NEW YORK – Danny Garcia handled his new weight class and Jose Benavidez Jr. just fine Saturday night.
A patient Garcia defended himself well, occasionally countered Benavidez with right hands and decisively beat Benavidez on two of the scorecards in their 12-round, 154-pound main event at Barclays Center in Brooklyn. Judges Glenn Feldman (116-112) and Anthony Paolillo (117-111) scored eight and nine rounds respectively for the shorter, shiftier Garcia, who won a majority decision because judge Waleska Roldan scored Garcia’s junior middleweight debut a draw (114-114).
Garcia (37-3, 21 KOs) hadn’t fought in almost 20 months before he beat Benavidez. The former junior welterweight and welterweight champ lost a unanimous decision to unbeaten IBF/WBA/WBC welterweight champ Errol Spence Jr. in his previous fight, which took place in December 2020 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
“I did take a break,” Garcia told Showtime’s Jim Gray in the ring. “You know, I was going through some mental things. I felt a little dark. You know, I went through a little …”
The 34-year-old Garcia’s voice broke up, and he unexpectedly broke down and cried at that point in the interview.
“I went through some anxiety and depression,” Garcia said. “I just tried my best to stay strong. That’s it. … It weighed on me for a year-and-a-half. And I know the only way to get better is to fight and to win. I’m a fighter. This is what I do and I love to do. And I know this is how, if you battle anxiety and depression, you better get over it. This is what I did tonight – I came and I fought my heart out.”
Phoenix’s Benavidez (27-2-1, 18 KOs) lost for just the second time in 12 years as a pro. His only defeat before Saturday night was a 12th-round technical knockout to unbeaten WBO welterweight champ Terence Crawford in October 2018 at CHI Health Center in Omaha, Nebraska.
While he didn’t come close to winning on the cards, Benavidez boxed better against Garcia than in his 10-round majority draw with Argentinean underdog Francisco Torres in his previous bout eight months earlier.
“I’m happy with my performance,” Benavidez said. “I felt like I did a good job. Pretty much fighting in his backyard, you know? I’m fighting, you know, one of the best of the best. I took his punches like nothing. As you can see, they weren’t hurting me. I honestly felt like I thought I won. But it is what it is – I’m not gonna let this bring me down. You know, a loss just makes you stronger and I’m just happy to be here, and I’m happy to be able to fight at the Barclays Center, you know?”
CompuBox counted 116 more punches for Garcia, who unofficially landed 233-of-746 to 117-of-600 for Benavidez.
The 30-year-old Benavidez obviously needed a knockout entering the 12th round, but Garcia continued using his legs and made Benavidez chase him around the ring. Garcia stuck out his tongue at Benavidez in the middle minute of the final round, but later landed two hard right hands as Benavidez pressed forward.
Garcia talked trash and pounded his chest, but appeared content to move around and make it to the final bell.
Garcia’s defense was terrific during the 11th round, but Benavidez pounded his gloves together with about 1:15 to go in it because he wanted Garcia to stand his ground.
Garcia’s right hand made its way around Benavidez’s guard just after the halfway point of the 10th round. Another right hand by Garcia backed up Benavidez with just over 10 seconds remaining in the 10th round.
Benavidez landed a right to Garcia’s head and a right to Garcia’s body 50 seconds into the ninth round. He caught Garcia with another right hand as Garcia moved backward about a minute later.
Benavidez clipped Garcia with a counter left hook barely 45 seconds into the eighth round.
Garcia landed a right hand 10 seconds into the seventh round, but Benavidez indicated it wasn’t a hard shot. Garcia caught Benavidez with another right hand at exactly the midway mark of the seventh round.
A counter left by Benavidez knocked Garcia off balance with just under 50 seconds remaining in the seventh round. Another right by Garcia caught Benavidez just before the bell sounded to end the seventh round.
Benavidez landed a right hand as Garcia moved backward with just under 2:15 to go in the sixth round. Willis warned Garcia for a low left hand that landed with just over 50 seconds to go in the sixth round.
Garcia showboated early in the fifth round in response to Benavidez’s theatrics. Backed against the ropes, Garcia sprung forward with a right hand that landed with about 45 seconds remaining in the fifth round.
By then, Garcia’s elusiveness frustrated Benavidez.
Garcia’s right drilled Benavidez with just over 1:20 on the clock in the fourth round. Benavidez landed two counter rights as Garcia ducked down with just over 50 seconds to go in the fourth round.
Benavidez nailed Garcia with a right hand that backed Garcia into a neutral corner and drew a smile from him barely a minute into the third round. Garcia fired back in combination and landed a right hand that knocked Benavidez off balance about 1:10 into the third round.
Garcia snuck a right hand around Benavidez’s guard 1:05 into the second round. A right hand by Benavidez landed with just under a minute to go in the second round, though Garcia connected with a right of his own about 20 seconds later.
As promised, Benavidez utilized his jab during the first round much more than he had during his previous fight. They traded right hands with just over 35 seconds on the clock in the opening round.
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.