By: Jerome Souza (@FirstClassBox)
Boxing historian and International Boxing Hall of Famer Steve Farhood recently spoke with FirstClassBoxing.com. Farhood, who provides commentary on ShoBox: The New Generation and Showtime Extreme, was asked about Super Middleweight rising star David Benavidez. Benavidez recently fought on the Showtime Extreme televised portion of the rematch between Carl Frampton vs. Leo Santa Cruz. Farhood is in accordance with those who have seen Benavidez’ development over the past year, “he is a missile looking to crush everything in his path, he’s a really legitimate puncher and it’s hard to believe that he’s 20 years old and he’s already established himself. He’s one of the best, most interesting prospects in boxing”.
Benavidez is originally from Phoenix, AZ and is the younger brother of welterweight prospect Jose Benavidez Jr. Benavidez Jr. was in line for a title shot until he suffered a gunshot wound which has sidelined him since. Benavidez has now relocated training to Long Beach, CA and continues to have his father, Jose Benavidez Sr. as his chief second. Benavidez’ promoter, Sampson Lewkowicz continues to project that Benavidez will become the youngest Super Middleweight Champion ever. Farhood believes Benavidez is up to the task, “a good thing for his development is that in his last two fights [prior to Jan. 28] he’s gone seven rounds and ten rounds. So he’s gone deep into fights now and that’s important. You don’t want to fight for a title, a 12-round fight, unless you’ve been several rounds deep into fights. So that’s big positive and I think that enabled him to advance more quickly than he would’ve otherwise. Outside of those two fights he’s knocking everyone out in one or two rounds”.
Benavidez, at 20 years old, is nearing a title eliminator and possible title shot while most fighters his age are embedded in the amateur ranks. FirstClassBoxing.com asked Farhood how do young fighters know which route to take in terms of turning professional early on, like Benavidez, or compiling a long amateur record like Vasyl Lomachenko or Michael Conlan. “Some of it is determined by style. A guy like Benavidez, who is always looking for the knockout, that’s a pro-style. He’s a physical fighter. If you’re more of a boxer you have a better chance of succeeding in the amateurs. Especially with the former scoring system where you just touch, touch, touch, and get points”.
In the 2016 Olympics in Rio, the Association Internationale de Boxe Amateur (AIBA), which oversees and implements rules for nearly all sanctioned amateur boxing events, changed the point-punch scoring to the 10-point must scoring system. The rule change hoped to produce a more fair scoring system and eliminate points (and victories) given to those who are only volume punchers. Under the new rules, it is hard to determine how Benavidez would have fared against the top amateurs in the world. Benavidez fights a very unique style for his body-type and at 20 years old he’s still growing. “He’s a tremendous body puncher. He doesn’t fight the way most tall guys fight in that he wants to rumble, he wants to get inside and hook to the body”.
Fighters from Eastern Europe, Cuba, and China have always fared well in international boxing (along with other sports) because of the systematic approach they use in training. They train to win over the judges and focus only on medals. Some decorated amateurs, like Zou Shiming of China, often reach their late 20s or even 30s before they turn professional. One thing Farhood points out is that American amateur fighters and professional fighters also train together which leads them on to the pro-style very early on. “One thing that I think makes American amateurs different from amateurs in other countries is American amateurs, they sort of have half-a-foot in the pro game even when they’re amateurs because they spar with pros and they are going to eventually fight pro so their styles are very much more pro-oriented than amateur-oriented”.
Farhood believes it would behoove other young American fighters, like Benavidez, to turn professional early on in their boxing careers, “I think for a lot of American fighters it’s better to turn pro at a young age. Get that pro experience, get those fights out of the way and by that time they’re in their mid-20s they can fight for a title”.
Another former amatuer standout that was featured on Frampton-Santa Cruz II Showtime Extreme card was the undefeated Super Lightweight Josh Taylor. Hailing from Edinburgh, Scotland, Taylor fights under Barry McGuigan’s Cyclone Promotions along with Belfast’s Carl Frampton. Taylor and Frampton came out to Las Vegas together weeks before their scheduled fights. Taylor gained some valuable training experience in which he sparred with former Welterweight Champion Shawn “Showtime” Porter.
Like Benavidez, Farhood is very hopeful on Taylor’s potential. Prior to Taylor’s decision victory last month Farhood shared his thoughts on the Scottish fighter, “Taylor’s interesting because his Olympic time was in 2012 so he didn’t fight in the Olympics in 2016 in Rio. He had a couple of fights in the World Series of Boxing and now he’s 7-0. He’s a very advanced 7-0. His last fight was scheduled for 12 rounds and he fought a fighter who was a former Commonwealth Champion, Dave Ryan”. Taylor is now 8-0 with 7 KO. “He’s the big star of Scottish boxing, he’s definitely the one to watch”.
Always on top of his game, Farhood immediately points out a possible title fight that would bring all of Scotland together. “What’s really interesting about Josh Taylor is that he’s Scottish and he’s the same weight-class as the Scottish world champion Ricky Burns. The only thing is that Ricky Burns is 33 years old. By the time Taylor is ready, Burns might be gone”.
On November 19, 2016, two-time Olympic Gold Medalist Claressa Shields of Flint, Michigan made her professional debut on the freeview portion of the Sergey Kovalev vs. Andre Ward undercard. Last month, Amanda Serrano headlined the Showtime Extreme portion of James DeGale vs. Badou Jack. Ireland’s Katie Taylor has already been featured two televised events in Europe and scheduled for more this year. With this recent emergence of televised professional Women’s Boxing, FirstClassBoxing.com asked Farhood his thoughts on its newest stars, “boxing is a star sport and I think they have the potential to be big stars. They’re verbally adept, much better than some of the men, they have interesting backstories. Let’s face it sex appeal sells, some them have that going for them. The other thing is they’re two-minute rounds. If you’re a really good women’s professional athlete, you can punch pretty good for the full two minutes, so you get a lot brawls with the women were they don’t try to finesse each other, they just got at it and that’s exciting”.
FirstClassBoxing.com also asked Farhood if it possible for Women’s Boxing to dethrone Women’s Mixed-Martial-Arts (MMA) in terms of popularity, “well I think it all depends on who emerges. I mean Ronda Rousey made MMA she was the biggest star they had male or female. We’ve never had a point boxing were a female was bigger star than any of the men, that’s never happened. But, Ronda Rousey now looks like she’s fading away. Is there a replacement? No. So it’s all who the star of the moment is and that person can carry an entire sport”.
Farhood goes on to explain that former Women’s boxers such as Lucia Rijker, Laila Ali, and Christy Martin were stars but not at the magnitude as Rousey was to MMA. However, Farhood remains optimistic with this new batch of personalities and talent, “it’s time for a new generation and I’m hoping Amanda Serrano and Claressa Shields can lead the way”.by