By Jake Donovan

It’s been 13 months since David Benavidez last stepped foot in a boxing ring, but his next fight will be his first in nearly two years where he won’t enter or leave with a major title around his waist.

The unbeaten super middleweight was forced to serve a suspension as well as relinquish his World Boxing Council (WBC) title last summer after having tested positive for cocaine during a random drug test. It also meant a lost opportunity to defend against Anthony Dirrell, who claimed the vacant title with a technical decision win over Avni Yildiirim last month.

His first fight back will come as an unbeaten contender on the undercard of a March 16 Fox Pay-Per-View show topped by unbeaten welterweight title claimant Errol Spence defending versus four-division titlist Mikey Garcia live from AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. Rather than defending a title, Benavidez will instead take on J’Leon Love in a 10-round super middleweight bout with little more than bragging rights at stake.

That hasn’t stopped the 22-year old Phoenix-bred boxer, however, from mapping out a future that includes reclaiming his old belt along with collecting a few more.

“That’s definitely the plan,” Benavidez (20-0, 17KOs) admitted during a recent media conference call to discuss the bout. “Right now, my mind is 100% on J’Leon Love. He’s a dangerous opponent and I can’t afford to look past him. So first things first, we have to take care of business on March 16, but obviously I do have some fights in mind.”

Benavidez first claimed title status with a split decision win over Ronald Gavril in Sept. ’17. A rematch last February produced a far more convincing victory in his lone successful defense before being forced to relinquish due to the aforementioned failed drug test.

With a win on March 16, Benavidez will likely be positioned to challenge Dirrell for his old title. Upon his being stripped of the title, the unbeaten exiting champ was named WBC Champion in Recess—a distinction that usually carries the promise of obtaining a title shot at said boxer’s leisure.

There stands a great chance he will cash in such a ticket, but the absence of a physical “Green” belt around his waist doesn’t have him feeling any less regal.

“I definitely still consider myself the champion,” insisted Benavidez, firmly of the belief that such status can only be won and lost in the ring. “They have to come beat me to crown themselves as champion. But I definitely see myself as the WBC champion.”

Of course, there still stands the pesky matter of getting past Love (24-21, 13KOs), once a promising prospect who is rapidly running out of last chances. The 31-year old from Las Vegas by way of Detroit enters on the heels of a seven-month layoff following a lopsided loss to former middleweight titlist Peter Quillin last August.

Assuming the fight plays out according to current odds which have Benavidez as a heavy favorite, the rest of the year could theoretically be spent in house and fighting for titles.

Benavidez, Dirrell and recently crowned IBF titlist Caleb Plant all fight under the Premier Boxing Champions (PBC) umbrella. Without having to stray too far from the nest, the very best fights within the division are all attainable with a win in his next fight. The first order of business—assuming he prevails over Love—would be changing his status from uncrowned champ to two-time super middleweight titlist.

“First I want to get Anthony Dirrell and get back my title,” insists Benavidez. “Then I would like to fight Caleb Plant and unify in the future. It would be great to unify those belts.”

Jake Donovan is a senior writer for Twitter @JakeNDaBox