Wilfred Benítez and his mother Clara Benítez (smiling, left)
|Real name||Wilfred Benítez|
Bible of Boxing
September 12, 1958 |
New York City, USA
|Wins by KO||31|
Wilfred Benítez (born September 12, 1958 in New York City), is a retired Puerto Rican boxer and youngest world champion in the sport's history. Earning his first of three career championships in separate weight divisions at the age of 17, he is remembered best as a skilled and aggressive fighter with exceptional defensive abilities.
Inducted in the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1996, he is among the best Puerto Rican boxers of all time, sharing the honor with Félix "Tito" Trinidad, Wilfredo Gómez, Héctor "Macho" Camacho, and Carlos Ortíz.
Benitez turned pro at 15, a young prodigy who was managed by his father Gregorio Benitez, was a member of one of Puerto Rico's most famous boxing families, his brothers Frankie and Gregory Benitez having also been top contenders in the 1970s. The Benitez troop was largely directed by their mother, Clara Benítez. Young Wilfred was nicknamed "The Radar" for his uncanny ability to foresee and dodge his opponent's blows. He grew up going to a neighborhood boxing gym in New York, where he learned from watching his brothers and other local, renowned fighters practice their skills.
During the early stages of his professional career, Benitez often traveled to the Virgin Islands and New York for fights. He divided his fights between those locations and Puerto Rico. The proximity of those two locations to Puerto Rico helped him start to become a household name in the island while building an international following at the same time. His speed, combined with punching power and surprising ring maturity for a 16 year-old, were enough to make him a world-ranked boxer by both the WBA and WBC, then boxing's only world-title recognizing organizations.
Professional boxing career
|You may watch Wilfred Benitez vs. Antonio Cervantes, here|
On March 6, 1976, at age 17, with his High School classmates in attendance, he faced WBA Light Welterweight champion Antonio Cervantes. Known as Kid Pambele, the champion was 30 years old, had a record of 74-9-3 with 35 KO's, and had made 10 title defenses. The result was a fifteen-round split decision in Benitez's favor.
Benitez retained the championship three times, and then moved up to the welterweight division. Benítez challenged WBC World Champion Carlos Palomino in San Juan. On January 14, 1979, Benitez won a fifteen-round split decision to become a world champion in a second weight division. After outpointing Harold Weston Jr. in his first defense (avenging an earlier draw), Benitez fought Sugar Ray Leonard in Las Vegas, Nevada on November 30, 1979. It was a scientific fight by both fighters, who demonstrated their defensive skills throughout the bout. Benitez suffered a third-round knockdown and a cut on his forehead, which was opened by an accidental head butt in round six. Leonard put Benitez down again in the fifteenth round and the referee stopped the fight with six seconds left in round fifteen.
After that loss, Benitez again moved up in weight, and on May 23, 1981, at age 22, he became the youngest three-time world champion in boxing history by knocking out WBC World Super Welterweight Champion Maurice Hope in twelve rounds in Las Vegas. The knockout was named one of the knockouts of the year.
His next fight became a historic bout. On November 14, 1981, he fought future world champ Carlos Santos of Ceiba, Puerto Rico. It was the first world championship fight between two Puerto Ricans in boxing history. Ironically, the fight was fought 3,000 miles away from Puerto Rico, at Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas. Benitez won a fifteen-round unanimous decision. His next defense was against Roberto Durán, whom Benitez defeated at Caesar's Palace on January 30, 1982 by a fifteen-round unanimous decision. On December 3, 1982, at the Carnival of Champions in New Orleans, Benitez lost the belt to another boxing legend, Thomas Hearns, by a fifteen-round majority decision.
Benitez's career went downwards after the fight with Hearns, as did his lifestyle. In 1983 he lost a unanimous decision to Mustafa Hamsho. In 1984, he tried a comeback under the hand of Yamil Chade, but this proved unsuccessful. On November 28, 1986, with his health declining, he went to Buenos Aires, Argentina to fight middleweight Carlos Herrera. Benitez was stopped in seven rounds. But that wasn't the worst part of the trip. His money for the fight was stolen by the fight's promoter, along with his documents and passport, and he was stranded in Argentina for one year. After much government huddling and talks, he was finally able to fly back home to Puerto Rico in 1988.
Two years later, Benitez moved to Tucson, Arizona, where he tried another comeback under the tutelage of Emanuel Steward, the famous Kronk trainer. This also proved unsuccessful, as he went 2-2 in his last four fights. His last bout took place in Winnipeg, Canada on September 18, 1990, six days after his 32nd birthday. He lost a ten-round decision against Scott Papasadora.
Professional boxing record
Retirement and illness
After retiring from boxing, Benitez returned to Puerto Rico, where he lived with his mother Clara on a $200 a month pension provided by the World Boxing Council. Benitez now suffers from an incurable, degenerative brain condition caused by the blows he took in the ring.
In 1997, Wilfredo was moved permanently to a public run nursing home for medical reasons by his mother Clara, a licensed nurse.
In 2002, Sugar Ray Leonard visited his former brother-in-law Benítez, who by this time had forgotten his identity. During the visit, their fight was shown on television. Consequently, Benítez remembered the event and said to Leonard, "Ray, I did not train for that fight." In 2004, Benitez was diagnosed with diabetes. His mother died in the summer of 2008.
Support, recovery, and public appearance
Ring 10, a non-profit organization that helps impoverished former fighters, provides a monthly stipend to Benitez and established "The Wilfred Benitez Fund" to raise more money to aid the fallen champion.
During 2012, Benitez was honored with a statue in Puerto Rico.
On November 27, 2012, a smiling and healthy looking Benítez attended the funeral of Hector Camacho in Puerto Rico, arriving in a wheelchair. Benítez arrived accompanied by boxers Felix Trinidad, Wilfredo Gomez, and Alfredo Escalera. Surprising the mourners, Benitez rose to his feet for a boxing pose in front of Camacho's coffin.
Awards and recognitions
Benítez was inducted to the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1994.
|WBA Light Welterweight Champion
6 March 1976–1977
|WBC Welterweight Champion
14 January 1979 – 30 November 1979
Sugar Ray Leonard
|WBC Light Middleweight boxing champion
23 May 1981– 3 December 1982
- Carolina, Puerto Rico (1984)
- List of WBC world champions
- List of Puerto Rican boxing world champions
- List of boxing triple champions
- Sánchez, José A. (November 25, 2012). "Entre leyendas Macho Camacho". El Nuevo Día.
- "International Boxing Hall of Fame"
- José A. Sánchez Fournie (2009-11-29). Deportes. "La batalla de los intocables: 30 años de Leonard-Benítez". El Nuevo Día (in Spanish) (Puerto Rico).
- Boxing 101, "Ring 10 Veterans Boxing Foundation: A Beta Bomb of Brotherhood, Part 1 - Our Suffering Champions", June 26, 2012
- Colón, Rey (March 14, 2012). "Wilfredo Benítez honored with a statue in Puerto Rico". BoxingScene.com.