It was 1998 when a six-year-old Mexican-American kid stumbled upon The Boxing Kangaroos Gym in Phoenix.
As his father watched, the boy boxed for the first time — and he was exceptional. It was a prelude of the journey to come, though Jose Benavidez Sr. couldn’t have imagined how far Jr. would go.
He was witnessing the beginnings of a boxing prodigy.
“He sparred, he looked so good,” Benavidez Sr. told RingTV.com. “At that time I didn’t really read talent, but he looked like he belonged there. He looked so natural — boxing is something we really liked, it was great for both of us.”
He never boxed, but having not been raised by his parents, Benavidez Sr. wanted to be the father he never had to Jose Jr. and his brother, David. He has learned on the job, having trained Benavidez Jr. since the start. 14 years later, they’re still together and on the cusp of something grand in the sport.
“The journey has been so hard. Some days, I really wanna quit,” said Benavidez Sr. “It’s really hard, it’s a big sacrifice. I have to [be] away from [my] wife who is pregnant. But she’s really supportive. He’s fighting to another level. I’m going to just continue doing it, I love what I do. So far, he’s doing real good. It’s a struggle every day.
“I never imagined myself what we’re doing right now… it’s a dream come true.”
Benavidez Jr. (15-0, 12 knockouts) is a rarity in the sport – a 20-year-old welterweight with an educated jab well-beyond his years, exceptional height (nearly 6-1) and athleticism. He was so advanced, in fact, that the Nevada State Athletic Commission granted him an exception in 2009 to turn pro a year early, at 17. Top Rank didn’t hesitate to secure Benavidez to a contract, adding him to their stable without a single pro bout or Olympic experience.
A native of Panorama City, Calif., living in Phoenix, Ariz., he was a decorated amateur, compiling a 120-5 record and winning an impressive 11 national championships. Most prominently, he won the 2010 National Golden Gloves at junior welterweight.
Benavidez Jr. fought on Saturday in Tucson, Ariz., a dominating six-round points victory over Josh Sosa. Benavidez Sr., who also acts as a manager along with co-manager Steve Feder, are keeping him busy, already scheduling his next bout for July 21.
Benavidez, though he has been compared to such greats as Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Alexis Arguello, is grounded, knowing he has a long way to go.
“I’m young, just trying to take it slow,” Benavidez Jr. told RingTV.com. “Little by little, maybe two or three more years (for a title shot). Not anytime soon.”
Benavidez Jr. has been sparring the likes of Manny Pacquiao and Amir Khan since the age of 17. After one especially scintillating session with Khan, where he gave the Brit all he could handle, he knew he belonged.
“When I first sparred Amir Khan, they threw me in there,” said Benavidez. “I caught him with a good shot and after that he was trying to kill me, he was trying to knock me out. I think I held my own, I think I did a really good job. It was a pretty intense session.”
Benavidez Jr.’s favorite fighter growing up was “Prince” Naseem Hamed, saying “he had a different style, he talked a lot of trash, but most of the time he backed it up.”
Many great boxers have been trained by their fathers over the years. Felix Trinidad. Joe Calzaghe. Shane Mosley. Roy Jones Jr. These relationships often end acrimoniously, but the elder Benavidez isn’t worried. If the time comes where it’s not working out, he says he will graciously move over.
“If there comes a day I see he’s not advancing any more, he’s not learning, I’m going to find someone else to motivate him,” said Benavidez Sr. “I will always be there, but if I have to step to the side, I will do it no problem.”
Benavidez Jr. concurs with his father.
“We’re going to have our ups and downs, we’re going to argue here and there, but it’s a father-son relationship,” said Jr. “We know how to work with each other. I see us going pretty far, I don’t see us breaking up anytime soon like some boxers do with their fathers.
If there’s one thing Sr. has instilled in his son, it’s the jab. Most young fighters are crude when it comes to the art of jabbing, but Benavidez Jr. is wise beyond his years when it comes to controlling a fight with his lead hand.
“The jab is the key to everything,” said Benavidez Jr. “We work on the jab, a lot of body shots. You never stop learning, there’s never the perfect jab. I keep learning how to throw it better.”
An educated jab will take a fighter a long way. For Benavidez Jr., he knows the journey is just beginning.
“When I’m getting in the ring, and they announce my name I can’t explain it,” says Benavidez Jr. “I know the hard work is about to pay off.”
The long hours in the gym seem to be paying dividends thus far, with the big pay-off in sight.
Photos / Chris Cozzone/Fightwireimages.com
Mike Coppinger is a member of the BWAA, THE RING Ratings Advisory Panel and the Yahoo Sports Boxing Panel. He regularly contributes to USA Today’s boxing coverage and compiles the “Ringside Reports” for THE RING Magazine each month. Follow him on Twitter: @MikeCoppinger. Find an archive of his work: www.mikecoppinger.com