By Keith Idec
David Benavidez thought he would get his first title shot sometime within the first half of 2018.
Unforeseen circumstances have not only expedited that championship process, but also have placed Benavidez in position to make quite a bit of history Friday night in Las Vegas. If the knockout artist from Phoenix can overcome Romania’s Ronald Gavril in their “ShoBox” main event, the emerging super middleweight will win the vacant WBC super middleweight title and become boxing’s youngest active world champion.
Japan’s Kosei Tanaka (9-0, 5 KOs) currently is the sport’s youngest world champion. He won the WBO light flyweight title December 31 and turned 22 on June 15.
A victory by the 20-year-old Benavidez (18-0, 17 KOs), who won’t turn 21 until December 17, also would make him the youngest boxer to win a non-interim super middleweight world title since the division’s inception in 1984. He would be two years younger than Darrin “Schoolboy” Van Horn, who was 22 and a student at the University of Kentucky when he knocked out Lindell Holmes to win the IBF super middleweight championship in May 1991 in Verbania, Italy.
“It’d be a great honor just to be amongst the champions and to be in the history books as one of the WBC champions,” Benavidez told BoxingScene.com on Thursday. “It would really mean a lot to me. It would be very special and a great accomplishment in my career, and I look forward to accomplishing that [Friday night].”
Wilfred Benitez remains the youngest boxer ever to win a world title. Puerto Rico’s Benitez was just 17 when he defeated Antonio Cervantes by split decision to capture the WBA super lightweight title in March 1976 in San Juan.
But Benavidez can join a distinguished group of unusually young world champions that includes heavyweights Mike Tyson (20), Floyd Patterson (21) and Muhammad Ali (22), super featherweights Oscar De La Hoya (21) and Floyd Mayweather Jr. (21), welterweight Felix Trinidad (20) and junior middleweight Fernando Vargas (21).
“I’m really excited,” Benavidez said. “This is everything I’ve been training for since I was a little kid. It’s the biggest moment of my life. I just can’t wait to get in there and give the fans a great fight, ultimately, and then win that title.”
Benavidez, ranked fourth by the WBC, was supposed to box former WBC champion Anthony Dirrell for the title Badou Jack gave up, but the second-ranked Dirrell withdrew from the fight last month due to an undisclosed injury. The WBC had ordered a Dirrell-Benavidez bout because England’s Callum Smith (22-0, 17 KOs), the WBC’s No. 1 contender at 168 pounds, opted to participate in the “World Boxing Super Series” super middleweight tournament rather than battle Dirrell (30-1-1, 24 KOs) for the vacant title.
The sixth-ranked Gavril, who’s promoted by Floyd Mayweather Jr.’s company, replaced Dirrell soon after Dirrell withdrew. Showtime will televise the scheduled 12-round bout between Benavidez and Gavril (18-1, 14 KOs) from The Joint at Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas (10:05 p.m. ET/PT).
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.