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David Benavidez Takes an Important Step Forward

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David Benavidez Takes an Important Step Forward

What follows is a list of things you would absolutely not want in a boxing match, should you be trying to win: A broken hand, another injured hand, having to go 12 rounds for only the second time in your career, and having the world’s most insatiable glutton for percussive blows to the head across from you.

On Saturday night, David Benavidez met Ronald Gavril in a rematch of their September 2017 fight. The contest ended in something of a controversial split decision win for Benavidez, in what was one of the most impressive displays of judging inadequacy in years. All three judges managed to score the fight far too wide, in what was probably a 115-112 score for Benavidez. He was criticised in the aftermath of the fight, and I asked if we were going to see some growth in the sport’s youngest champion. It seems I have my answer.

The first fight started with Benavidez doing some great work, before becoming tired and reckless in the face of an opponent which he could stop with his fearsome power. This time, Benavidez showed that he had done much better work with regard to his conditioning, hardly fading at all in the championship rounds. This is despite a broken-looking hand that he barely used, and another hand that he said was hurting him late in the fight.

Last go around, Benavidez struggled mightily with Gavril’s relentlessness, to the point that he was dropped in the final round. The combination of Gavril’s willingness to keep coming, and Benavidez’ lack of stamina in the famed deep waters made what should have been a fairly standard night at the office for such a talented fighter much more difficult. This time, his stamina was not an issue, and Benavidez cleaned up some of the issues that plagued him in the first iteration of this matchup.

I noted that Benavidez has a few bad habits for a boxer at the championship level after his last fight with Gavril. Namely, he threw too many lazy lead right hands, didn’t keep his right hand up to defend potential counters, and spent entirely too much time squaring himself up with the Romanian. For the most part, Benavidez has cleaned this up. He threw that lead right on only a handful of occasions, using it as more of a feint than a real attempt at offense. When he jabbed or threw those beautiful check left hooks, his right hand remained stapled to the side of his face. Most importantly, his footwork was much improved.

He switched southpaw once, perhaps feeling confident that the fight was well in hand. When he was caught with a straight right – kryptonite to a southpaw, especially an orthodox boxer pretending to be one – he immediately flipped back to a conventional stance. Last time, Benavidez would try this and end up squared up with Gavril, who is smart enough to know what to do in that situation. This time, Benavidez kept his feet in good position while letting his combinations fly. He also kept Gavril on the outside so he was always trying to find a way around Benavidez’s long and thudding jab. Gavril is the kind of guy that wants to get inside, right in your chest, and just bang away. Benavidez, given his length, should try to stay outside, and he accomplished that in this fight. He would jab, step in to throw shots, then slide back out of range again.

At times, the inexperienced eye would see Benavidez backed onto the ropes and think that Gavril had accomplished this all on his own. The truth of this is that Benavidez showed a calmness that so many of the greats in this sport had. He would feel the ropes on his back, and slip or pick off nearly every shot thrown at him, before using his feet to slide around Gavril. There was no point when Gavril looked to be in control, even when he had Benavidez where he wanted him, which is the exact opposite of how I felt after the first fight. Benavidez is fast and powerful, but the first fight with Gavril saw him waste a lot of his offense just moving his hands. This time, every punch had purpose and intent, and they were all thrown from the appropriate distance.

With Chris Eubank Jr having been upset in his semi-final match in the World Boxing Super Series, the table is set for boxing’s youngest titleholder to have some major fights at 168. I still think he’s going to grow into making 175 more easily, but right now the possible matchups for him are great. Unification with Caleb Truax could be on the horizon, or maybe even what would surely be a well-attended fight with Eubank Jr.

That Benavidez could learn so quickly from his mistakes to the point he could come out and win a near unanimous shutout over a quality opponent speaks to his talent, as well as his aptitude for the sport. He even managed to hurt Gavril, sending him sprawling into the ropes with a beautiful flurry of punches. At just 21 years old, and with an extremely limited amateur background, we can expect to see even more improvement from El Bandera Roja before he reaches his peak.

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.