David Benavidez wasn’t surprised when he saw one of the biggest boxing upsets in recent years.
He had believed for years that even a prime version of Canelo Alvarez could be beaten, and it came to fruition on May 7 when Alvarez, pushing himself into a new weight class, failed to capture Dmitry Bivol’s WBA light heavyweight belt. Bivol picked up a signature win and received the career boost that comes with a matchup against the sport’s moneymaker.
However, that doesn’t change the reality for Benavidez and other fighters in the tier below Alvarez. While the potential for intriguing matchups exists, Benavidez and others haven’t been able to generate enough momentum to secure lucrative bouts — especially one against Alvarez.
Benavidez (25-0, 22 KOs) is hoping to manufacture more of a push this Saturday in Glendale, Arizona, when he faces former middleweight champion David Lemieux (Showtime, 10 p.m. ET).
“The only thing I can do is keep beating the people they put in front of me, keep being exciting,” Benavidez told ESPN. “That’s just the type of fighter I am. I don’t think it’s going to run out anytime soon.”
Many believe Benavidez is one of the best 168-pounders in the world. Only three of his professional bouts have gone the distance. ESPN ranks Benavidez No. 2 at super middleweight, right behind Canelo. If Benavidez beats Lemieux (43-4, 36 KOs), he’ll win the WBC’s interim super middleweight title, which would theoretically force a mandatory showdown for Canelo’s WBC belt.
It’s a logical and methodical way for a fighter to build momentum. It’s why Benavidez decided to face the unknown Ronald Ellis last March in a WBC title eliminator that should have put him in line to face Alvarez. But this path assumes that logic is prevalent in boxing.
Even if Benavidez beats Lemieux, who hasn’t faced a top-level fighter since 2017, he knows that’s no guarantee of getting the fight he has wanted for years.
“I feel like [the WBC is] making this a title fight just so I shut up, basically,” Benavidez said.
The 25-year-old is well aware that Alvarez potentially will get promoted to WBC “franchise” champion, which is a fancy way of allowing Alvarez to retain his title without having to make the mandatory defense.
What compounds Benavidez’s frustration is the fact that he has squandered the very momentum he’s looking for. He has lost the WBC’s 168-bout belt twice — once in 2018 for testing positive for cocaine and again in 2020 when he failed to make weight for a title defense against Roamer Alexis Angulo.
“He’s on my s— list and I will get to him, but until then he’s gonna have to wait off to the side like a good little boy because he didn’t do what he was supposed to do again,” former super middleweight champion Caleb Plant, speaking to FightHype in January 2021, said of Benavidez.
Had Benavidez not lost the belt in ’20, he likely would have had a shot at Alvarez, who completed his 11-month journey of becoming an undisputed super middleweight champion by plucking Plant’s belt last year. That made Alvarez the first Mexican fighter to become undisputed in the four-belt era.
Benavidez and Jermall Charlo are among the most intriguing future options for Alvarez, but as his recent foray into the light heavyweight division showed, Alvarez is in search of glory that Benavidez and Charlo can’t currently offer.
“I just want to be one of the best fighters in the history of boxing,” Alvarez told ESPN in April. “That’s why I need to extend my legacy. To be there, right?”
But there’s another way to build momentum — a more impactful way: big wins against big-name opponents. Benavidez does have a victory over Anthony Dirrell, ESPN’s eighth-ranked fighter in the division. A scheduled 2021 showdown with Jose Uzcategui never materialized because of a positive COVID-19 test by Benavidez and then Uzcategui’s positive test for performance-enhancing drugs.
Benavidez said he tried to negotiate for fights with Charlo, the WBC’s middleweight champion, and Plant, a rival who fought Canelo in ’21 because he held one of the 168-pound belts. All three fight under the Premier Boxing Champions umbrella. Benavidez said he contacted Luis DeCubas, Plant’s manager, and PBC head executive Al Haymon, but those efforts were to no avail.
“It makes sense and it’d be a very lucrative fight for both [Charlo and Plant],” said Benavidez, who added that each matchup would have presented even odds for all parties involved. “We can both make a lot of money. But these guys, they’re not confident as they say they are, as they think they are.”
Benavidez isn’t lacking confidence. After previous slip-ups, he has increased his dedication to being in top condition, which means cutting back on some of his favorites — fast food, Mountain Dew and cookie dough ice cream.
Fixing a diet is easier than the issue that limits the ceiling for Benavidez and other talented fighters who want their chance to be among boxing’s top draws. Benavidez hopes a win over Lemieux this weekend helps him solve the question so many are asking.