Boxing’s excellent year seems primed to continue with David Benavidez Jr’s upcoming bout against Caleb Plant in something of a grudge match at super-middleweight.
It’s been a curious journey to get to this fight. A few years ago, these two were probably the top dogs of their division, and were mean-mugging each other constantly. However, when the iron was hottest, the two men couldn’t seem to strike a deal. Then Canelo busted in and took that top dog status, unifying the division and beating Plant along the way. Neither man is actually past their prime now, though (and Benavidez maybe only starting his), so it’s not like we’ve missed out on seeing the best possible version of this fight, just perhaps not for the highest possible stakes. Still, as a clash of styles it’s a fascinating one, so buckle in.
The card will be available in the US on Showtime pay-per-view, for $74.99. It starts at 9PM ET, with the main event expected about 11PM. The preliminary card will be available on Showtime’s youtube channel, starting at 7PM ET.
Benavidez (26-0-0 | 23 KOs) has packed a lot into his career to date—and at 26, he might be just getting started. He won his first title back in 2017, beating Ronald Gavril to a split decision for the WBC belt. The closeness of the score brought a rematch, in which he improved vastly and scored a wide decision. Later that year, though, he tested positive for cocaine and was stripped of the belt. Upon his return, he won it again by beating veteran Anthony Dirrell…only to miss weight in his first defense and be stripped again.
He now holds the interim version of the same WBC belt, having won it while Canelo was off at light heavyweight losing to Bivol. Until Canelo fights him or vacates, though, he can’t lay claim to the true crown. He will, however, want to cement his claim as the best of the rest and first challenger to Canelo with a win here.
Plant (22-1-0, 13 KOs), as we know, has already fought Canelo. He came up short there, but he’d certainly be delighted at another crack. His career to date has been a bit calmer than his opponent’s; a pretty steady progression to the title, through defenses, and a good rebound after the big loss. He has had a turbulent personal life, but unlike some fighters it doesn’t seem to have affected his boxing. If that focus holds true here, he should be dialed in on what, at 30-years-old, isn’t quite the last chance saloon but might be getting close.
Part of the reason this is such an interesting fight is the clash of styles. It’s not just that they’re vastly different fighters; it’s that they each have key weaknesses that match directly against a strength of the other.
Let’s look at the strengths first. For Benavidez, it’s his hands. That seems quite an obvious thing to say for a boxer, but I can break that down a bit more. For starters, he’s got a big arsenal of punches. It isn’t just that he can throw a hook, jab, uppercut—whatever— most boxers can throw basic punches. There are two ways the most elite fighters set themselves apart in that respect.
The first is being able to throw any given punch in multiple variations. A more basic fighter may throw, say, a left hook the same way every time. Benavidez, though, is a fighter who can change both the timing and the angle on pretty much any of his punches. He therefore has many more versions of each punch than, say, someone even as high-level as Anthony Joshua.
The other (though related) skill involved is being able to use specific punches in multiple situations. Some (many, in fact) fighters will only throw certain punches in certain situations. They may be trained into specific combinations—say, a left hook to the body must come after a right hand upstairs, so if that right upstairs is nullified, so is the hook. Or they might simply be uncomfortable throwing certain shots at different ranges.
Benavidez is emphatically not one of those fighters. Whether a fighter is stepping away from him, or getting in his face, or even if he’s found himself off-balance, he’s never short of something to throw.
That means that it’s almost impossible for an opponent to either stop him throwing or make the punches less dangerous. Which makes him very tough to engage with directly. Especially considering that he throws all his shots in combination. Not in learned flurries, either; he’s actively picking out the holes in his opponent’s defense, and working to find them with multiple punches. It’s a very well-rounded attack.
It also well in harmony with his defense. Defense in general is an area of more mixed results for him, but we’ll get onto the weaker aspects later. On the strong side, he has a very good active guard. Rather than just sticking his hands to the side of his face and hoping to catch as many punches as he can, he adjusts. Elbows come up or a hand comes across to deflect things that would otherwise find gaps. He’s also increasingly skilled at catch-counters; blocking an incoming punch and then immediately responding with something in the space left by the attack.
All that would be plenty dangerous even if he was just a physically average athlete. He isn’t, though. He’s a long, tall fighter, who carries both blazing handspeed and considerable power. It’s tough enough just to get past his jab—which has won him fights on its own. Anyone who does, though, is walking into the teeth of a grueling physical battle along with his skills.
Caleb Plant is a different proposition. He’s not against engaging when necessary, and his attacks are sharp, but he’s not a volume fighter by preference, and he’d rather not be in close for long. He’s a sharp mover—his footwork at range possibly being his best strength. The effect of time spent at Floyd Mayweather’s gym in the past is clear. He’s one of the relatively rare modern fighters who uses a shoulder roll who actually knows what it’s for. Specifically, he adopts a stance with a low lead hand where most of his body is covered by the combination of his arms and the angle of his body. His head, meanwhile, is kept just off-center line, and the stance is balanced so that it’s not difficult for him to adjust, to slip incoming shots.
What a good shoulder roll does in that situation is not just ‘move the shoulder to block things’. That seems like it should be obvious, but fighters even up to world level often seem to think that’s the only point. In Plant, you can see the real use. It’s about moving the shoulder together with the whole line of the body behind it, adjusting the entire stance to close lines of attack. And—potentially crucially, for this fight—to open new lines for himself. If an opponent has his left hook covered, but he rolls his shoulder a little to the left… well, suddenly the punch is coming from both lower and further left than it had been. It’s something Plant does well, using those stance shifts to find angles for both hands.
He’s a sharp puncher too, with decent pop and some nice accuracy. Like Benavidez, he is—at least at long and mid ranges—capable of a good variety of shots, though his combinations are shorter. Because he’s all about drawing attacks on before he counters, he may be able to use his opponent’s volume against them.
This is where we come on to that clash of weaknesses. For Benavidez, his problems pop clearly to the forefront. For a boxer as high-level as he is, he simply doesn’t move well. He’s improved in this area, for sure, but he’s oddly straight-legged and often off-balance. While he knows what position he should be in to cut space, he often doesn’t take the most efficient route to get there. He tends to move through off-balance stances when adjusting between his regular positions. That’s a big risk to take at this level.
That is something Plant will hone in on. It won’t be just about keeping distance, it’ll be about baiting him to throw at mid-distance—and then using those slips and clever angles to throw counters while Benavidez isn’t properly set. Those are the most damaging shots, and the opportunities will be there to land them. The fact that Benavidez still hasn’t quite learned to tuck his chin safely consistently makes it even more of a potential factor.
Plant’s biggest problem is a bit more hidden, but it also comes down to a balance issue in the end. Essentially, his head movement and balance while defending are good…at first. But he has a set pattern for those movements, and once he’s had to slip more than two or three punches, he starts to leave his feet behind. He doesn’t really have a strategy to find space to reset the stance, either. Which means that, when dealing with high volume, all the poise he initially brings starts to unravel. Instead of putting himself in safer positions as he slips or ducks, he gets more vulnerable. This becomes very very obvious when he’s in close. He often just doesn’t have safe ways to get to distance and reset.
Against Benavidez that’s going to be a problem. If he can get in close enough to throw his combinations (and he doesn’t have to be that close) Plant may find himself really struggling. It obviously would be premature to say Benavidez brings more danger than Canelo, who overwhelmed Plant somewhat. But he does bring higher volume, and much more length—quite possibly even greater handspeed. He’ll almost definitely be able to force gaps in his defence if he gets close. Plant will have to avoid those situations wherever possible, and it’s not clear he can.
That combination of factors makes for an interesting matchup. It’s a tricky one to make a clean prediction on, because despite being more-or-less a toss-up on paper coming in, it could just as easily be a blowout in either direction. The weaknesses mentioned aren’t easy to get at, but they’re the kind of thing that can turn momentum in a big way. So a small advantage gained in one area could really change the fight one way or another.
Perhaps the most likely pattern though will be a classic type of fight. When they’re both fresh, there’s a good chance Plant will be able to dance around Benavidez a bit. But as he tires, his movement will slow faster than his opponent’s volume. So it could be a fight of two halves, with Plant leading early but fading late. Exactly how fast that turn comes could decide the winner.
What’s on the undercard?
It’s quite an interesting show. The co-main is set to see rising welterweight contender Cody Crawley in what should be something of a showcase, since Abel Ramos shouldn’t be troubling someone looking to move to world titles soon. The real interest, however, lies in a couple of prospect clashes. In particular, some rather brutal matchmaking between Chris Colbert and Jose Valenzuela, both coming off unexpected losses, now fighting one another.
Even with the losses in account, there’s a reasonable argument that each is the best opponent that either has faced. Fair play to both for taking such risk. Most men in their position would take at least one easy recovery fight, but they’re going for it. Meanwhile, Joey Spencer vs Jesus Ramos is a clash of unbeaten prospects that should go a long way to telling us if either one can be a contender in the shark-tank that is 154lbs.
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