Although he's regarded as one of boxing's most exciting young fighters and among the best 168-pounders in the world, David Benavidez finds himself -- once again -- on the outside looking in of the division's title picture.
Despite having already twice captured the WBC super middleweight title, including once at just 20 in 2017, Benavidez (23-0, 20 KOs) has also been stripped of the belt just as many times, including last August when he missed weight one day before a stoppage victory over Roamer Alexis Angulo.
But with business picking up in a huge way over the past year at 168 pounds as pound-for-pound king Canelo Alvarez attempts to unify all four titles, Benavidez is hoping to crash the party a third time entering Saturday's return headlining a Premier Boxing Champions card on Showtime (9 p.m. ET). Benavidez will take on Ronald Ellis (18-1-2, 12 KOs) inside Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut.
At 24, Benavidez believes his wayward days are behind him, including the first time he was stripped of his title in 2018 following a positive test for cocaine. The father of a six-month old son, Benavidez also moved his three-month training camp back to the isolated setting of Big Bear Lake, California, for the first time since the build to his spectacular knockout of Rogelio "Porky" Medina four years ago.
"To be honest, the thought process right now is food," Benavidez told "Morning Kombat" on Monday with a smile. "It's the only thing on my mind."
Joking aside, Benavidez said he's on pace to put any lingering weight issues from 2020 behind him and still blames missing weight ahead of the Angulo fight on his lack of preparation for the fight week restrictions brought by COVID-19 protocols, which included limited use of the hotel sauna or access to road work to help shed the final pounds.
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Although the fight with Ellis, a 31-year-old grinder from Lynn, Massachusetts, who has benefitted from a late career surge, will serve a title eliminator that could see Benavidez get closer to fighting for another belt, his focus is centered upon living up to his all-action reputation.
"The thought process right now is getting back to where I was and ultimately giving the fans a great fight because this is what I'm here for," Benavidez said. "I know a lot of fans will be barbecuing because they can't show up to the fight so it's my job to give them a great fight. With the belt or without the belt, I think people just love my style and they are eager to see me in the ring with the best of the best."
Whether or not Benavidez can attract top opponents this calendar year remains a difficult question.
Alvarez unified the WBA and WBC titles in December by beating Callum Smith before keeping busy in a February win over mandatory opponent Avni Yildirim. The Mexican superstar has also announced bold plans to become the division's first undisputed champion by facing WBO titleholder Billy Joe Saunders in May before a possible September return against IBF champion Caleb Plant.
"Canelo, I never discredit him or anything. He's a great fighter and has always been one of the great fighters today," Benavidez said. "But as of late, I feel like he hasn't been really saying anything about me. Even when I had the title, everybody was receiving offers but me and I feel like that speaks volumes on its own.
"For me to be realistic, that fights need to happen. What happens after he beats Billy Joe Saunders and he beats Caleb Plant? Who else is there for him to fight? I feel like people are tired of seeing him fight older dudes and they want to see him fight a young lion. I fit the description. People want to see him in a fight with somebody like me. All I have to do now is keeping winning and that fight has to happen."
Despite his hopes, the native of Phoenix is also realistic. He knows Alvarez could leave the division altogether should he accomplish his goal of unifying titles, meaning Benavidez might have already lost his shot at the Canelo sweepstakes when he was stripped of his title last year.
The good news, from Benavidez's perspective, is that the division remains a deep one and he even mentioned rumors that unbeaten WBC middleweight champion Jermall Charlo could move up in weight sooner than later.
And then there is Plant. The beef between the two began three years ago when Benavidez's older brother Jose, a former welterweight title challenger, exchanged heated words with Plant inside a training gym. What followed was a brief skirmish between camps that was caught on tape.
"I don't like him and I've never liked him. I don't want to get too disrespectful in here but I just want to beat his ass. Title or no title," Benavidez said. "Even when Canelo takes [Plant's] title away, we still have to get that fight in. There is a lot of bad blood there and I'm not going to leave that fight on the table. I definitely have to get that fight.
"I just want to shut his mouth and that's what I'm going to do, I'm going to break his mouth."
In the meantime, Benavidez has worked on perfecting his game by committing much more to his jab and becoming more responsible on defense.
"I feel like as a great fighter to evolve, you have to add great stuff to your game always," Benavidez said. "That's why I'm such a dangerous fighter and that's why I have so much confidence in myself. I've broken down dangerous fighters who had never been stopped. I have made people quit and I'm only 24, I'm not even close to my prime yet.
"I'm expecting to see the best Ronald Ellis anyone has ever seen. He's kind of older and he's fighting a young, hungry fighter and a two-time world champion. If he didn't train the best he ever did in his life, it's disrespectful to me and he's going to pay for it."
This tripleheader on Showtime also features a fun bout at super welterweight to kick things off when Terrell Gausha returns to the ring to take on Jamontay Clark. Gausha, 33, has had a rough go of late after starting his career with a blistering 20-0 record. After dropping a decision to Erislandy Lara for the WBA and IBO at 154 pounds in 2017, Gausha is 1-1-1 in his last three and coming off a loss to Erickson Lubin last September. He gets a tough opponent in Clark, who boasts a 15-1-1 record and seven knockouts. He scored a decision win over Anthony Lenk in his only bout of 2020.
In the co-main event, Isaac Cruz Gonzalez is back in action when he faces Jose Matias Romero in a lightweight contest. Cruz, 22, has been on an absolute tear to start his pro career. He's won four straight since beginning to fight in the United States regularly with a thudding knockout of Diego Magdaleno in his most recent contest. He gets an undefeated challenger in Romero, although the Argentine has never fought stateside and his opponent level is low.
Fight card, odds
Odds via William Hill Sportsbook
- David Benavidez -2000 vs. Ronald Ellis +1000, WBC super middleweight title eliminator
- Isaac Cruz -1100 vs. Mattias Romero +700, lightweights
- Jamontay Clark -150 vs. Terrell Gausha +125, super welterweights
Ellis is the type of blue-collar opponent who could make a fun fight with Benavidez given their styles. That doesn't mean it's very likely that he wins such a fight.
Benavidez is a monster betting favorite for reasons that make a lot of sense. Already big for the division and able to walk his opponents down, Benavidez holds clear advantages in both speed and power against the overachieving Ellis and should prove able to overwhelm him with volume and aggression.
Drawing Benavidez into a brawl may be Ellis' best shot at forcing the upset given that the former champion is also the better boxer. But it also could set him up for being finished, just the same.
Pick: Benavidez via TKO8