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Will We See Growth in David Benavidez?

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In his last fight, where he won the vacant WBC super-middleweight title, David Benavidez looked supremely ordinary against Romanian Ronald Gavril. He won a split decision, thanks largely to two very generous cards from Adalaide Byrd (shocker!) and Dave Moretti despite being knocked down in the 12th round and looking rather gassed in the second half of the fight. Glen Trowbridge also had it wrong at 116-111 for Gavril.

I scored the fight 114-113 in favour of the American, and got the same result in my second look at the fight just last night. Although, a draw or a score slightly in favour of Gavril would not have been outrageous by any stretch. No fewer than three rounds were effectively toss ups.

Still, at just 21 years old, I’m not prepared to start condemning Benavidez. Coming into that fight, his biggest step-up to date, he had been steamrolling anyone in front of him with his great combination punching and obvious power.

While he hurt Gavril on a couple of occasions, Benavidez was incapable of firing off one of his usual fight ending combos. This led to him looking frustrated and flat out exhausted in the later stages of the fight. Young fighters will often find themselves in this position when their power fails to earn the stoppage for them.

Benavidez showed how green he still is in the 12th when he was caught with a big right hand in a round he was otherwise dominating. Some of the defensive problems I noted throughout the fight caught up with him, as he waded in with his hands down and his chin held high. I don’t think Benavidez has a bad chin or anything like that, but the surest way to get put down is to get careless.

Gavril is decidedly average, but he’s sound and responsible. After Benavidez had battered him about the ring for two minutes, perhaps smelling a stoppage, Gavril saw him get careless and drop his guard. Looking to stalk forward and end the fight, Benavidez instead found himself on his back in a fight that he had to know could have gone either way up to that point.

He didn’t appear hurt by the shot, but we all know the old adage. If you hit them right, they will all go. He was lucky that Gavril doesn’t have the kind of scorching power some fighters do. He was also lucky that two of the judges had him so far ahead on the cards.

It wasn’t the first time he’d been caught with a counter in the fight, either. On several occasions, Benavidez would throw these lazy lead right hands with his chin not tucked in, which often lead to him getting hit unnecessarily. I suppose his fighting career to this point made him believe he could get away with this. Against fighters of Gavril’s level and above, this kind of behaviour will be met with swift punishment.

As the fight wore on, you could see Benavidez trying to get his rigid legs back under him. He tired noticeably after the 6th, and would occasionally fall back into the ropes waving Gavril forward. This could be seen as confidence, but I don’t buy it. That is the behaviour of a fighter trying to buy time for himself. Credit him for being able to get away with it – veteran fighters have all kinds of tricks designed to buy time – but his conditioning will have to improve as he continues to fight guys at the top of the division.

The question I ask now is how will Benavidez react to learning that he cannot simply erase everyone? The obvious antidote to this is to get in better shape so he can control the second half of the fight the way he did the first. His boxing ability is good enough that he should be able to outbox most anyone given he does not burn out late.

Hopefully he will have learned how to deal with a skilled in-fighter like Gavril, as well.

Benavidez showed some great work, no doubt. I love the way he wants to establish his jab, but I love how he changes speeds on it even more. He will probe with a kind of changeup, then suddenly start popping his man with sharp jabs that look more like power shots. Occasionally, he will wing his shots in a way that invites the hard counter shots I mentioned earlier. When he is at his best though, Benavidez will leverage his hand speed with hard, short punches thrown with dreadful intentions.

His footwork is a little underdeveloped for my taste. Against a guy who wants to stand forehead to forehead and bang, a long fighter should be trying to create separation and use his reach to keep the fight at a manageable distance. Benavidez is so used to being able to hurt everyone that he never really thought to do this, which made the fight much harder for him.

I would like to see him control distance with his jab as well as his feet, at least until he’s sufficiently certain that he can hurt his man. Against Gavril, he spent way too much time squaring up and letting the short-armed man fight his fight. Because he keeps his elbows flared, Benavidez doesn’t do a great job covering up on the inside, so using his reach to play defense is vital.

I never felt that Benavidez was in charge, which can be excused given his inexperience, but cannot continue going forward. If he had great defense on the inside this wouldn’t be so much of a concern, but Gavril appeared to land at will in those exchanges.

Something that will always frustrate me is a failure to understand where your advantages are. If Benavidez remains two feet away from Gavril at all times, he can win a shutout. It would at very least give him better opportunities to land his power without getting caught. I don’t know at this point if the young man can adapt and pull this off, but should he do it I will be very impressed with him.

Something we often forget is the discipline involved in boxing. Not just in terms of physical fitness, but showing an ability to hold yourself back from diving in headlong when it does not benefit you.

For all the hand wringing over fighters who don’t to “go in for the kill”, we forget how disciplined a fighter has to be to do this. Understanding the extraordinary risk involved in lunging forward with looping power shots is vital to the development of a young fighter. When you have the natural speed and arm length advantages that Benavidez has, a touch more discipline can make the difference between a very good fighter and a great fighter.

It should be said that Benavidez is way ahead of most 21 year olds at this stage. He is already a champion, and he is still learning on the job.

A fight like this can be an invaluable learning experience, or a blueprint for future opponents to beat him depending on the fighter. I’m betting on the former, believing Benavidez is young enough to receive the instruction he needs, and talented enough to put it together effectively. I expect him to take a big step forward in the February 17th rematch.

If he wants to be an action fighter who loses at the highest levels, Benavidez will change nothing. If he wants to become a great champion, he will start boxing with a touch more intelligence.

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About Thomas Peter John Penney

Thomas Penney is a freelance writer. He writes about boxing for NY Fights, and whoever else will have him. Send tips to tpjp28@mun.ca.

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