On This Day: Wilfred Benitez Makes History As The Youngest World Champion Ever – A Record Never To Be Broken?

By James Slater - 03/06/2024 - Comments

Some fighters make astonishingly rapid progress in the ring. When we think of fighters who conquered the world at a tender age, we instantly think of warriors like Mike Tyson, who was just 20 years old when he won his first world title, this of course the WBC heavyweight title. We also think of guys like Jose “Pipino” Cuevas, who became holder of the WBA welterweight title at the age of just 18.

But when it comes to the ‘King of the Kids,’ one man stands alone.

YouTube video

It was on this day back in 1976, when perhaps the finest boxer ever to come out of Puerto Rico, this being the immensely blessed and naturally skilled Wilfred Benitez, became the youngest world champion in boxing history. At the age of just 17 years and five months, the boxing wizard known as “El Radar” defeated the brilliant Antonio Cervantes via 15 round split decision to become the new WBA 140 pound ruler.

This was an amazing piece of record-setting, and it’s likely Benitez’ record will never be broken. The record has stood for almost 50 years, and unless some true phenom comes along, the record WILL stand, perhaps for many more decades.

Age 17 is just no age for a man (or boy) to be winning a world title, and against a fine fighter in Cervantes to boot – the Colombian making the 11th defence of his WBA and Ring Magazine belts at the time. But Benitez was truly special, a genuine one-off. Often referred to as “The Fifth King,” with Benitez as we know being around when superstars of the sport, Sugar Ray Leonard (who stopped Benitez with fading seconds left on the clock in their 1979 fight), Thomas Hearns (who won a majority decision over Benitez in 1982), Roberto Duran (who Benitez decisioned earlier that same year), and Marvelous Marvin Hagler (who Benitez wanted to fight but never got the opportunity) were doing their thing.

Benitez, one could certainly make the case, was as great as either of them. But as is almost always the case with a fighter who reaches the top at a rapid rate, there comes a rapid descent. And Benitez, who often refused to train properly, or at all, endured a fast fall from the mountain top. By 1983, when he was still only 25 years old, Benitez was pretty much all shot. Losses to Mustafa Hamsho, Davey Moore and, in a really tough fight to watch, Matthew Hilton, saw the faded version of Benitez ship some awful punishment.

Today, needing around the clock care, Benitez has sadly become the unwitting poster-boy for the bad things that can happen to any fighter if they take too many punches and also stick around in the sport too long.

But nobody can take away Benitez’ terrific prime years. Nor will anyone come along to break that simply incredible record. At least it’s not likely anyone will.

To repeat: Wilfred Benitez, during the years 1977 to 1982, was very, very special.

YouTube video