Before David Benavidez and David Lemieux fought one another on Saturday night in Glendale, AZ, they were fans of one another. It’s an unusual circumstance in boxing, where fighters are often hesitant to admit to fondness for other combatants they might one day face off with, and often feel—or have learned to suggest publicly—that no one other than themselves, and perhaps a handful of retired fighters, is worthy of their admiration. (photo by Ryan Hafey)
Benavidez is young enough, but also heavy enough, that he was able to develop an affinity for Lemieux as a fighter without worrying that they would ever one day meet. By the time Benavidez turned pro, Lemieux was fighting a division south of him and was six years into an electric career chalk full of highlight reel knockouts. When Benavidez won a world title for the first time in 2017, Lemieux’s high-wire act had already been shown by ESPN, Showtime and HBO multiple times over. In turn, for Lemieux, Benavidez was a young prospect burning up a division he was desperately trying to keep his body from growing into.
So when the bout between the two was announced and they formally spoke to the press about it for the first time, there wasn’t even any animosity to fabricate, just excitement about facing a fighter they personally liked to watch, and the kind of entertainment they could produce together.
“I’m very excited to go into this fight against Lemieux, because he’s a guy I’ve watched for a long time and I like his style. We both have similar styles because we go for the knockout. That gets me very excited and motivates me a lot,” said Benavidez. “I see flaws in David’s game and I’m sure he sees flaws in me. I know he wants to stop me, and I want to stop him. We’re two bulls going in there to see who has the most heart."
Lemieux, independent of Benavidez, offered a near-identical answer. “We’ve been watching him for a while. He’s always very exciting. His style of fighting – he comes to fight – there’s no messing around with him. That’s my style too. Two bulls going in there and may the best man win this title,” he said.
Perhaps the idyllic way the bout was imagined was one between two evenly-matched bulls, but in practice, one bull was much larger and faster, while the other was smaller and also deteriorated after locking horns more frequently with many fearsome foes in the past.
With a bout against Canelo Alvarez off the table, Lemieux stepped forward as the No. 2 contender at 168. After battling to make 160 for several years, even hospitalizing himself attempting to make weight for an ill-fated bout against Tureano Johnson, Lemieux had opted since 2019 to campaign at super middleweight. Whether it was the ideal weight for his frame or not, it was the weight his body would now allow him to carry at 33 years of age.
Benavidez is in the diametrically opposite situation, with a massive frame that once housed 250 pounds as a young teenager, he is actively fighting to keep excess weight off of his body, which will surely one day comfortably and powerfully settle at 175. Until then, he is both at the optimal fighting weight his body can maintain and the peak of his athleticism.
A prime Lemieux and a prime Benavidez are two of the most explicitly aggressive and entertaining fighters to fight on American premium cable over the last ten years or so. Unfortunately, Lemieux’s prime was at 160 pounds for a reason—it’s where his height wasn’t a burden and his power unsustainable for all but those with chins made of the highest caliber of granite.
But what made the fighters fans of another, and made fans of the fighters excited for the bout even understanding their current physical realities, was that neither of them were going to let their statures or conditions dictate how they were going to fight. Lemieux was going to swing away like he was a heavyweight, and Benavidez was going to rattle off combinations like he was a flyweight, and something was going to give.
What gave, predictably, was Lemieux’s punch resistance against a monstrous opponent, but not for a lack of effort. The Canadian slugger was hurt early and often in the seven and a half minutes the bout lasted, but never stopped trying to come forward, and never halted throwing bombs regardless of how impaired he was or which direction he was moving at the time.
Benavidez hurt Lemieux badly enough at the end of the first round that the bout was nearly stopped both by the referee and Lemieux’s trainer Marc Ramsay, who remarked afterwards that Lemieux had “no legs” afterwards. Where the ropes held Lemieux up in that instance, they could not in the second round, when he was sent through the ropes by a Benavidez uppercut. Once again, he managed to recover, but Ramsay was on high alert on behalf of his charge from then on, ultimately asking referee Harvey Dock to stop the bout in the midst of another Benavidez onslaught in the third round.
“He’s a special type of breed,” said Benavidez. "He was extremely hurt, but he was extremely dangerous. He was coming back with some big hooks. When he came back out in the second round he threw a big hook and I caught it, and I was like oh man, this guy has some power, I've got to be careful. But that made me better, I had to pick my shots a bit. It was a good experience."
Lemieux offered only that Benavidez was a “hell of a fighter,” and rejected any suggestion of imminent retirement, an unsurprising decision from a man who crawled through the ropes on wobbly legs to throw haymakers at his towering opponent minutes earlier.
The fight itself didn’t turn out to be competitive as fans might have liked, but it showed why the two fighters involved were fans of one another. Both Lemieux and Benavidez have the kind of temperament that every fighter believes they can tap into, but understandably seldom do. The willingness to truly go down swinging. On its surface, Lemieux’s bravery could be seen as naïve, but in fact it’s rooted in a self-awareness that makes it more commendable. It’s true that Lemieux’s Plan A is to swing for the fences anyway, but hurling left hooks at full speed when you’re hurt and in the utmost danger is an acknowledgement of your circumstances, that the only potential path to victory is via knockout but that it’s probably also the quickest route to getting knocked out.
Benavidez is already more accomplished than Lemieux in terms of title wins, but Lemieux’s career still offers a lesson that Benavidez seems to already understand—it’s the reason he counted himself a supporter of his opponent in the first place. Lemieux has been a staple on television throughout his career precisely because of his approach, and even after losses that ranged from seemingly disastrous to understandable shortcomings at the highest level, has always maintained his fanbase.
Benavidez is cut from the same type of cloth—a little thicker, a little fancier, but with a pattern just as bold.
“I have to box a certain type of way to get the support of the people. I think if I boxed a different type of way, I don't think I'd have as much support as I have,” said Benavidez after the bout. “But because I'm in there, I'm hungry, I want to go in there and get the knockouts every single fight and I'm in there trying to hurt the person I'm fighting every single round, I think that attracts the people and that's why I think people gravitate towards me so much.”
Corey Erdman is a boxing writer and commentator based in Toronto, ON, Canada. Follow him on Twitter @corey_erdman