By Ryan Maquiñana
Year two of the Jose Benavidez Jr. Project is coming to a close, and so far, it’s going according to plan. The precocious 19-year-old junior welterweight from Phoenix has amassed a pristine 13-0 record, with all but one victory coming by stoppage.
Making his third appearance on a Manny Pacquiao undercard tomorrow night against Samuel Santana (4-4-2), the six-foot tall offensive machine hopes to end 2011 with his perfect ledger intact and a noticeable growth in his skills.
After starting his pro career at the Wild Card Boxing Club in Hollywood, and being dubbed “the best prospect in the world” by Freddie Roach, Benavidez returned to Phoenix for a time when the man who trained him, his father Jose Sr., felt that “Junior” wasn’t getting enough time with the celebrated cornerman to develop.
Now back at Wild Card, Jose Jr. and his father spoke to BoxingScene.com about a variety of topics like the Santana fight, what it’s like sparring some of the pound-for-pound best before being eligible to even drink, and if their relationship with Roach has changed during their second stint in Southern California.
BoxingScene: How does it feel to be back at Wild Card after a period back home in Phoenix? Do you notice anything different this time around?
Jose Benavidez Jr.: “We got a new apartment about five minutes away form the gym on Hollywood Boulevard. We really don’t do too much except train and go back and forth to the gym. It’s cool, because my younger brother David’s here with me now, too, and he’s actually a heavyweight. He’s mature for his age, but sometimes to show him who’s boss, I have to put him in a headlock sometimes.” (Laughs)
Jose Benavidez Sr.: “Yeah, David has actually been sparring guys like Michael Medina, and he’s been surprising all of us with how hard he’s working. As far as this time around in L.A., it’s really good. I don’t commit myself to anything or get involved as much like I used to. We’re there to get the best sparring around. We’re working with Amir Khan for this one and it’s been great.”
BoxingScene: Has your relationship with Freddie Roach changed since you came back?
Jose Benavidez Sr.: “No, I got a lot respect for Freddie. If he ever wanted to come back to work in the corner, he doesn’t have to ask. I still think he’s the best trainer, and any advice he wants to give Junior I’d have no problem with.”
Jose Benavidez Jr.: “I talk to Freddie every day. I see him every day at the gym. He hasn’t given me too much advice because he’s concentrating on training Manny and Amir. He works hard and then has to do all these interviews, so I really don’t bother him too much right now.”
BoxingScene: You’ve also added Steven Feder to be co-manager with you, Jose Sr. How has that addition worked out so far?
Jose Benavidez Sr.: “I’ve known Steve for about three years. I’ve seen him do a good job. I’m happy to work with him, and anything we need, he’s always there. Junior’s happy, and we make a good team. It’s looking like one of the best decisions I’ve ever made, and I hope it continues that way.”
BoxingScene: As his co-manager, there’s always the eventual question of when you are going to step up the competition. Over at Golden Boy, “Canelo” Alvarez is already world champion at age 20. Is there any added pressure at Top Rank to move him along toward that path sooner than later, given his skill level?
Jose Benavidez Sr.: “I trust Top Rank 100 percent to match him well. I think when the new year comes, me, Steve, and [Top Rank matchmaker] Bruce [Trampler] will sit down and talk about the next move. If we’re ready for eight-rounders, we’ll be ready.”
Jose Benavidez Jr.: “I trust my team to help me develop until I’m ready. I think maybe next year or in two years, I’ll fight for a world title, but for now, I’m happy with the way I’m getting better every day.”
BoxingScene: Jose Jr., you knocked out Dedrick Bell in one round in your last fight two months ago. Despite it being so brief, can you still take something from that?
Jose Benavidez Jr.: “Yes, you can learn a lot of things. He was cocking back his right hand and really trying to hit me with it. I had to use my jab to control the pace. You never stop learning. So with guys like that, you have to be aware of anything that they could throw at all times, so you can’t take anyone lightly.”
BoxingScene: Tell us about Samuel Santana. Apparently he was a late replacement for Gary Bergeron. Do you know anything about him?
Jose Benavidez Sr.: “Originally it was Gary Bergeron, but now it’s a new guy. I don’t even look at that stuff anymore because it always changes. We’re going to use the first round to feel out the other guy, and then we have our strategy. We have general things we worked on in the gym, and after that first round, we’re going to go work. Until we reach that next level, that’s how we’re going to approach things.”
Jose Benavidez Jr.: "Yeah, so many fighters have ended up pulling out that I don't start thinking about the opponent until the day I see him at the weigh-in. Last fight, there went through like three guys before they went back to the first guy, and it was him."
BoxingScene: If there’s any concern about Jose Jr.’s development, it’s been his tendency to lay on the ropes. What measures have you taken to avoid that for this camp?
Jose Benavidez Sr.: “I was worried about Junior staying on the ropes, but in this camp sparring Amir, he looked great. Bruce was happy, and when Bruce is happy, I’m happy.
We worked on a lot of things, like our jab to the body and head, our pivots, and basically not being there after he throws, so you’re not going to be seeing Junior on the ropes, and I’m really anticipating and excited to see that.”
Jose Benavidez Jr.: “Out of everything, yeah, we’ve just been trying to stay off the ropes. I really haven’t been going to the ropes in this camp. We’ve worked on a lot of little details. It’s a little more of working your jab and staying in the middle of the ring. You don’t want to go straight back and just use your lateral movement to keep your back off the ropes.
“We’ve also been working a lot on the jab and body shots. My jab’s a little faster, and my body shots have looked sharper. The jab is the key to everything.
BoxingScene: Outside the ring, Jose Jr., I know you love cars, and I hear you have a new one—a pretty expensive one at that. Does it worry your dad at all that you might get carried away with driving it too fast and putting yourself in danger?
Jose Benavidez Jr.: “I just got a maroon Maserati. It’s a four-door. Aside from adding 22 [inch] rims, I really haven’t added anything to it because I’ve been busy with boxing. I hardly even drive it, but I doubt I’ll be driving fast down the freeway to Vegas. I don’t want to mess it up.“ (Laughs)
Jose Benavidez Sr.: “Yeah, he's driving over here in it, but I think he'll be fine. Junior’s maturing a lot more. When we first came to L.A., he was 17, and I was worried about it because he was still young, but he started maturing at 17 and 18. Now he’s 19 this second time around in L.A., so hopefully we’ll see him growing up because I’m not just his trainer, I’m his father.”
BoxingScene: Jose Sr., what are some of the concerns you have for your son as he grows up, and the fights—and paychecks—get bigger?
Jose Benavidez Sr.: “Sometimes when you get to Wild Card you can start believing everything you hear that you’re the next greatest thing, and this and that. For me, I almost got caught up in it. I had a lot of opportunities as a trainer to work with fighters as a trainer. Freddie had me work with Amir Khan and Julio Cesar Chavez. I worked with Steve’s fighters like David Clark and [Lateef] “Power” [Kayode]. I went to Key West with Carl Drummond.
“Taking care of other fighters, I really wasn’t able to spend 100 percent on Junior. Now it’s not like that. I’m concentrating 100 percent on him to make sure he gets all my attention. But with him letting things go to his head? I’m not worried. Like I said, he’s matured a lot, and he’s always stayed humble and hungry. I don’t see that changing if we keep staying on him to work hard.”
BoxingScene: How does it feel to be on Manny Pacquiao’s undercard again? Does it give you an idea of how highly Top Rank thinks of you? Does it motivate you in any way, or even add any pressure to have anything short of a spectacular outing?
Jose Benavidez Jr.: “This is my third time on Pacquiao’s undercard. I’ve been sparring with Amir for about two weeks, so I’ve been getting good training. I’m working with my old strength and conditioning coach and a new guy on the mitts, so it’s been a good camp.
“Just being able to fight on the card motivates me at all. I just keep training thinking maybe one day I’ll be headliner of a fight card like that and be in their shoes as a world champion.”
BoxingScene: Training at Wild Card, you see Manny go to work every day, and you’ve been sparring Amir to get him ready for Lamont Peterson. Do you ever ask them for advice on how to deal with the media circus?
Jose Benavidez Jr.: “Manny’s got cameras on him all the time, and they’re both so busy, so I don’t really like to bother them with all that.”
BoxingScene: Tell us about sparring both of them. Compare their styles.
Jose Benavidez Jr.: “It’s different because Manny moves more. He moves to the side more than Amir. Amir comes straight forward and throws all kinds of punches in bunches. They both have different styles, and you have to be on your A-game, because if you just slip for a second, they’ll be all over you.”
BoxingScene: You also sparred Tim Bradley and Yori Boy Campas before you even turned 18 years old. Have any of these pros stuck out to you as the hardest puncher you’ve faced in sparring?
Jose Benavidez Jr.: “To be honest, I don’t have an answer for that. I sparred Yori when I was like 14 or 15. Timothy Bradley isn’t as much as a power puncher. He pressures you and throws a lot of punches instead. To me, the punches that really hurt are the ones you don’t see. A lot of guys throw haymakers, but they don’t hurt because they’re the ones you tend to see, but the ones you don’t can hurt you.”
BoxingScene: How has your body reacted to making junior welterweight, especially since you’re still 19 years old and growing?
Jose Benavidez Jr.: “I’ve been trying to get more muscular and stronger without doing weights. I added my old strength and conditioning coach, and we brought another coach to do the mitts with me. I still have a long way to go, but I feel strong enough and ready for Saturday.”
BoxingScene: Do you have any last message for the fans before your fight on Saturday?
Jose Benavidez Jr.: “I just want to thank everyone for their support since day one, and hopefully, I’ll be world champion in the future. I won’t stop until I get there.”
Ryan Maquiñana is the boxing correspondent at Comcast SportsNet Bay Area, a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America, and Ring Magazine’s Ratings Advisory Panel. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org, check out his blog at www.maqdown.com or follow him on Twitter: @RMaq28.