Pass the Vegetables

By Richard E. Baker on August 16, 2020

David Benavidez is smart. He can win a fight with just a jab. (Amanda Wescott/Showtime)

Former super middleweight champion David Benavidez likes breaking records. He is the youngest person to win the WBC super middleweight championship. He then lost the title when he tested positive for cocaine use. Drugs cut many a promising boxer low early in their careers. Benavidez learned his mistake. One cannot be a champion long while enjoying the high life. He failed to make weight, by over two pounds, for his championship fight with Roamer Angulo. Again his title has been pulled. Having lost the title twice outside the ring broke another record.

 

For any fighter not to make weight is a disgrace. For a champion, not making weight is a humiliation, total disrespect for the sport, if boxing is a sport. Yet, failing to make weight often occurs and comes as a surprise to the athlete. Benavidez, who weighed over 260 pounds while a teenager, had done well to fight as a super middleweight. He is also just 23 years old and is still growing into manhood. He may someday end up as a heavyweight.  

 

His gym work has been impeccable. He is truly a gym rat. All reports from his numerous sparring partners said he has spent the last month in the gym, working out every day and sparring with no less than 3 partners for 12 rounds 3 times a week. Boxers get as close to fighting weight as they can a week before the fight. They feel the last few pounds can be removed the week of the fight. Benavidez never imagined the final few pounds would not shed, would not drip off in the sauna, the additional gym work, the final drying out process, all the things he has done in the past. Perhaps he failed to realize he may no longer be a super middleweight. Light heavy should be his next step. Given a few years he will probably move up again. Only he and his other can decide that.

 

Time is an interesting phenomena, not consistent, as we imagine, but movable, constantly in flux like a good fight. Boxers draw out the clock on the mat with their feet. A fight is waged in a circle, the fighters constantly going around and around in larger circles and smaller circles. They do not fight on the points of a compass, north to south, east to west, but around and around and around, round after round, after round, after round, and usually in a clockwise direction. One minute time rushes past, the gloves flying, heads bobbing, bodies swaying in a swirl of furious blows and vicious fighting. Occasionally holes form in time, holes that must be filled in with boxing, slick style, graceful dancing, blocking, and thinking, lots of thinking.

 

Warriors go into battle with the sounds of cheering crowds, well-wishers, fans and bands and songs in abundance. David Benavidez and Roamer Angulo walked through the empty arena in silence, Benavidez the former WBC super middleweight champion, Roamer Angulo, the invader, confident he has the skills to conquer the kingdom. Not even the sounds of shoes across the floor were heard. The fight was to be a fight not just in time but in mime.

 

The long walk was not the walk of heroes, of cheering crowds, and of flashing lights. Both men entered the ring through a wave of silence, nothing to arouse the spirits. There is more noise during a gym sparring session. The masked corner men resembled executioners or surgical nurses, or maybe bandits. This fight had no placid crowd, murky painted faces early visible in the dark, eyes staring vacuously like an existential party in the book “1984” as in some television fights in the time of covid, just a plain blue background. The room was cold and Kafkaesque. Not even the television lights could warm the fighters. There was no piped in crowd noise that sounded piped in, an audible apology for the real thing. Covid masks covered more than coughs.

 

Jimmy Lennon Jr., the ring announcer, attempted failed animation, something new to him. For years he has practiced being static and articulate, a ring fixture of bookends holding together a bout: the beginning and the end. He has aspired to be Professor Higgins, every word precisely enunciated. Except for his lips, he finds movement difficult. His only athletic skill is to reach up with a single hand and grasp a microphone. The work seems almost exhausting. He is an expert, probably the best in boxing. Often millions of eyes are upon him and, except for boxing fans, he remains unknown, a voice in the night, so important but so quickly forgotten. No fight occurs without him, no beginning, no ending, no decision.

 

Benavidez looked relaxed and confident in his corner. Angulo was determined like a man with one final time to make his mark in the world before he succumbs to popular indifference. This fight was a step up, a chance to prove his worth, perhaps too big a step. A boxer’s reach should exceed his grasp or what’s a heaven for.

 

Much is known about Benavidez. He is the latest wonder boy, a smart crafty boxer, well schooled with expert training from his father Jose Jr. He falls into the classification of Gene Tunney and Archie Moore, two men whose ring savvy was equal to none. They were just plain smart like Benavidez is smart. Benavidez can win a fight with just a jab. He can also take out an opponent with a single shot, or, if he needs a bit of exercise, a rapid flurry. He is one of the better well rounded fighters working today and he much enjoys the game. Because Angulo is 35 years old, Benavidez will likely take him to the deep end before he puts him to sleep. He is the betting favorite, the (former) champion, the man with a goal, the goal to be the best. Everything he does he does well, every kind of punch picture perfect and accurate.  

 

Roamar Angulo was the great unknown. He is a decent banger as long as the chances come early. With a record of 26-1-0 and 22 KOs he knows how to hit, and hit hard. He usually starts fast. Early in his career he kept his hands low often jabbing from the waist. He has since raised them but tends to lower them as a fight progresses, not always a good idea. He has the footwork of an Imperial Walker and is just as tough. He takes a decent punch and returns as good as he gets. He cannot fight backwards. If age is a factor, and it is with any fighter except Saoul Mamby, who had his last fight at the age of 60, he will have to go slow or finish fast.  

 

It’s the unexpected that makes boxing exciting. Benavidez was slated for the win. If he gets conned into a street fight he could have trouble. Not likely.

 

Both fighters had to move to the ring through the stench left by judges who must have had their covid masks over their eyes during the previous bout between Rolando Romero and Jackson Maríñez. With his slick clever movements and accurate punching, Maríñez made Romero look like bumbling 3-legged fool. Maríñez earned a loss for his excellent work and boxing skills. Romero is Floyd Mayweather Jr.’s fighter. Go Figure.

 

The Benavidez/Angulo fight started slowly before settling into a predictable book of like pages. Benavidez practiced every punch known to boxing, each punch thrown with power and accuracy. He is one of the few fighters who can effectively fight off the ropes, a place most fighters avoid. He leans against and turtles up blocking almost all punches. He then fires out with his rope-a-poke style, gabby, hooks, and often an uppercut.

 

Each round mirrored the previous round, Benavidez doing most of the work, Angulo catching. He has a rock solid chin, maybe too solid. In each round Angulo launched a desperate attack, moving in and punching furiously. After the 7th round defeat shown on Angulo’s face in his corner, blank eyes looking inward, too proud to quit yet knowing there was no hope except in desperation, an awkward punch landing at an awkward angle with enough power to change Benavidez’s confident face.

 

By the 10th round, Angulo’s corner decided to save his life and called the fight. He has done about all he can in boxing and needs to retire.

 

And Benavidez? If he is not caught lying face down in a bowl of mashed potatoes, he might still make the super middleweight limit and win the title again, then attempt to defend it in the ring before moving up to light heavyweight.