In the weeks, months, heck years, before they step into the ring at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas on Saturday, David Benavidez and Caleb Plant have not made it a secret that they don’t like each other.

Never have, never will. Yet in the immediate lead-up to the interim WBC super middleweight title fight, Plant appears to be fighting everyone on social media, while Benavidez has been relatively low-key before the biggest fight of his career. That doesn’t mean the Arizonan’s intensity or need to get his pound of flesh from Plant has waned at all.

“Emotion, especially anger, is a great motivator to train,” Benavidez said. “The people who are telling me not to be emotional, haven’t laced up the gloves before. I couldn’t be more ready. I leave all my emotions outside of the ring when it’s time to go to work.”

It’s an interesting development, because ever since the bout was made official, many believe that while Benavidez is the bigger and stronger force, someone’s whose power and pressure will lead him to victory, if the more technically sound Plant is to get his hand raised, it will be due to his cool, his refusal to get rattled or let emotions get in his way on fight night.

Renowned trainer Buddy McGirt agrees.

“You have to be able to control the bad blood,” McGirt said. “You can’t go in there with one thing in mind, just trying to knock him out. You can walk into something you might not want to. You have to take it and use it to your advantage and use it in a way that’s going to make the fight easier. If you go in there trying to gun him out, you’ll wind up getting gunned out.”

But maybe the tide has turned. Maybe it’s Plant who has to be watched for getting too emotionally involved as he’s battled it out online with Benavidez’ father and trainer, Jose, as well as fans, media members, and the owner of the gym he used to train at. It’s not the focus you want to see from the once-beaten Tennessee native, who was able to put bad blood aside in order to score one of the best knockouts of 2022 over Anthony Dirrell in his most recent fight last October. Maybe it’s just how he’s getting through those final days of camp, but whatever it is, Benavidez is seemingly the one keeping his eye on the task at hand before the fight that may finally see him fulfil his potential.

“This is the most important fight of my career to this date,” Benavidez said. “I feel like after this fight, I’m going to pass that threshold and get to where I want to be. Every fighter has one of these grudge matches that brings the best out of them. I don’t like Caleb at all, but I want to thank him for bringing the animal out of me. I’m more motivated than ever.”

Perhaps this is what the 26-year-old needed to pass that threshold, to make himself not just the star many guaranteed him to be so many years ago, but to get the fight he’s craved against Mexican superstar “Canelo” Alvarez. It’s been talked about for a long time, the Benavidez clan claiming that they’re being ducked, but let’s face it, Benavidez has missed weight for a world title fight, had a legal battle to be settled between promoters Sampson Boxing and Top Rank, and he had the high-profile positive test for cocaine back in 2018. In other words, could Benavidez be even trusted to help carry a pay-per-view event through from signing to fight night? But today, older and hopefully wiser, he knows that every move he makes as a professional will get him one step closer to what he wants.

“This is pay-per-view and we’re giving the people what they want to see,” he said. “I’m ready to give the people whatever they want. This is the most confident I’ve ever been because this is the hardest I’ve ever worked. That’s why I’ve been calling for these big fights, because I’ve known since I was a little kid sparring world champions that when I’m put in an uncomfortable situation, the best comes out of me.”

Since missing weight against Roamer Alexis Angulo in August of 2020 (a fight he went on to dominate, albeit without a title on the line for himself), Benavidez has been a pro, reiterating his claim as the best 168-pounder in the game with one-sided finishes of Ronald Ellis, Kyrone Davis and David Lemieux. The win over Canada’s Lemieux earned him the interim WBC belt, and with Alvarez the full champion with the sanctioning body, a victory by Benavidez on Saturday would put him smack dab in the Canelo sweepstakes. A spectacular victory? Well, that might get the fans to make their own push for the fight either by the fall or in early 2024.

But first there’s Plant, arguably the toughest test of Benavidez’ 26-0 (23 KOs) career. The Nashville native slowly worked his way to the elite level of the sport, weathered plenty of personal tragedies, and when his number got called in 2019, he upset Jose Uzcategui and took the IBF super middleweight belt. Three successful title defenses followed before he ran into Alvarez and caught an 11th round TKO loss in late-2021. A little less than a year later, he knocked out Dirrell, a result that even impressed Benavidez, who also stopped Dirrell in their 2019 bout.

“He had a sensational win against Anthony Dirrell and I take nothing away from that,” said Benavidez. “This is the best time this fight could have happened. It was the right move for both of us. I’ve been wanting to fight him for a long time and now the winner of this fight gets to be the mandatory for Canelo Alvarez. I’m super motivated.”

It all comes back to Alvarez, like most things do for any fighter in the general vicinity of boxing’s reigning superstar. There’s no hiding it. Benavidez and Plant may say all the right things, but as much as they don’t like each other, the real prize here isn’t bragging rights. Plant wants a rematch with the PPV king and getting rid of the division’s boogeyman is a good place to start. Benavidez wants to halt Plant in decisive fashion, quicker than Alvarez did. If he does, he may get the fight he’s been after for a long time. So on Saturday, for all the talk, for all the distractions, for all the peripheral stuff, it’s not personal; it’s strictly business. 

Just the way David Benavidez wants it.

“On March 25,” he said. “I guarantee that I’m knocking Caleb Plant out before round six.”