Toughest Man in the World
By Richard E. Baker on ber 31, 2021
One can feel his energy, the breezes from his punches like a desert wind. (Richard E. Baker)
Jose Benavidez prepares his sons David and Jose Jr. for their Showtime fights on November 13 at the Footprint Center in Phoenix, Arizona. Training sons is not an easy task. Sons forget what their fathers have given up for them and often appear ungrateful. (No good deed goes unpunished.) Training sons to be world champions is especially trying. People think of the difficulties many fighters have had in their lives, but seldom of the difficulties faced by trainers. Jose has risen from poverty to one of the top trainers in the world.
No man wants a home more for his boys than a man who has never had one himself. He wants his boys to be raised correctly, in a safe environment, to grow and prosper, have decent jobs, and to feel safe and secure. A man who understands is Jose Benavidez.
Jose has been almost on his own since he was three years old. His parents divorced and left him in Mexico at the hands of his grandparents, and old couple without means of support, even for themselves. Their house was patched together with wood fragments and many times they could not feed themselves, much less a growing boy. The lack of food may have contributed to Jose’s small stature. He is a tight package, good looking, with hard muscles, and dark inquisitive eyes glowing like two beacons in a desert. A quick brain lies behind those eyes, one that soaks up knowledge, processes the information with alacrity, puts everything into files to study and bring forth when needed.
By the age of five Jose was hunting rabbits to help feed his grandparents and himself. He chased them with sticks, dust rising in curls around his feet as they swirled through the dried sagebrush. He has remarkable balance. As he grew older he hired himself out from dawn to dusk to clear sage and brush for farmers. He performed any work he could to buy food. Still, there were many days when no food was available.
“I prayed to God and asked what had I done to deserve this kind of life.”
He became involved with various gangs. They appeared to take care of one another and there was a feeling of safety and family with them.
“It took me a while to realize they were just using me to steal for them. I was small so they could push me through windows.” Jose has always been able to see through the B.S. and get to the truth.
When his mother remarried, she returned to Mexico and took him to Los Angeles. Things did not go well. He had difficulty with his stepfather, a not unusual situation where men often view one another as rivals.
“I was pretty bad so it was not all his fault. I was too wild then and I got into drugs and mixed up with gangs again and started selling drugs to make few bucks. I was used to being independent and to do as I pleased.”
He is a smart man and realized the gang and drug scene was the wrong path. Because a person must live, the gang life seemed to be the only choice. Many people in that situation do not have the will or desire to attempt and change their lives. There was another way, one that required work and integrity, one not filled with excuses why you could not succeed.
His family eventually moved to Arizona. There was no improvement in his life and still too many bad influences. Breaking away was going to be difficult. At the age of 15 he had his first son, Jose Jr., a scrappy little bundle from the beginning. “He changed my life. This was the family I had always wanted.”
He secured a job at the Ritz Carlton. The hotel is one of the best in the world. The work was hard, the pay was good, and the tips were generous. He had made the first step. He now had a decent job, a girlfriend, and soon two sons. The future looked bright. Then, as often happens, he returned home from work one day and his girlfriend said she did not love him anymore and she was leaving. He had no warning and the statement came as a complete surprise.
“I said the only thing we really have are the boys. Let’s part without animosity. If you want the boys you can take them. If not, I will be happy to raise them.”
They decided to leave the decision to the boys. They chose their father. Because he wanted to do the best he could by them, he started them in sports. He let them try every venue. They eventually gradated to boxing, the one sport Jose knew nothing about.
“I did not choose boxing for them. They chose boxing. They seemed to be naturals for fighting. I was at a loss. I knew nothing about boxing and did not know how to help them.”
That did not stop Jose. He is a quietly determined man. He started learning everything he could about boxing, from the history to various techniques. He watched the way different boxers fought, the way each one threw jabs or hooks or uppercuts. He watched their body movements and the way they moved their feet, from dancers to plodders. One thing he understood for certain: discover the way a fighter wants to fight and do not change him. Work with what he has. Develop those skills. Attempting to change him will only cause problems.
Jose went even farther to help his boys. He started working with various top trainers and learning from them. He noticed how each one trained fighters and learned as much from their faults as from their proficiencies.
“Freddie Roach is a good trainer. His biggest fault is he wants everyone to fight like Pacquiao. That does not work with a fighter who wants a different style. Abel Sanchez is a tough man and wants his boxers to be tough. He is not much on style. His fighters come ahead looking for war and to bring out the heavy guns fast. Robert Garcia is very patient with his fighters. He never yells or berates them. They all have their own ways. I knew if I learned all the ways they trained then I could utilize all their techniques without selecting just one style.”
At first Jose wanted to find a top trainer for his sons. Jose realized that he had learned as much as most trainers and he could train them.
“Top trainers are always working with 4 or 5 boxers. My boys needed a full time trainer. I took on the job. I could help them and keep an eye on them. I gave up whatever I might have wanted to concentrate on them reaching their goals.”
Keeping an eye on them caused some hard feelings. Fathers and sons always have their problems. His boys started hanging with the wrong crowd in Arizona. He knew it would not be long before they succumbed to drugs. Jose Jr. was even shot in the knee, an injury that would have ended the careers of most fighters. David lost his title because of a failed drug test. He decided to move to the safest place he could find, Burien, Washington.
Jose not only learned about boxing, he also learned about the management of boxing. Boxers are constantly screwed. Chicanery in the game seems to be the normal. He was not going to let that happen to his boys. They eventually signed decent contracts with Top Rank and with PBC.
“David does not enjoy working out but he loves to spar,” said Jose. “I must stop him or he will keep going, fifteen rounds or more. His brother, Jose Jr., does not like being in the gym as much and I must push him to spar. This often causes problems between us. He is a bit lazy and he must be pushed.” Because Jr. can be such a problem, Jose has often kicked him out of the gym for causing problems.
Saying a fighter loves to train is a common boast with trainers and seldom always true. Fighters must be built up in the eyes of the public. In this case, Jose was telling the truth. That certainly is apparent as soon as David moves against his first sparring partner of the day. He wants to work and to work hard. Whenever a lull in the action occurs, David encourages his partner to move forward and to give him a fight. After 4 tough rounds, the next victim is called. He is a tank and moves forward like a Russian T-34. David is now warm and he removes his shirt. David knocks him about the ring. The opponent continues to crawl forward, always steady, always tossing hard rights.
Between rounds, Jose waters David and gives advice. David listens intently and respectively. The sweat is flowing freely. He goes out and continues working. One can feel his energy, the breezes from his punches like a desert wind. He is fast, very fast.
David is a remarkable athlete. When he was about 14 years old, he weighed 267 pounds, not exactly in fighting trim. He understood that if he wanted to be a successful boxer he needed to get into better shape. He started to watch what he ate and to do the work need to take off the pounds. With the help of nutritionist Daisy Delgado, “I took off 100 pounds,” he said. “I intend to keep it off.”
When the sparring is over David has gone 12 rounds. He wants more. This is not a bluff. He means it. He has a grin the size of Montana on his face. Every round has given him increased pleasure. Jose will not let him go another round. Enough is enough. Besides, a reporter from Sports Illustrated is waiting for him. David is a nice and personable man but not a great thinker. He is shy around the press. He is easily led and makes poor decisions. Various factions are constantly attempting to get him away from his father. He was even talked into using a different person to regulate his diet, leading to his being overweight for his last fight. Jose shrugs his shoulders. “He is an adult and makes his own decisions. He does not always make smart ones.” David needs to remember who got him where he is and remember the old saying “Dance with the one who brought you.”
David was scheduled to fight former champion Jose Uzcategui. People were just learning to pronounce the name when Uzcatequi failed his drug test for the November fight. He has been replaced with Kyrone Davis. Davis is an unremarkable fighter whose only claim to fame is a draw over Anthony Dirrell, a boxer David easily walked over. The media will do their best to make him into a worthy opponent. Moving from a challenging opponent to a lesser one is frustrating. David wanted to make a big splash in his hometown. Now he will barely get his feet wet. He always wants the best opponents.
The better fight of the night should be between older brother Jose Jr. and Francisco Emmanuel Torres (17-3-0). Torres is a true professional, more a boxer than a puncher. He could not break an egg if he dropped it on the floor. He is crafty and difficult to hit. Jose Jr. is the intellectual one, a quick thinker who always has the right answer, if not always the honest one, for the press. He likes to talk and shapes truth in his own mold. He is arrogant, self confident, hard-headed, and is not inclined to take advice from anyone, even his father. Their relationship is combative. When he works he works hard. Months ago he was so fat he made Butterbean look like a flyweight. He has done enough work to again look like a deadly weapon. Jose Jr. says he does not fight for money, he fights for supremacy.
As they wait for Jose Jr. to arrive, David sits on the ring apron as Jose wipes him down and removes his gloves and wrappings. The reporter can wait a few minutes. David is all smiles as Jose offers him advice, what he has done correctly, what he has not. David moves over to meet the writer, slouches in a chair, speaks clear and loudly. Jose watches with pride and waits for Jose Jr. Moving his family to Washington was the right choice. He has now been here 5 years and his gym has been drawing potential boxers from around the country. He looks toward the future and is training a group of four teenage boxers. Presently they are all undefeated. Jose has never looked back.