Many observers figured that David Benavidez’ grudge-settling meeting with Caleb Plant would be a fight of two halves. That is exactly what it proved to be. Plant had his successes early, consistently managing to evade Benavidez while landing himself. As the fight went on, though, he couldn’t maintain the distance, and Benavidez’ superior offensive skills broke him down. Let’s take a dive into the details.
One of the first decisions to note in the fight was that Plant, though aiming to keep the fight long, did open most rounds pushing forward. He had no intent to engage in close, but he wanted to keep Benavidez a little hesitant, and reluctant to really push forward himself.
This was a decision with mixed results. It did slow his opponent’s roll in the early rounds, and buy himself a little space. Benavidez’s footwork and head movement are still pretty flawed, so to avoid getting hit, he’d have to step backwards, and it’d take time for him to reset and roll forward. Plant got himself a pretty decent lead in the first five, and Benavidez was visibly frustrated at times. He was also allowed, by the referee Kenny Bayless, to hold on whenever Benavidez got close- or rather, he’d grab on and the ref would break them up instantly rather than allowing Benavidez to try to work. It wasn’t pretty tactics, but it worked for him initially.
However, it was a tactic based entirely on persuasion: that is, he had to make Benavidez not want to come forward. If the younger, bigger man decided he could handle that power, and just step through it, Plant would have to recalibrate. That’s what happened, and by that point, he’d given up some of his limited gas-tank in pushing that pace a bit. When he tried to commit more fully to consistent evasion and countering, it just didn’t last for very long.
And he did show flashes of being able to do that: in about the fourth and fifth rounds, he committed a bit more to stepping around Benavidez and making him turn to follow. That could have been the kind of movement that could have drained the energy of Benavidez.He also found some success in drawing the chin into the air and catching it with eye-catching shots. But Plant didn’t start looking for this till he, himself, was already slowing, and those single shots on the chin didn’t carry much power.
#BenavidezPlant is cookin
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One added wrinkle to note from the early rounds is the bodywork. Plant was very busy in that area: Benavidez, normally an afficianado, was not. There was good reason for this though: in his low-handed shell guard, Plant covers the body a lot better than any Benavidez opponent to date. He’s also skilled at countering to the head when opponents go for it. Benavidez is aware of his continuing problems with his high chin, so he decided to leave the bodywork until Plant felt enough pressure to abandon the shell and go into a high guard. Which did, ultimately, happen. In a big way.
In round five we saw Benavidez get visibly frustrated, pointing to the ground and asking Plant to stand and trade. That was a good immediate look for Plant, but it may have been to his cost in the long run. It was the sixth when Benavidez first decided to throw caution – somewhat- to the wind, and just walk forward without much thought for return fire. This got into Plant’s head immediately. In that particular round, he did avoid taking too much damage, but he also threw almost none of his own work. He lost that round, and by the end of it, even the evasion was starting to be inadequate.
#BenavidezPlant meeting in the middle of ring
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Because of that, from the seventh round on it became a very different fight, and one-sided in Benavidez’ favour. Having tested the waters in the frame before, he really committed hard to marching in. He adopted a strategy of controlled crudeness, almost- throwing big, swinging shots and taking large steps. Normally, the kind of thing you’d teach fighters not to do, but it got in Plant’s head, and he was setting up the more overtly skilled work behind it. In particular, he’d repeatedly step in with a big right hand, started from a long way out. It’s the kind of thing that could be countered, but Plant was so worried about taking the shot that he’d ignore the opportunity. Instead, he’d focus on catching or slipping it, and in that time, Benavidez would step close, and set up the faster, smoother combinations.
He also started to deal with the holding on better. Because Plant would be focused on either bringing a hand up or ducking down, he didn’t have as much opportunity to grab with both hands. Benavidez began very much to use that against him. On a couple of occasions, Plant would grab an inadequate hold that only trapped one arm, and be absolutely blasted with the other. Bayless, previously so keen to break them up immediately, was happy to let him take this punishment.
.@SweetHandsPlant and @Benavidez300 trade combinations at the end of RD6.
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We also saw Benavidez’ facility in working both sides. We (as boxing pundits) often talk about working the body to set up openings to the head. And as mentioned earlier, Benavidez did the opposite too, working the head to bring up the guard to hit the body- which he started to do in a big way in the second half. But he also, very effectively, began to divide Plant’s attention left and right. Rather than working both sides in a predictable pattern, he’d look for a gap on one, aim at it till Plant had to compensate, then follow it with something in the space on the other side. His variety of punches helped him here, because he could throw multiple awkward shots Plant wouldn’t be expecting with one hand, while setting things up with the other.
The most visible example of this divided attention was combining chopping, almost downwards right hands with left hooks coming upwards. Those right hands were hurtful, Benavidez able to generate real power despite throwing them from very close. Plant had no option but to respond, but in doing so, he’d find himself ducking onto left hooks from Benavidez’ low left hand. It really flustered him, because his escape routes were not just being cut off, but closed violently. Plant has never been good at resetting to range once an opponent does get close, and Benavidez had his attention so focused on those varied attacks, he could give no real thought to moving his feet.
He never actually wilted, though. By about round 8 he was very static, no longer able to really move at all, and he could have folded then. Indeed, at times he looked like he’d lost his head, not defending particularly intelligently. There were a couple of moments where the fight could have been credibly stopped.
But he never gave up trying, and to his credit he kept on trying to get the respect he needed to slow Benavidez’ roll a little. There were no good options left to him, and he was never likely to win that way, but to some extent he did achieve that: Benavidez probably still won the 12th, but he was wary enough (and possibly tired enough) that he stopped looking for the finish.
Still, though, he could be calm in the knowledge that he’d pretty much figured out Plant by then, and done so early enough to secure the victory. It was an excellent performance to take the victory in an excellent fight.
It’s clear who Benavidez wants- the unified divisional champion, Canelo Alvarez. It’s not clear of that’ll happen soon – Benavidez acknowledged himself that Canelo has multiple options, and it seems likely his preferred option for September would be a rematch with Dmitry Bivol. So Benavidez may have to wait for a shot at the belts. There are some good options in the meantime for him, though. In particular, Christian Mbilli, who won a war with Carlos Gongora on Thursday to propel himself to world attention, and young Cuban Dave Morrell. Both are rising stars with a propensity for exciting fights, so perfect opponents for Benavidez if he wants to cement his position in the division.
Plant has some thinking to do. He’s certainly not done, but he’s had his limitations exposed in pretty obvious ways twice now. He is with a new coach, who’ll continue to work on these things with him, but he has to think about how quickly another shot at the top levels is viable. He could easily be a gatekeeper- heck, Morrell and Gongora could both be viable opponents for him too- but does he want to? He’s big enough to move up to light heavyweight too – both men are- but then he’s looking at Beterbiev and Bivol. They don’t seem like winnable fights for him. Still, we’ll definitely see him again.
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