Everyone who has achieved anything has that formative moment in their lives in which it became clear that their wildest dreams weren’t as far-fetched as they might have seemed, the moment when they realized they had what it takes. 

For David Benavidez, those moments seemed to come when he was just 15 years old, working his way through the gyms in California. His father Jose and brother Jose Jr. had relocated to Los Angeles to pursue his sibling’s pro career, and during that time, Benavidez lost control of his eating and became as heavy as 250 pounds. He doggedly worked his way back down to the super middleweight limit, and in his teenage years, found himself sharing the gym and the ring with superstars like Gennady Golovkin, Roman Gonzalez and Kelly Pavlik. Benavidez has said many times that the weight loss journey made him the man he is today, showing him his capacity to overcome obstacles. But it was the sparring sessions, ones with Golovkin and Pavlik and particular, that stick with him to this day.

The footage of Benavidez’s session with Pavlik in particular is available on YouTube, uploaded by his family eleven years ago. If you watched the session divorced from any context, provided you didn’t see the moments before Benavidez’s baby face was covered up by his white Winning headgear, you would have never known that you were watching a 15-year old spar a world champion. As any good and ethical pro would, Pavlik took his foot off the gas for Benavidez’s sake, but not that much—he didn’t need to. Benavidez was already a hulking physical presence in the ring. His hand speed was already apparent, but more than that, his offensive creativity was evident as well. It would be another year before he would turn pro, but he carried himself like one in the session, even down to the t-shirt with his name on it with the Ed Hardy-esque script and tribal designs that marked the fashion of that era. 

The second comment, posted a decade ago, beneath the video, encapsulates what any viewer of that video would feel, but also how David himself clearly felt in its wake.

“This youngman has potential to become a world champion someday!!! 15 yrs old sparring with the former middle weight Champion of the world,” said @Lion21Zero. “And looks like he holds his own!!! WOW!!!”

Moments after his TKO victory over Demetrius Andrade on Saturday night in Las Vegas, Benavidez took the dais for the post-fight press conference. Other than slight abrasions on his forehead and cheeks, he looked fresh, already back in a button-down shirt and blazer. After some cursory opening statements and some raucous yelling of “Canelo!” from those in attendance, Banavidez fielded his first question from legendary broadcaster Jim Lampley. Lampley quizzed Banavidez on his approach in the fight, opting to target the body in the early moments before focusing on Andrade’s head. 

Within moments, Benavidez was harkening back to that day as a 15-year old.  

"I wanted to start off slow. I knew he was trying to set me up for some traps. You know, I'm not new to this. As much as you guys try to act like I'm young and dumb and I don't know what's coming, I've been watching boxing my whole life, I've been boxing since I was three years old, I've been a professional for ten years,” said Benavidez.

“I sparred Golovkin when I was 15 years old, Kelly Pavlik, 15 years old. I know how to switch it up, I know how to handle every style. Demetrius Andrade, he was fast, he was trying to set me up, but you know, the way you throw off their rhythm is a double jab right hand. I threw that the first two rounds, then I switched it up to the right hook and that's what opened up all the openings. I dropped him, and then he never recovered after that."

As much as Benavidez presents as a pure force of nature in the ring, an unusually proportioned pressure fighter whose bestowed gifts allow him to overwhelm opponents with sheer might, with each passing fight it’s becoming clear how much more there is to his game. Benavidez’s power was a factor, without question, but by his own admission, one-punch power has never been his strong suit. Following his win over Kyrone Davis in 2021, Benavidez told reporters “I have so much conditioning that I’m going to keep going until he eventually stops. That’s what eventually happens. They tend to give up. I know that I don’t have that one-punch knockout power but I’m going to be ready to get you every single round.”

With Benavidez, it’s not just size, power, pressure or hand speed, it’s all of it. But as he showed against Andrade, physically depleting a fantastic fighter inside six rounds, Benavidez isn’t just a slow-starting grinder of a pressure fighter. Beyond his physical gifts, he’s proving to have an exceptional Ring IQ, a game plan far more advanced than just “I’m going to break you down eventually.” To use a football analogy, the physical package that Benavidez presents makes observers believe he’s just running the I-Formation, when in fact he can draw from the Mike McDaniel playbook.

Like McDaniel with play calling, Benavidez was essentially a child genius in the ring, taking the equivalent of masters level exams from the world’s toughest professors at the sport’s most heralded institutions from Big Bear to Hollywood. Benavidez, who is still just 26 years old, already has a lifetime of experience to draw from, but most pertinently, those formative experiences that taught him then as they assure him now, that he was always meant to be here.