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In The Corner with Russ Anber: Wilfred Benitez might have been second only to "Sugar" Ray Robinson

Wilfred Benitez defined everything that I love and everything that I hate about boxing.

When I first became interested in the sport he was my favourite fighter, and the one I referred to the most with my fighters. “Watch this guy, Benitez.” 

In 1979 I even thought he was going to beat Ray Leonard. That night two of the greatest fighters ever faced off in the ultimate boxing chess match. In those days he was everything that was beautiful about boxing; he’s one of the reasons I first fell in love with the sport.

He proved himself capable of handling Tommy Hearns – a huge welterweight – and beat Roberto Duran with ease. He was only 17 when he beat Antonio Cervantes over 15 rounds. He was so graceful; there was even that smile that would sometimes appear on his face when he fought that meant that he looked like anything other than a fighter, but he was one of the very best.

The knockout of Maurice Hope in 1981 is one of the greatest one-punch knockouts we’ve seen. When we messed around with the kids at the gym in Montreal we used to imitate the way he arrogantly lifted his head when he landed that shot, and the smile he had on his face, knowing that he’d just landed the perfect punch. “I’m the greatest.” He didn’t even bother throwing the other hand; he knew when his right landed that it was over. 

The fight with Leonard is among my favourites. That staredown when they met each other in the centre of the ring; their performances. I’m not sure we’ve seen tactical prowess from such high-level fighters like it since. Even after Leonard hurt Benitez he resisted jumping on him – he didn’t believe he’d hurt him enough. The stoppage from the referee Carlos Padilla, with six seconds remaining of the 15th and final round, was a farce – one of the worst we’ve seen.

Quite simply, Benitez had it all. It was common knowledge that he was so gifted – so talented – that he felt he didn’t even need to train properly. Legend has it that before fighting Leonard he trained for only two weeks, and perhaps we’ll never know the truth, but it’s widely accepted that he lacked dedication and enjoyed his life outside of the ring.

In The Corner with Russ Anber: Wilfred Benitez might have been second only to Sugar Ray Robinson

If he’d dedicated himself the way “Sugar” Ray Robinson once did, he might even be regarded as second only to Robinson when we talk about the greatest of all time. He beat a proven champion, at the age of 17, to win his first world title at super lightweight, and then won further titles at welterweight and light-middleweight in his early twenties. He beat Duran, and narrowly lost to Leonard and Hearns. If he’d fought Marvin Hagler his style means he’d have given Hagler fits. Maybe Hagler’s size advantage would eventually have told, but he wouldn’t have stopped Benitez if they’d fought when Benitez was in his prime.He was the fifth King.

I was present in Montreal in 1986 when he lost to Matthew Hilton, and was crushed by what I saw. It was sickening to watch Hilton destroy him with such a vicious knockout when "El Radar" was a shell of his former self.

There are times fighters take fights they’re advised against – I’ve even worked with some. But the way Benitez was exploited by those around him towards the end of his career was sickening. There have even been suggestions that his father Gregorio Snr was among them.

The condition Benitez is in today – he suffers with pugilistic dementia – means that he instead became something I hate about boxing. He has to be cared for by his sister Yvonne. 

Former light-heavyweight title challenger John Scully, one of my good friends, often sends money to Yvonne to assist with his care because Benitez has nothing left, which breaks my heart. Boxing did that to him. 

There’s no way he should have been involved in so many of the 15 fights that came after he lost to Hearns. I believe John’s even been to see him, and what he spoke of seeing wasn’t good at all.

Benitez defined everything that I love, and everything that I hate, about boxing.

Russ Anber is the founder/CEO of Rival Boxing, as well as a highly respected trainer (of both pros and amateurs), a gym owner, a cut-man, an entrepreneur, a broadcaster and one of the best hand wrappers in the boxing business. Vasiliy Lomachenko, Oleksandr Usyk, Artur Beterbiev and Callum Smith are among the many top boxers Russ works with.

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