive victories this year, all by stoppage.
Campaigning at 140 pounds, Benavidez’s ride has seen him travel the country fighting on the undercards to some of the sport’s biggest names while turning heads because of his seemingly flawless domination inside of the ring, albeit against overmatched competition. A 2009 National Golden Gloves champion at just 16 years of age, Benavidez opted to turn professional instead of eyeing gold in the 2012 Olympics and the decision seems to have paid off.
With his first year officially under his belt, Benavidez claims that life as a professional fighter is all about adapting.
“It’s way different from the amateurs,” he stated. “In the amateurs you have head gear, big gloves and in the pros you have no headgear and little gloves. You have to watch out for every punch and every guy you fight too. You could fight guys who aren’t that good but one shot could get to you and maybe turn your career around.”
It’s very uncommon for a man so young to have boxing’s spotlight shining on him so brightly. Benavidez’s star potential is evident and along the way he has also learned of the business of the sport and the nuances and people that come along with it.
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“Outside the ring you just have to watch out for different people,” Benavidez warned. “Some of them are good and some of them are bad so you have to keep your eyes open.”
Benavidez made his debut on the Vanes Martirosyan-Kassim Ouma bout at the Hard Rock Hotel in Las Vegas on January 15th with a 1st round blowout over Missouri’s Steven Cox and would end up fighting an additional three times in the city. But in an interesting note the modest Phoenix native claims that he never really had any opportunities to go sightseeing or experience any extracurricular activities in Vegas as he was so wound up in all of his showcases that he spent most of his down time afterwards looking for food or staying in his hotel room to watch movies.
It only seemed to be the young pupil’s latest appearance at Cowboys Stadium, a 3rd round TKO over Winston Mathis on last month’s Manny Pacquiao-Antonio Margarito undercard, which truly opened up his eyes to the electric atmosphere of a world class event.
“Fighting in Dallas at that huge Stadium with 40,000 people watching is something that I can’t explain,” he continued. “It’s wonderful and it hyped me up a lot. When I was walking to the ring I saw everyone cheering and I couldn’t explain a feeling like that.”
Benavidez actually got to know Pacquiao very well this year, as he spent several months dividing his time between Arizona and Freddie Roach’s Wild Card Boxing Club in Los Angeles. While in the facility Benavidez turned heads with his talent, with Roach even going as far as guaranteeing championships around his waist in the future.
But the latest news has Benavidez breaking his ties with the Wild Card crew and moving his bases back home. Giving his take on the situation, Jose felt that there were simply too many stars in the building for a prospect like him to get Roach’s full attention.
“We had a lot of good work in the Wild Card but Freddie’s a little too busy so we decided to come back home and train here,” Jose said. “My Dad has actually been the one training me since we went down there; Freddie has been too busy with Amir Khan, Pacquiao and Chavez Jr. I didn’t really get that much time to work with him but the time I got I really appreciated it.”
I told Jose that I had heard conflicting reports of that story, ones that instead have Roach choosing to let him go because he found it difficult to work with Benavidez’s father Jose. Giving his take for a second time, Benavidez insists that there are no hard feelings from his end.
“No, we didn’t leave on bad terms,” he stated. “We left on good terms. They’re really good people and we’re still on good terms. We got a lot of good work in so we can’t complain at all. We got what we wanted.”
Top Rank is lining up some big events in the Vegas area including the February 19th clash between Nonito Donaire and Fernando Montiel at the Mandalay Bay, a March 12th Miguel Cotto showcase and Pacquiao’s fight with Shane Mosley on May 7th at the MGM Grand. Benavidez will likely be making an appearance on a few of those shows but before he can look ahead to his future he closes out by giving a simple ode to what 2010 has meant to his life.
“It’s been a great year and it’s gone by really fast and we have to get ready for next year and see what happens. I’m really appreciative of the exposure I have gotten so far.”
Chris Robinson is based out of Las Vegas, Nevada. He can be reached at Trimond@aol.com