Wilfred Benitez: Forgotten Champion?

wilfred benitez07.08.07 – By Francisco Cairol: When people talk about all time great boxing fighters there are some who seem to get lost in the shuffle. When people mention the greatest Puerto Rican fighters, they tend to mention Wilfredo Gomez and Felix Trinidad. Some knowledgeable people also mention the very worthy Carlos Ortiz.

There is one name that, unexplainable to me, is hardly mentioned nowadays: Wilfred Benitez (53-8-1, 31 KOs). Is it because he kept on fighting too long? was it because his style wasn't alwasy crowd pleasing? I am not going to get into whether he was as great as or greater than Felix Trinidad, Gomez or Ortiz in this article but he definitely needs to be mentioned in their company. A list of the great Latin boxing champions would have to include names like Duran, Chavez, Kid Gavilan, Wilfredo Gomez, Sanchez, Arguello etc.

For me, that list would also include Benitez as one of the top 10 greatest Latin fighters ever and definitely top 30 or 40 material for all time pound for pound greats, disregarding nationality.

Let's consider: He was the youngest champion ever at 17. He won that title from another Latin legend in Antonio "Kid Pambele" Cervantes. He won a second world title at welterweight from the very tough Carlos Palomino and a third world title at super middleweight with a KO of Maurice Hope. And this was when there was only the WBC and WBA, so that there were no IBF and WBO titles to collect.

Benitez gave all time greats like Hearns and Leonard very tough fights and defeated another legend, Roberto Duran in possibly Benitez's best performance of his career. As a side note, Benitez wasn't fond of training, and for his fight with Leonard fight, Benitez allegedly only trained for one week! Imagine if he had trained! He also beat some very decent fighters like future world champion Bruce Curry (he won a very controversial decision in their first fight and then a more convincing one in the rematch), Harold Weston, Randy Shields, Pete Ranzany & future champion Carlos Santos. Why has Benitez been so forgotten?

Maybe it's lack of exposure. You don't see many highlight reels of his victories. Maybe it was because his downfall was so fast. He went from looking awe-inspiring in defeating Duran and giving Hearns all kinds of trouble to losing a 12-found decision to the tough Mustafa Hamsho in July 1983 and losing to Davey Moore by KO2 in July 1984.

There was one last flash of brilliance in that fight for Benitez. After being knocked down and twisting his ankle, Benitez got up and he made Moore miss eight punches in a row while Benitez was backed in a corner, as was his specialty. After that, Benitez only had a "notable" win over prospect Kevin Moley, a 10-round decision in August 1985, before fighting on too long and losing to fighters who would never have had a chance when he was in his prime.

Sadly, Benitez now suffer froms brain damage and needs constant care. All the money he made fighting was lost, possibly squandered to partying. His brilliance in the ring should never be forgotten. Had he retired after the loss to Hearns, Benitez probably would be rated much higher in people's list. In his prime, he made people miss again and again while backed into a corner.

While not a crowd pleasing banger, I don't remember him being a boring fighter as he tried to counter-punch after making people miss. And while he didn't have the hardest punch, it was enough to get people's respect, and his KO of Maurice hope was one for the ages. May his health get better and may his greatness live on in people's memories.

Article posted on 08.08.2007

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