David Benavidez is a good, if not very good, boxer who has the one thing that haunts far too many boxers at the highest level these days: Abjectly mediocre opposition.
On paper, Benavidez’s fight with David Lemieux on Saturday in Glendale, Arizona, for the interim WBC super middleweight title (Why? Why? Why?) should have been a hotly anticipated one. Benavidez was ranked one and Lemieux two in the division.
But the one thing the sanctioning bodies — and this goes for the WBO, WBA and IBF in addition to the WBC in this case — are good at is manipulating their rankings. Is there anyone on God’s green Earth outside of Lemieux’s family and close friends who believed Lemieux had done anything to be deserving of such a preposterously high ranking?
In case you don’t remember, after losing to Billy Joe Saunders in a middleweight title fight on Dec. 16, 2017, Lemieux won five in a row. The reason you probably didn’t remember is that those wins were over Karim Achour, Spike O’Sullivan, Max Bursak, Francy Ntetu and David Zegarra.
Lemieux had as much business fighting for a world title — even a bogus interim one — than I would entering the NBA Slam Dunk contest.
This, though, isn’t about Lemieux so much as it is about Benavidez and why he’s fighting second-rate opposition so frequently.
Showtime’s Jim Gray is rightly going into the International Boxing Hall of Fame next month for his often brilliant work in the ring interviewing fighters. It wasn’t his finest hour, though, when he interviewed Benavidez after Benavidez stopped Lemieux in the third round of a fight that should never have been booked.
Gray’s question made it sound like Canelo Alvarez, who holds the WBC super middleweight belt, was somehow avoiding Benavidez.
“Well, they almost can’t avoid you now,” Gray said to Benavidez of the elites at 168. “Either there’s going to be a vacation, a vacating of that title by Canelo, or at some point, he’s going to have to fight you.”
Let’s remind Gray, and everyone else, that in the last two years, Benavidez has fought Roamer Alexis Angulo, Ronald Ellis, Kyrone Davis and Lemieux while during that period Alvarez fought world champion Callum Smith, mandatory challenger Avni Yildirim, world champion Saunders, world champion Caleb Plant and world champion Dmitry Bivol.
One is not like the other.
That said, Benavidez has an enormous amount of talent and needs to test himself against someone who can be competitive with him.
The one gap in Canelo’s list of opposition recently is Yildirim, a lightly regarded opponent who did not deserve in the least to be the mandatory contender but who got the opportunity nonetheless. He surrendered meekly at the first sign of trouble against Canelo and now, not quite 15 months after their fight, is rated 40th in the WBC’s most recent super middleweight rankings.
The sanctioning bodies could improve the fan experience of this sport so much if they quit giving out titles as if they were breath mints and if they accurately ranked all fighters in a division, including the champions of other organizations.
There was little reason for Benavidez to fight Lemieux and it was always going to turn out the way it did. Give Lemieux credit: He was outclassed and outgunned, but he hung in there and was firing away for as long as he could until referee Harvey Dock stepped in.
He was just in way over his head in this bout, and the fact that it was for a title says more about the organization that sanctioned it than it does about Lemieux.
Alvarez announced Monday he'll face Gennadiy Golovkin next. Benavidez needs to fight one of the other elite super middleweights — Plant would be a fine choice — to prove that, once and for all, he belongs in that spot.
He brings a lot to the table and if he keeps his head on straight, he has the potential to get a lot better than he is right now. But at some point, he, like all fighters, should be forced to perform against an equally skilled opponent if he’s going to call himself the best.
This has been a great year for boxing, and it’s going to get better. But we can’t take our foot off of the accelerator because it only succeeds when the right fights are made consistently.
Put Benavidez in next with someone like Plant — or even Jermall Charlo if he moves up to 168 — and we’re greatly interested.
But beyond that, spare us. Nobody, especially Canelo Alvarez, is ducking David Benavidez.
He’s a good fighter with loads of potential, but it’s about time he proves it against the best.