By Keith Idec
OMAHA, Nebraska – Jose Benavidez barely was supposed to walk by now, let alone walk to the ring for the biggest fight of his career.
Doctors told Benavidez it would take about two years for him to learn to walk again after he suffered a career-threatening gunshot wound to his right leg in August 2016. Benavidez was walking his dog and what he called an exotic, expensive cat around midnight two years ago in Phoenix, where his assailant shot him from close range and left him to bleed out.
The first shot penetrated Benavidez’s right knee, right through his femoral artery. He also sustained a minor gunshot wound to his right pinkie.
“It was pretty rough,” Benavidez said following a press conference Thursday at CHI Health Center. “At first, the doctor said I wasn’t gonna walk for two years. And then, just seeing how everything was playing out, it wasn’t a good feeling. But I stayed strong, I had good people around me to motivate me. I went through that little downfall, and I came back stronger. So here we are – mentally stronger, physically stronger and smarter, more than anything.”
Benavidez is here in Terence Crawford’s hometown, where he’ll attempt Saturday night to produce what would be boxing’s biggest upset of 2018. Crawford, an undefeated three-division champion, is regularly listed as at least a 25-1 favorite entering a 12-round, 147-pound championship match ESPN will air from CHI Health Center (10:30 p.m. ET/7:30 p.m. PT).
The calm challenger isn’t the least bit intimidated by the heavily favored Crawford, not after his once-promising boxing career nearly ended prematurely in that unsolved shooting.
“If a bullet can’t stop me, he can’t stop me,” Benavidez said. “If I came back from a bullet shot – you know, I almost died. I was almost gonna die. They told me that.”
Intense physical therapy has enabled Benavidez to become a world-class boxer again. The 26-year-old contender admits, however, that his right leg will never feel quite right – not Saturday night versus Crawford or even a few years from now.
“I don’t feel like my leg is every gonna be a hundred percent,” Benavidez said. “It’s always gonna hurt, but I don’t think about my leg. When I go in there, I think about what I have to do and focus on the fight. My leg hurts after, but during the fight, I mean, it’s the heat of the moment, the adrenaline’s rushing.”
Benavidez (27-0, 18 KOs) is much more concerned about hurting Crawford (33-0, 24 KOs) in the biggest fight of a pro career that began in January 2010. The former WBA interim super lightweight champion claims Crawford is overrated, an opportunist that capitalized on his chances to beat mostly smaller fighters.
“I just don’t like him, period,” Benavidez said. “He talks a lot of sh*t. He’s talking about Hispanic people, Mexican people, and I don’t play that. I don’t like that. I don’t go racist. He’s over here throwing racial slurs.
“I just don’t like the fact that first he talks the big talk, and then he tries to act like he’s an innocent, nice guy, when that’s not the case. I’m here, I’m humble, I love all my fans, all my people, whether it’s Mexicans, whites, Hispanics, anything. I love them all. To me, everyone’s the same. No one’s better than anyone else. But I just don’t like him. I don’t like him. And I’m gonna beat the f*** out of him Saturday.”
Getting shot before he got this title shot helped the 26-year-old Benavidez prioritize what’s important to him.
“Me getting shot, it made me realize that time doesn’t stop for anyone,” Benavidez said. “It doesn’t stop for anyone and the doctors said I wasn’t gonna box again. But just because the doctors said I’m not gonna do something doesn’t mean that’s gonna happen. If I wanna do it, I’m gonna do it, so I take all that as motivation.
“That break gave me time to mature more and realize what I really want in life. So I’m here. We’re back at it, we’re training and we’re working hard. We came back with two wins by knockout, so we’re ready to take whatever anyone brings to us.”
He ended an 18-month layoff from that gunshot wound by stopping American journeyman Matthew Strode (25-7, 9 KOs) in the eighth round February 3 in Corpus Christi, Texas. In his subsequent bout, Benavidez knocked out essentially untested Venezuelan Frank Rojas (23-1, 22 KOs) in the first round of a scheduled 10-rounder on the Crawford-Jeff Horn undercard four months ago at MGM Grand Garden Arena.
Jose Benavidez Sr. is proud of the perseverance his son showed while battling back from that career-threatening injury.
“It was really hard for him to come back from the gunshot,” Jose Benavidez Sr. said. “You guys have no idea what we went through just to come back. I see that toughness. I see that heart. Boxing, it’s easy. All we had to go through to be here, it doesn’t even compare.”
If the taller Benavidez can conquer Crawford, both of Jose Sr.’s sons will be world champions at the same time. David Benavidez (20-0, 17 KOs) is the WBC’s super middleweight champion in recess because the 21-year-old is serving the WBC’s six-month suspension for testing positive in cocaine late in August.
David Benavidez’s suspension didn’t prevent him from helping his older brother prepare for his showdown with Crawford. They estimated that David Benavidez weighed 190 pounds when they sparred, about 35 more than Jose Benavidez Jr.
“If I’m working with my brother and my brother’s the best in the world at 68, you think I’m scared of Crawford?,” Jose Benavidez Jr. asked. “You think Crawford’s gonna do anything to me? It’s like he’s gonna have pillows on his hands.”
When Benavidez put his head on his own pillow the night before he and Crawford will weigh in Friday afternoon, he felt everything he has enduring during the past two years was well worthwhile.
“I feel like it made me a better person,” Jose Benavidez Jr. said. “And hey, it made my story a lot better, too.”
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.