The “Fifth King?”
Some say Wilfred Benitez – a fighter who had almost supernatural reflexive ability and skill in his prime, which came at a young age, Benitez reaching the top at a meteoric rate – deserves to be ranked right there with Sugar Ray Leonard, Marvelous Marvin Hagler, Thomas Hearns, and Roberto Duran (or however you choose to rank the “Fab Four”).
Today, in ill health and having been so for a number of years, Puerto Ricans finest turns 64. Benitez, like so many other great fighters, stuck around too long. And he is paying for it. Indeed, it’s incredibly hard to look at a recent photo of this once wizard-like boxing master, all but propped up as he is in either a bed or a wheelchair. Benitez has needed round the clock care for some time now, this given to him by his loving family (as well as supporters from the boxing world).
Benitez should be living like a king today, the way Sugar Ray is, the way Tommy Hearns is, the way Duran is (the great Hagler sadly left us too soon as we know). Benitez fought from the age of 15 to the age of 32, during which time he boxed no less than 62 pro fights. Benitez lost by painful stoppage in some of his final bouts, and he finally exited with a 53-8-1(31) ledger.
In his prime, Benitez defeated great and fine fighters like Antonio Cervantes – this in a WBA 140 pound title challenge, the win seeing Benitez become champ at just 17 years of age – Carlos Palomino, Roberto Duran, and Maurice Hope. He was very special. Even in his losses to Leonard and Hearns, Benitez made both all-time greats work hard, pushing them to the wire.
Benitez’ finest hour perhaps came in January of 1982, when he befuddled, outboxed and out-punched Duran over 15 rounds. Benitez was magnificent that night, the win earning him inclusion in the exclusive club in the opinion of many, and after the win, Benitez wanted to move up and challenge the mighty Hagler!
There were no limits when it came to Benitez’ desire to fight the best of the best. And, for a while – from 1976 to 1982 – not many fighters could match Benitez’ sheer level of skill and boxing brilliance.
Let’s hope Wilfred (or Wilfredo) can enjoy his birthday today.