The weight class is new for David Benavidez. The stakes are the same. But he hopes the outcome this time will be different.

When Benavidez steps into the ring Saturday against Oleksandr Gvozdyk, it will be his first fight as a full-fledged light heavyweight since 2015, back when he was a teenager, a prospect who would eventually move downward on the scales and make the super middleweight division his home.

That’s where he was for much of the past decade. That’s where he won a world title, and lost it outside of the ring. Twice.

That’s where he unofficially earned a shot at Canelo Alvarez. Even without a title belt around his waist, Benavidez was the consensus top challenger remaining after Canelo took out Callum Smith, Billy Joe Saunders and Caleb Plant to become the undisputed champion at 168.

That’s where Benavidez also officially earned his shot, picking up the WBC’s interim super middleweight title, bestowed while Canelo had embarked on his challenge of 175-pound titleholder Dmitry Bivol. Canelo was unsuccessful and returned to defend his throne. 

Unfortunately, Canelo defended it against three people who weren’t David Benavidez — a third fight with an aged Gennadiy Golovkin, a match with contender John Ryder and a bout with Jermell Charlo, at the time the undisputed junior middleweight champion. 

It soon became clear that the fourth person wasn’t going to be Benavidez either. Canelo defeated contender Jaime Munguia in May.

That’s why Benavidez decided earlier this year to head up to light heavyweight. His fight this Saturday night against Oleksandr Gvozdyk will take place as the co-featured bout underneath the Gervonta Davis-Frank Martin pay-per-view (available on Amazon’s Prime Video,, and traditional cable and satellite providers).

“I didn’t feel like there was any reason to stay at 168 any longer. My main goal was to win all the belts at 168. Canelo is holding all the belts hostage,” Benavidez said at a press conference earlier this week. “It’s the perfect time. I’ve been at 168 for the past 10 years, so naturally my body is getting bigger. I think this is just the perfect time to come up. I’m just looking to capture all the titles in this weight class and giving the fans the best possible fights.”

Once again, Benavidez is fighting for the WBC’s interim title, this time in the 175-pound weight class, created by the sanctioning body even though its actual titleholder, Artur Beterbiev, is otherwise active. Beterbiev last fought in January and is scheduled to face Bivol in October, with the winner becoming the undisputed light heavyweight champion.

“After I win this fight, after I win the WBC interim title, it’s going to put me in position to fight for all the belts,” Benavidez told Stephen A. Smith, the host of First Take on ESPN. I’m not gonna wait for no man. If Canelo Alvarez doesn’t want to make the fight, then we do the next best thing. We go up a weight class and try to conquer that weight class.”

Benavidez is hoping the interim belt will give him more leverage to fight against the undisputed light heavyweight champion than it did with the undisputed super middleweight champion.

The interim belt is one of the ways the sanctioning bodies can establish a mandatory challenger to the full titleholder — with the difference being that if, say, Canelo declined to face Benavidez, then Canelo would be stripped and Benavidez elevated. (Mandatory challengers without interim titles still would need to fight someone else for the full belt.)

Earlier this year, Mauricio Sulaiman, the head of the WBC, said Benavidez would be named Canelo’s mandatory challenger in March 2024.

“It’s too much speculation, too much people wanting to find wrongdoings, and it is not the case,” Sulaiman told Pro Boxing Fans at the time. “Benavidez deserves the fight. He wants the fight. And I hope it will happen soon.”

Except Canelo has spoken time and again about how he doesn’t need to face Benavidez. Or he’ll say he will only fight Benavidez for an astronomical paycheck. Or he’ll complain in one breath about how Benavidez gains a significant amount of weight between the weigh-in and fight night (something that is within the rules). Then he’ll note in another breath that requiring a rehydration clause of Benavidez would be “a lose-lose situation.”

Meanwhile, the WBC isn’t enforcing Benavidez’s right to face Canelo. Benavidez remains the WBC’s interim titleholder at super middleweight. He’s had that interim title for more than two years, dating back to when Benavidez knocked out David Lemieux.

Alas, Canelo’s spoken reasons for not facing Benavidez don’t need to be consistent — he faced Munguia in May when Munguia has accomplished less at 168 than Benavidez, and Canelo’s mulling whether to honor the IBF’s demands that he face unbeaten but unproven prospect William Scull.

For Canelo — and for the WBC — it’s not about making sense. It’s about making money.

Canelo remains one of the biggest superstars in boxing. He’ll earn large paydays whether he faces the likes of Munguia, Scull, or even a middling challenger like Edgar Berlanga. Canelo knows that the WBC doesn’t want to raise his ire and miss out on a chance to get those precious sanctioning fees, as happened in 2016, when Canelo vacated his WBC middleweight title rather than to deal with the sanctioning body’s deadlines for making the first fight with Golovkin.

Even the promoters and broadcasters will only put so much pressure on Canelo. It makes sense that Premier Boxing Champions would work with Canelo on other fights even if Canelo won’t face another PBC fighter in Benavidez. And from a promotional and managerial perspective, it also unfortunately makes sense to have three stars — Canelo, Benavidez and David Morrell — rather than navigate one into a potential defeat, and lessen their marketability, before it’s necessary.

So Canelo is playing the game, knowing that the longer he delays, the greater the demand increases, and the higher a price someone will be willing to pay to make it happen. It’s something plenty of superstars have done before.

Benavidez represents unfinished business for Canelo at super middleweight, but in the end, Canelo cares more about the “business” part than the “unfinished.” 

“The fans have been wanting to see Benavidez and Canelo fight. I don’t think that fight is out of the question down the line, but I’m not buying the bullshit that Canelo is scared of Benavidez. It’s a money thing,” observed Leonard Ellerbe, the recently departed CEO of Mayweather Promotions, said earlier this week.

“Canelo is just throwing some numbers out there, seeing if somebody will meet his price,’’ Eddie Hearn of Matchroom Boxing, one of the promoters that has worked with Canelo in recent years, said in May.

Canelo said as much himself after the Munguia fight: “It’s only a matter of money at this point.”

Benavidez would have been better off had he never lost the full-fledged WBC title. He first earned it in 2017, then was stripped of the belt in 2018 after testing positive for cocaine, even though that drug usage was out-of-competition and not at all performance-enhancing.  Benavidez regained the WBC title in 2019 when he took out Anthony Dirrell, then sabotaged himself again, this time by coming in overweight for his first defense against Roamer Angulo.

Four months later, that vacant WBC belt was up for grabs when Canelo fought WBA titleholder Smith, the start of Alvarez’s run through the super middleweight division. To collect all four belts, Canelo took on overmatched WBC mandatory challenger Avni Yildirim, then met up with Saunders for the WBO title and Plant for the IBF. 

Benavidez can’t go back in time to change what happened — and what didn’t happen — at super middleweight. But he can take solace that the situation at light heavyweight should be different.

He’ll still need to wait.

Beterbiev vs. Bivol won’t be taking place for another four months. The earliest the winner would face Benavidez would likely be in early 2025, if not later, depending on how much recovery time the winner needs and what the order of mandatory defenses would be for the four sanctioning body belts. 

It’s doubtful that money would present as significant an obstacle, though. As talented as Beterbiev and Bivol are, neither is a box office or pay-per-view blockbuster. They wouldn’t hold out for as large of a paycheck. The WBC wouldn’t seek to placate them the way they have with Canelo. 

Then again, it took funding from Saudi Arabia’s outsized infusion into boxing for Beterbiev vs. Bivol to be finalized. That might also be necessary for a match to be made afterward with Benavidez.

In interview after interview with Benavidez, you can hear the frustration. He’s been a pro for more than a decade. He won his first world title nearly seven years ago. He’s 27 years old and entering his prime years. Yet there’s still so much more for him to do. And some of what’s preventing that is out of his control.

Benavidez kept taking care of business at 168, beating Plant via decision in March 2023 and scoring a technical knockout last November over Demetrius Andrade, another boxer Canelo declined to face. Benavidez could have stuck around at super middleweight, demanded a fight with Morrell or some of the other rising prospects and contenders, and continued to make a strong case for himself, even though he shouldn’t have to.

Instead, he’s wisely hedging his bets — or perhaps doubling his chances. Benavidez is hoping that a win over Gvozdyk will get him closer to a big fight. Moving to light heavyweight doesn’t necessarily close the door on Canelo and super middleweight.

“You have to have patience,” Benavidez said earlier this week. “I’ve put in all the groundwork. Last year was my first pay-per-view, and I’ve been a professional for 10 years. You have to have patience. I feel like I’ve got another 15 years left in me for this professional game, so I’ll make the second half of my career the best half.”

Follow David Greisman on Twitter @FightingWords2. His book, “Fighting Words: The Heart and Heartbreak of Boxing,” is available on Amazon.

Read the full article here