Before his shock defeat at the gloved hands of Dmitry Bivol, there was one fight seemingly the whole boxing world wanted to see Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez take. A bout with 25-0 super middleweight sensation David Benavidez was top of most people’s wishlist when ‘Canelo’ unified the four 168lb title belts. Instead, Alvarez made an audacious return to light heavyweight and was punished for it. Now Benavidez goes in with former middleweight champion David Lemieux on Saturday 21st May to determine the WBC interim super middleweight champion.
The belt involved is spurious at best. The title is a trinket designed to absorb sanctioning fees while primary champion Alvarez decides whether to return to the division. In theory, if ‘Canelo’ comes back to super middleweight he would be obligated to face the winner of this contest or vacate the title. In truth, boxing’s top box office attractions are rarely bound by mortal rules. One need look no further than the fact the WBC’s current heavyweight champion is Tyson Fury, who by his own reckoning has retired from the sport.
But don’t let the minor nature of the prize at stake sour you on what looks to be a tremendous fight. Benavidez promises excitement, having stopped 22 of his 25 victims. Lemieux can bang himself, with 36 of his 43 victories coming by way of knockout. This fight should be entertaining for as long as it lasts.
When it does reach its conclusion, Benavidez is likely to be the fighter having his hand raised. Lemieux held the IBF middleweight title briefly in the middle of the last decade, but usually comes unstuck against the very best. Billy Joe Saunders, Gennady Golovkin, Joachim Alcine and Marco Antonio Rubio have beaten him, with two of those defeats coming by stoppage. The 33-year-old Canadian’s best days look to be behind him, while Benavidez has only just scratched the surface of his abilities.
Those abilities have taken Benavidez to two world titles already, neither of which he lost in the ring. The Phoenix, Arizona star beat Ronald Gavril for the vacant WBC super middleweight championship in 2017. In doing so he became the youngest 168lb champion in history at just 22 years old. After retaining the belt in a rematch, Benavidez was stripped of the famous green and gold strap after testing positive for cocaine. The folly of youth perhaps, but Benavidez had to rebuild.
Rebuild he did, stopping the talented Anthony Dirrell in nine rounds to win back his old strap. Once again the title would be wrenched from his grasp, this time due to issues making weight. Benavidez weighed in over the super middleweight limit for a bout with Roamer Alexis Angulo. Benavidez is an otherworldly talent, but sadly we have only seen glimpses of what he is capable of. Disciplinary issues have blighted his career so far.
That could all change now though. Having suffered through two removals as WBC champion, he gets a third bite of the cherry. Beating Lemieux won’t make him the true champion, but it will put him in the best possible position to lift that title for a third time. If ‘Canelo’ does abdicate his throne to pursue other challenges, a Bivol rematch perhaps, then the winner of this weekend’s fight will be elevated to world championship status. It isn’t quite a world title fight, but at this stage Benavidez must treat it like one.
While you still have that ‘0’, boxing will give you all the chances you need. ‘El Bandero Roja’ has a crowd-pleasing style, a perfect record and time on his side. But he needs to start making the most of that time. Benavidez must park whatever disappointment he feels at the ‘Canelo’ fight eluding him and channel it into this fight against Lemieux. If he looks good in doing so, that superfight with one of the world’s elite fighters could be closer than he thinks.
*18+ | BeGambleAware | Odds Subject To Change