Monday, March 27, 2023

Benavidez-Plant Thoughts

As strictly a Boxing match, the encounter between former Super-Middleweight world champions David Benavidez and Caleb Plant checked a lot of boxes that a Boxing fan looks for in the lead up to the fight. A clash of styles that when matched against each other was likely to produce a competitive fight. A rivalry between the two fighters that appeared to grow into legitimate bad blood, and the sub-plot of potentially getting another opportunity to fight for a world championship. With the fight fan's list of what to look forward to checked off, it was time for the two fighters to converge on the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, NV on March 25th to do battle. 

In previewing this bout, this observer stated that it would likely come down to whether or not Plant would be able to deal with the punching power and hand speed of Benavidez. It was also crucial in my eyes that Benavidez not allow Plant, a fighter known for his elusiveness, to be able to set the tempo of the fight and could not start slow as he had done in previous fights as the possibility existed that Plant could build an early lead on the scorecards

For most of the first six rounds of the fight, this is exactly what Plant was able to accomplish. Using his ability to move laterally and approach Benavidez at varying angles, Plant was able to pick his shots by throwing and landing short, crisp combinations to the body and head and then move before Benavidez could return offense. This essentially was the pattern in which the fight was fought for a significant period of time. What yours truly also stated was that Benavidez needed to avoid following Plant around, needed to find a way to cut the ring off to try and limit his movement, and needed to let his hands go consistently.

Throughout most of the first half of the twelve round bout, Benavidez seemingly fell into that trap, which is a testament to what appeared to be an effective fight plan that Caleb Plant was able to execute. It also should not be overlooked that as Benavidez followed Plant around, it was Plant who was able to frequently make the undefeated former WBC Super-Middleweight world champion miss with the punches that he did throw. Plant, the former IBF Super-Middleweight world champion, also succeeded in keeping Benavidez from being able to establish any kind of consistent rhythm offensively by implementing this strategy, with an emphasis on movement and trying to out box his opponent.

At the halfway point of the fight, I felt that Plant had won five of the first six rounds based largely on his execution of his fight plan. While I did not feel the bout was close in terms of scoring at this point, one thing that also stood out was when he was able to connect with his punches, David Benavidez was the harder puncher of the two. Although that should not be surprising to most knowledge Boxing fans, who are familiar with the styles of the two fighters, the question that formed in my mind as the fight progressed was whether or not power punches would be enough for Benavidez to be able to get the job done in this fight as it appeared going into the second half of the fight that he was being out boxed and out worked by Plant.

During the second half of the fight however, the ebb and flow changed as the pressure of Benavidez as well as fatigue began to slow Plant down, which made him more of a stationary target. This along with Benavidez being able to land punches more consistently, seemed in some ways to mirror Plant's only career defeat at the hands of current Undisputed Super-Middleweight world champion Saul "Canelo" Alvarez, who was able to gradually break Plant down and stop him in eleven rounds in their unification bout in November 2021. Much like Benavidez, Alvarez was able to land the harder shots particularly to the body, which slowed Plant down. In this case, perhaps because of what happened to him against Alvarez, Plant though slowed considerably as the bout progressed tried to go toe to toe with Benavidez, despite it not being to his advantage.

Some might also point to the fact that Caleb Plant was able to get away with what at times appeared to be excessive holding throughout the fight when Benavidez was able to get close. While the tactic of holding an opponent is one that a boxer uses both as a means of defense as well as a way to physically turn an opponent where they are not able to get punches off and then be able to maintain distance when separated by the referee, I will say that I felt the holding by Plant did border on excessive, particularly in the second half of the fight when he was unable to use his legs as he had done over the first six rounds to evade Benavidez.

It needs to be pointed out however, that skilled boxers as Caleb Plant certainly is will look to take advantage of whatever they are able to get away with as long as they are allowed to by the referee. The referee for this bout was Kenny Bayless, who is one of the most respected referees throughout the entire sport that is frequently called upon to officiate bouts all over the world, not just in the state of Nevada in a career where he has officiated close to 900 professional bouts as a referee, many of those bouts having been for world championship fights. Why am I taking the time to point out the credentials of the referee of this fight the reader might ask?

Well, if you are knowledgeable about the sport and you have spent as much time covering it as I have in having spent most of my life writing about and covering Boxing as well as other combat sports, you unfortunately get used to hearing the criticism of fans of referees, judges, and hear the subsequent accusations of potential corruption hurled in the direction of those who are criticized. Although I have not spent too much time as I write this column to see if there has been such criticism of Bayless, I do not feel there was anything suspicious going on in terms of potential corruption. I do feel however, that Bayless should have at least warned Plant about holding as the fight progressed. Referees and judges, like the rest of us, are human and are just as prone to having an off night at the office for lack of a better term as any of us. Bayless is still one of the best in the sport, but it is quite possible that he indeed had an off night here and that did serve to benefit Plant.

Unlike in the Alvarez fight where the effects of pressure, punishment, and fatigue led to his downfall, just as it appeared this fight was heading for a similar outcome, Plant was somehow able to survive a terrible beating that Benavidez dished out in the later rounds. This was particularly surprising in the eleventh round where I frankly thought he was taking too much punishment and wondered if Bayless or his corner would stop the fight as a result. Although Plant did not get knocked down during this period of the fight and deserves a lot of credit for being able to survive and go on to finish the fight, I felt the eleventh round was lopsided to the degree that scoring that round 10-8 in favor of Benavidez was appropriate. As it would turn out, that decision by yours truly would end up producing a rarity on my unofficial scorecard at the end of the fight.

At the end of the twelve round bout, I arrived with an even score in terms of rounds in having scored six rounds a piece between Benavidez and Plant. In points however because I scored the eleventh round 10-8, a score that most of the time is reserved for when there is a knockdown, in favor of Benavidez, I arrived with Benavidez winning the fight 115-113 in points, akin to a seven rounds to five scorecard. 

Ultimately, Benavidez would win the fight via unanimous decision by margins of 115-113 (Seven rounds to five), 116-112 (Eight rounds to four), and 117-111 (Nine rounds to three). While I do not feel a nine rounds to three scorecard was an accurate illustration of how close this fight was, it is indisputable that once Caleb Plant was not able to use his movement, the dynamic of the bout changed and it was a different type of fight from the second half of the contest on through the end of the fight. 

The victory for David Benavidez now moves him into a mandatory position to challenge Saul Alvarez as far as the World Boxing Council's (WBC) Super-Middleweight ratings is concerned. The likelihood of Benavidez getting that shot in the near future seems unlikely due both to Alvarez' upcoming title defense against WBO mandatory challenger John Ryder in May and assuming he retains his undisputed championship in that fight, his desire to seek a rematch with undefeated WBA Light-Heavyweight world champion Dmitry Bivol, who defeated Alvarez last year in defense of his Light-Heavyweight crown. This as well as the uncertainty of the Premier Boxing Champions (PBC) group of promoters, who currently promote Benavidez, seems to keep him out of the equation at least in the immediate future, though he did do his best to call Alvarez out for a fight later this year shortly after defeating Plant. 

As for Caleb Plant, the second loss of his career will do little to negatively affect his standing in the Super-Middleweight division. He has however, earned the chance to rest after what was a very tough and grueling fight. The uncertainty that the PBC, who also promotes Plant, currently finds itself in will likely allow Plant all the time he needs to recover and decide what he wants to do before going back to the drawing board. The one thing Plant can take from this loss is he performed well and even though he did lose this fight, the way he fought, particularly in the later rounds will endear him to fans going forward and his stock in the division will go up as a result.

"And That's The Boxing Truth."

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