The concept of mandatory contenders in boxing makes sense on paper.
History is filled with the names of fighters who never got their shot. Sam Langford, Harry Wills, and Charley Burley were all-time great fighters. They never got the chance to be champions.
What time has shown us is that the title shots might have mattered less than the names. Harry Wills’ life would have been changed not just by a chance to win the heavyweight title, but by the opportunity to face the man who held it at the time.
Jack Dempsey wasn’t just the champ. Dempsey was the money.
Titles look great on the shelf. Career high paydays can pay for the house the shelf resides in. When a fighter earns, and doesn’t get, a shot at the money man it doesn’t just affect legacy, it affects livelihood.
As the number of belts has metastasized over the years, the idea of a fighter who can’t get a title shot has become less of an issue. There’s always a title around and by and large the money is better with one than without. Before Saturday, 2008 Olympian Demetrius Andrade had won two of them. At 35, Andrade wasn’t chasing titles. He was chasing the names that equal paydays, the biggest of them all being Saul Alvarez.
So was the man who beat the hell out of Andrade on Saturday.
Super middleweight David Benavidez has had one hell of a 2023. Before this year, one could argue that he looked the part of divisional terror but the resume was still light. He answered that argument with two dominant wins over consensus top ten super middleweights.
Andrade got off to a decent start on Saturday in Las Vegas, boxing off angles, letting his hands go, and keeping the heavy handed Benavidez turning. That lasted for about two rounds and two minutes. In the final minute of the third, Benavidez started to find his target with authority.
The authority, and punishment, multiplied quickly.
Benavidez was doing exactly what the basics say to do: hit and don’t get hit. He was picking off Andrade’s offense with his gloves and returning fire to the head and body. Andrade was down in the fourth and in serious trouble. He stayed on his feet in the next two rounds but the trouble just got worse. Andrade tried to answer, willing himself to stay up through brutal punishment and even posting a brave stand in the final minute of the fifth.
There was no path to victory.
Referee Thomas Taylor took a hard look after the fifth and was taking another after six. The latter was academic. No one in the corner, including Andrade, wanted any more. Eight months to the day after a career best win over former titlist Caleb Plant, Benavidez had the second best win of his career in hand.
Futures: Benavidez has won, and lost, the WBC belt twice without ever being defeated. A failed drug test cost him the first. Failure to make weight lost him the second. He’s earned a shot at a third title, at all of the titles, the right way.
The old fashioned way.
While the concept of a mandatory contender sounds good in theory, it’s often a trashy exercise in pay-to-play. Fighters don’t always have to beat real contenders to get title shots. When they do, it’s a pleasant surprise. The proliferation of titles makes it just as easy to be a Burley today as it ever was. Champions that don’t want to take a fight can dump a belt, pick up another, and keep it trucking.
Or the sanctioning bodies can name interim champions who linger on for years to protect the guys they really want as champions.
What Benavidez has done this year is fight real contenders to solidify his position as the number one threat to the champion. He’s a David Morrell away from basically cleaning out everyone but the top dog at super middleweight.
Benavidez has a mandate, a real one, for the only fight in his division that matters. At super middleweight, the money man and the undisputed champion are the same person. If Saul Alvarez dumps the WBC belt rather than accept his mandatory with Benavidez, then Benavidez can become a “champion” again. That’s not what he wants.
The belt isn’t the thing.
Facing Alvarez for the belt is what matters.
It’s what pays.
And if Alvarez fights anyone else other than Benavidez next, he’s not being the champion or star he should be.
Across the pond, another big name picked up what may be the most important win of her career.
Taylor Makes It 1-1
Katie Taylor has had a charmed career. She won five world amateur championships, Olympic gold in 2012, unified the lightweight division as a professional, won a belt at junior welterweight, survived with her undefeated mark in two tough fights with Delfine Persoon, and won the biggest fight in the history of women’s boxing over Amanda Serrano at Madison Square Garden.
At 37, there weren’t a lot of hills left to climb.
Chantelle Cameron gave her one. Challenging for the undisputed junior welterweight crown in May, Taylor was defeated for the first time as a professional. Great fighters can be great with losses. Avenging losses, though, can make a great fighter even greater.
Katie Taylor is greater today than she was a week ago.
An aggressive, quick Taylor used furious flurries and smart counters to build and later extend a lead over Cameron, 32, in their frenetic rematch on Saturday. There was some controversy with Cameron appearing to score a knockdown in round one. Later looks at the moment make a case both for the knockdown and for the referee’s call. In that split second, it looked like the fighters lead feet caught up and his call of a slip is understandable. It could also have been called a knockdown and if it had, and everything else plays out the same, the outcome of the fight changes and Cameron retains.
Instead, after eight rounds, this corner saw the fight as dead even with Cameron coming on strong. Cameron had arguably her best round of the fight in the eighth, working over an increasingly exhausted looking Taylor. The momentum was one way.
Taylor dug deep in the last two rounds to reverse the momentum with heart, guts, aggression, and the will of a champion. One judge had it even, another had her ahead six rounds to four (same from here), and the other judge might as well have been one of the partisan faithful in Dublin. We have a new queen at junior welterweight.
We also have a rivalry tied at one apiece.
Futures: Taylor said after the fight she’d be willing to do it again, and wants it at Croke Park. Could Taylor-Cameron III fill a soccer stadium? Win or lose, it would be one more feather in Taylor’s superstar cap. There is also still a Serrano rematch out there but the knockdown controversy is plenty of fuel for the rubber match and Cameron deserves the chance to reclaim her throne.
Lamont Roach entered the title picture at 130 pounds with a knockdown and decision over Hector Garcia. There isn’t a lot to get excited about right now at junior lightweight on the PBC side of the ledger but Roach is well positioned should any of the talents under that tent move up from featherweight…Subriel Matias versus Gary Antuanne Russell would be such a good fight…Jermall Charlo got ten rounds and that might mean as much as the win over Jose Benavidez. Charlo looked like less than he was a couple years ago and keeping him active would likely be the best thing for him as he works his way back to full form.
Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene, a founding member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board, a member of the International Boxing Research Organization, and a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org