David Benavidez appears to be closing in on a coveted showdown with undisputed 168-pound champion Canelo Alvarez, perhaps as soon as May of next year.
The former two-time titleholder has to take care of some potentially tricky business first, however.
Benavidez (27-0, 23 KOs) is scheduled to face capable Demetrius Andrade (32-0, 19 KOs) in the main event of a deep pay-per-view card Saturday night at Michelob Ultra Arena in Las Vegas.
Here are five questions — and answers — going into the fight.
Is this the toughest test to date for both men?
Probably. This is the definitely the most difficult matchup in the career of Andrade, who is a former two-division titleholder but has never faced a top-tier opponent even though he’s 35 and a 15-year professional. That’s why he has been described as one of the most-avoided fighters. “Boo Boo’s” most accomplished opponent might’ve been U.S. Olympian Vanes Martirosyan way back in 2013, a fight in which Andrade won his first major title. Benavidez has a better resume, with victories over former beltholders Anthony Dirrell and Caleb Plant. However, Andrade, a former amateur world champion with a strong skill set, an awkward style and experience, could also be better than anyone Benavidez has faced.
Is Andrade as good as he has appeared to be?
Who knows? He has dominated almost all of his opponents, which has allowed him to remain unbeaten and earn major belts at both 154 and 160 pounds. However, once again, he has never been tested by a foe who could even think about climbing onto pound-for-pound lists. We won’t know for sure how good he is until we see how he does against Benavidez, who is an Honorable Mention on Boxing Junkie’s pound-for-pound list and on an upward trajectory. If Andrade wins on Saturday, particularly if he does it convincingly, he will have proved beyond doubt that he’s not an illusion. If he falls flat, particularly if he’s not competitive, people will say, “Well, this guy never had it.” In other words, this is Andrade’s first defining fight.
How big of a risk is this fight for Benavidez?
Big. One, Benavidez could be one victory away from realizing his goal of meeting Alvarez in the ring. He can’t afford to lose. And, two, Andrade is a dangerous opponent in more than one way. He could be the fighter he appears to have been, a quick, super slick boxer who is extremely difficult to hit cleanly. He takes fewer punches per round (5.4) than anyone in boxing, according to CompuBox. And he’s the type of fighter who will make you look bad if you’re able to beat him because of his unusual style, which Benavidez could have trouble figuring out. All this – combined with the fact Andrade doesn’t have a big following – is why he has been avoided. Kudos to Benavidez for taking the risk.
Does the winner get Canelo Alvarez?
Possibly. Benavidez is the WBC’s “interim” titleholder, meaning he’s the Mexican star’s mandatory challenger in that sanctioning body. And, clearly, Alvarez vs. Benavidez is the fight fans want to see most. That should be a factor if it isn’t. Of course, Andrade, No. 5 in the WBC, presumably would rise to the top and raise his profile enough to earn a super fight if he wins Saturday. Thus, the winner will be in a good position to get the big fight with Alvarez. The future Hall of Famer has other options, however. He could face 160-pound champ Jermall Charlo if Charlo beats Jose Benavidez Jr. on Saturday. And Alvarez would still like another shot at Dmitry Bivol. It all comes down to what the superstar wants.
Who’s going to win?
Benavidez. One more time, Andrade might have the ability to confound Benavidez for 12 rounds or even hurt him. We’ve seen that over and over again in his 32 professional fights against second-tier opponents. Benavidez is a different animal. His ability to viciously, yet methodically break down opponents – even elite ones – is as impressive as almost anything in the sport. Andrade will probably give Benavidez problems early in the fight, while Benavidez is adjusting to his style and cutting off the ring. However, the naturally smaller Andrade will have neither the ability nor the fire power to keep Benavidez off of him for long. He’ll take more and more punches as the fight progresses, begin to wilt around the seventh or eighth rounds and get stopped in the 10th.