ANY notion that Caleb Plant might be suffering from a Canelo Alvarez-induced hangover were put to rest the moment he laid out Anthony Dirrell in nine rounds last October. Plant is keen to secure a rematch with the Mexican superstar and, though such a scenario may have seemed unlikely after being stopped by Canelo in November 2021, he could emerge as the most deserving challenger at 168lbs with victory over David Benavidez at Las Vegas’ MGM Grand on Saturday night.
The WBC super-middleweight interim bauble, owned by Benavidez, is at stake. It’s perhaps too easy to be critical of the strap because, on May 6, divisional world champion Alvarez defends the full title, and his other three belts, against John Ryder in Mexico. Without it, though, one can argue that Plant and Benavidez may not have agreed to fight each other at all. Let’s be real, however; the prospect of Canelo is the carrot here, not the title. And the sanctioning fees should more than cover the extra cost incurred by the WBC for the manufacture of duplicate silverware and the branded t-shirts that will be forced over the heads of both winners.
A better barometer for the quality of this contest is that Benavidez and Plant are rated by Boxing News and TBRB at one and two respectively. It is a terrific matchup and an eliminator in all but the branding.
Benavidez, 26-0 (23) and a former WBC (full) belt-holder, appears to have his career on track after a rocky spell when he failed a drug test with cocaine in his system and, in 2020, missed weight for a defence against Roamer Alexis Angulo and was stripped of his title. That rap sheet is far from boxing’s worst but long enough to wonder if the 26-year-old might always be prone to out-of-the-ring distractions.
Let’s hope not. At his best – which he looked close to while walloping a shopworn David Lemieux in three rounds last May – Benanvidez is a formidable operator and one that many believe could provide Alvarez with his sternest test at super-middle. He seems revitalised and refocused, for sure. He turned down a fight with gatekeeper Jose Uzcategui late last year, deeming the veteran some way below the level he sees himself at. He told his manager Al Haymon to forget about any warm -ups and secure this bout with Plant instead.
“If these fights [with the likes of Plant] don’t happen I just have to move up to 175,” he told Boxing Scene. “The thing is, I can milk this. I get paid well. I can fight whoever I want. But I don’t want to lose fans. I don’t want to be the type of fighter that fans start talking s**t about, complaining that we’re wasting their money by not giving them the fights they deserve. I care a lot about my fans and want to give them the best fights.”
Benavidez too owns a ninth-round KO over Anthony Dirrell, but that 2019 effort was not quite as spectacular as Plant’s; Dirrell was rescued by his corner mid-round. Other noteworthy performances include victories over Ronald Ellis (rsf 11), J’Leon Love (ko 2), and Ronald Gavril has twice been outpointed.
The first scrap with Gavril, in September 2017, was a cracker though not everyone agreed that Benavidez deserved the split nod after being floored in the last round. Five months later, an improving Benavidez controlled from start to finish to triumph on lopsided scorecards.
Plant, meanwhile, enjoyed a solid run as IBF belt-holder with wins over varying quality over Uzcategui (pts 12), Mike Lee (rsf 3), Vincent Feigenbutz (rsf 10) and Caleb Truax (pts 12) between 2019 and 2021. The 30-year-old, 22-1 (13), was then competitive against Canelo early before being halted in the 11th and, it can therefore be argued, his showing in the first half is the most impressive either he or Benavidez has been in the professional ranks when you consider exactly what Plant was up against. In truth, neither Plant nor Benavidez have a victory over anyone who could be regarded as an elite competitor – with Dirrell being a somewhat fanciful exception. In short, whoever wins here will be notching the finest result of their career to date, providing of course the victory is fair and conclusive.
Plant, now trained by Stephen ‘Breadman’ Edwards alongside his father Richie Plant, said: “The key to this fight is just being myself. That’s what’s getting my hand raised. I’m hungry for this.
“Different people handle things in different ways. I’m cool, calm and collected. I’m focused and I’ve had a great camp. We’re going into this fight 100 per cent. I can only speak for my team, but we’re ready to handle business.”
An inch shorter than Benavidez at 6ft 1ins, the flashy Plant insists the addition of Edwards has instilled some “Philly grit”, an ingredient he says he was lacking when the going got tough against Canelo. He’s arguably the faster but Benavidez, who looks the bigger puncher, is far from a slouch. He can dictate from range and shows impressive variety – and speed – when in close, crafting uppercuts off an array of hooks when opponents are in trouble. He rarely takes a backward step, suffocating the ambition from his rivals in the process.
Plant can look extra special at times. Deft of foot, he throws a mean left hook to both head and body (evidenced by the savage KO of Dirrell) and it’s easy to envision him having success through the middle and countering Benavidez’s pawing lead. But to win this, Plant will have to take the kind of chances that Benavidez is adept at exploiting. Plant, even when in full flow, always looks in danger of being pinged because he likes to keep his hands cocked and ready rather than up high.
A difficult one to call but we go with the favourite, Benavidez, to win a highly watchable scrap in the second half.
The undercard is a solid one and very much sink or swim for those involved: Welterweight Candian southpaw, Cody Crowley, risks his 21-0 (9) record against Arizona’s reliable Abel Ramos, 27-5-2 (21); another promising leftie, Jesus Alejandro Ramos, 19-0 (15), gets a very good test in the shape of Joseph Spence, 16-0 (10), at super-welterweight; while Chris Colbert, 16-1 (6), returns for the first time since his surprise loss to Hector Luis Garcia last year when he takes on Jose Valenzuela, 12-1 (8).
THE VERDICT: Though Canelo looks likely to chase Dmitry Bivol if he beats Ryder in May, the winner of Benavidez-Plant will be his best opponent at 168.