By Lem Satterfield
David Benavidez vividly recalls the last time he fought in Texas, and it’s a scintillating experience the 21-year-old wants to replicate.
“El Bandera Roja” (The Red Flag) scored a three-knockdown, eighth-round TKO of former title challenger Rogelio Medina in May 2017, representing the 168-pounder’s 10th straight stoppage and his 17th in 18 victories, including 13 inside of two rounds.
Benavidez floored and finished Medina with a brutal, pin-point, head-swiveling, seven-punch combination that sent “Porky” backward and down for the last time on his rear-end as the referee ended matters at the Laredo Energy Arena in Laredo, Texas.
Benavidez (20-0, 17 KOs) returns to Texas on March 16, this time, as the co-main event as left-handed welterweight champion Errol Spence (24-0, 21 KOs) pursues his third defense and 12th straight knockout against four-division title winner Mikey Garcia (39-0, 30 KOs) on FOX Pay Per View (9 p.m. ET/ 6 p. m. PT) at The Dallas Cowboys’ AT &T Stadium in Arlington, near Spence’s hometown of DeSoto.
Once the youngest world champion in division history, Benavidez will end a six-month suspension for a positive drug test of benzoylecgonine (a main ingredient for cocaine). Benavidez was stripped of his WBC crown and declared “Champion in recess” in October.
The WBC’s decision was made at the WBC convention where former champion Anthony Dirrell (32-1-1, 24 KOs) was ordered into a vacant title fight against Avni Yildirim (21-1, 12 KOs).
Dirrell will face Yildirum, of Turkey, on February 23 at The Minneapolis Armory in Minneapolis, Minnesota on Fox (10 p.m. ET/ 7 p.m. PT), and Benavidez can challenge the Dirrell-Yildirum winner after his suspension ends on February 27.
“It’s a blessing that I’m fighting on one of the biggest cards of the year as the co-main event. What better could I ask for?” said Benavidez , speaking to BoxingScene.com on Friday night from his training facility in Seattle, Washington.
“It’s a great way to come back, and I have to put on a show for all of the people in Texas. I wanna do a high-light real knockout again like I did against Porky Medina. I can just imagine doing that in front of thousands of fans. That would really put me back on the map.”
A switch-hitting 6-foot-2 native of Phoenix, Arizona, Benavidez is trained by his father, Jose Benavidez Sr.
“I’ve dedicated my whole life and then just to have everything taken from me because I made a mistake. I feel badly for my Dad, who has been there with me through everything, investing all of his time and everything we’ve worked for. But nobody took the title from me, I basically took it from myself,” said Benavidez.
“I gave the title up. I’ve been having a hard time and I’ve been really upset with myself. But I’ve used that energy in the gym, because this has opened my eyes that everything can be taken away in a blink. It’s made me work a lot harder and made me appreciate things a lot more. I appreciate all of the work that my Dad has done.”
Benavidez had been mandated for a September 2017 defense Dirrell, but the ex-champion pulled out due to a back injury. So a 20-year-old Benavidez earned a split-decision over replacement Ronald Gavril, overcoming an injured middle left knuckle and a final round knockdown to become the youngest world champion in division history and the sport’s youngest titleholder at the time.
Benavidez ended Gavril’s seven-fight winning streak (five by KO), but he surpassed 22-year-old Darrin Van Horn’s accomplishment in May 1991, and won his February return bout with Gavril by near shutout unanimous decision.
Benavidez sparred with former world champions Kelly Pavlik and Peter Quillin before he could even get a driver’s license, and also spent time in the ring with former 160-pound champion Gennady Golovkin while still a teen.
Benavidez debuted professionally at age 16 in Mexico in August 2013, going 7-0 with all knockouts south of the border before competing in his hometown three days after turning 18.
“It doesn’t matter who they put against me. I’m hungrier than ever. I’m more motivated than ever and I’ve been working like a madman in the gym and everything. I feel like I owe it to the fans," said Benavidez.
"I owe it to the people who have been with me since the beginning -- [promoter] Sampson Lewkowicz, [advisor] Al Haymon, [manager] Luis DeCubas, my father, my lawyer. I feel like I owe it to them to get myself in order, and that’s exactly what I’m going to do.”