One of the best matchups in the super middleweight division will take place on Saturday at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas between former champions David Benavidez (26-0, 23 KOs) and Caleb Plant (22-1, 13 KOs). The winner of Saturday's fight will become the clear #2 man in the division, just beneath Saul "Canelo" Alvarez, who currently holds all of the major belts in the division.
Benavidez-Plant has been discussed for a number of years and there is genuine bad blood between the fighters. Stylistically the matchup features a high-volume big puncher (Benavidez) against a consummate boxer (Plant). But let's also not be too reductive about what each of these fighters is capable of in the ring. Plant is coming off the signature knockout of his career, with his double left hook destruction of Anthony Dirrell. And Benavidez has tremendous boxing acumen, with an ability to hurt opponents at every range and with every punch available in his arsenal. Below will be my keys to the fight and I'll have a prediction at the end of the piece.
|Benavidez (left) and Plant and the kickoff press conference|
Photo courtesy of Showtime
1. Can Benavidez close the footspeed gap?
It's no secret that Plant moves much better than Benavidez. In addition, Plant fights in a style where he can win rounds while on the move; he's not just being evasive. Featuring lightning quick jabs and left hooks, Plant gets his work in and moves out of the way without absorbing too much damage.
Benavidez can be ponderous with his footwork, often crossing up his feet or remaining too flat-footed, which allows an opponent an exit route to either side. However, Benavidez has fought his entire career with this limitation and he has been able to track down opponents who move away from him. His stoppage win over Ronald Ellis in 2021 is an example of this. Even though Benavidez can be outmaneuvered, he applies constant pressure and he also has the benefit of being able to hurt opponents from long range, ideal for catching foes who back straight up or believe that they may be safely out of danger.
2. Controlling punch volume
There is a significant difference in the fighters' punch volume within a round. Benavidez usually averages in the 60s in terms of punches per round while Plant is more often in the 40s. In order for Plant to be successful, he's going to have to control the overall activity in the fight. He's not set up to throw 70 or 80 punches a round on a consistent basis and if he does get to that level, it's unlikely that he will be able to sustain it over 12 rounds.
Benavidez can still cause damage if his punch volume is lower, but he's much more imposing when he can throw multi-punch combinations. Against Plant, Benavidez is going to have to make each punch count, because he may not get many opportunities to unload at will, especially early in the fight. Single-punch right hands or hard jabs may be the way to initially get to Plant. Benavidez will need to make sure that his outside game is sharp, and he'll have to anticipate where Plant will be next.
Throwing a punch to a spot will be more important than hitting what's right in front of him, since Plant rarely stays in place for long. It also would benefit Benavidez to shorten his shots. He has enough power to affect Plant without landing home run bombs. It's more important to make sure that he can connect.
3. Plant's gas tank
Plant often has his best success early in a fight, when he's at his freshest. He performed well in the first half of his fight against Canelo, but Canelo's pressure and body punching curtailed Plant's movement in the bout's second half; Plant ultimately was knocked out in the 11th round. Similarly, Plant was able to knock down Jose Uzcategui in the second and fourth rounds in his title-winning effort, but he did fade in the fight's final third.
Plant's trainer, Stephen "Breadman" Edwards, will often talk about how fast a fighter is carried, and he's essentially talking about the pace of a fight. Breadman is acutely aware that Plant doesn't want to over-move against Benavidez, which could lead to two issues: One, the optics of potentially being seen as "running" instead of fighting can be negative for Plant. Some judges will not reward too much movement. In addition, by moving so much, Plant runs the risk of depleting himself for the back half of the fight. Plant will need to utilize his movement against Benavidez, but he will have to thread the needle – don’t move so much to penalize himself, but don't be that stationary as to give Benavidez additional opportunities to land.
4. Can Plant spring an early-round surprise?
It was genuinely shocking when Plant scored his first knockdown against Uzcategui. After all, Uzcategui was perceived as the puncher in the matchup. And I think that the Uzcategui fight provides a template for how Plant can be victorious in this matchup. Benavidez's defense can be lackadaisical at times. Look at how he was dropped coming in with his hands down against Ronald Gavril. Gavril connected with a short left hook that Benavidez didn't see coming and David was sent to the canvas.
Plant will have the speed advantage early in the fight and he will need to keep Benavidez honest. It would be wise for him to try to land something hard early. After all, things can happen in a fight. Maybe he can drop Benavidez early. Maybe he can cause a significant cut. Both of these scenarios could drastically alter the trajectory of the fight. And it would be a mistake for Plant to immediately get on his bike in the early rounds. At the fight's outset, he will have the element of surprise. He needs to believe in his power and take some chances.
5. One-hand vs. two
In his first fight with Breadman Edwards against Dirrell, Plant sat down on his right hand much more than he had in previous fights. This is a very important development because throughout Plant's career his left hand has been far more advanced than his right.
Canelo was able to eventually neutralize Plant's left hook by smothering it. This essentially removed Plant's primary power punch. I don't believe that Benavidez is the same level of student that Canelo is, but still, he's a natural fighter. If Benavidez doesn't feel threatened by Plant's right, he could change the angle of his attack to limit Plant's left. Thus, it's imperative for Plant to show confidence in his right. Otherwise, he will diminish his own offensive possibilities.
Benavidez has a two-fisted attack and can throw crushing hooks and uppercuts with both hands to either the head or body. He's a far more well-rounded puncher than Plant. Although he may not have the same sharpness as Plant, his punches bludgeon opponents. In addition, because he can throw any punch at any time, opponents have a very tough time defending themselves against him. His unpredictability is a big advantage.
In short, I believe that the fight will play out similarly to Plant's matchup with Canelo, but with Plant doing better on a round-by-round basis on Saturday than he did against Alvarez. However, I still have concerns about Plant's gas tank and his ability to move for 12 rounds against a committed, hard body puncher.
I think that Plant will get off to a fast start and I expect him to mix in hard power punches with his jabs in the early rounds. I think we'll see his right hand become a more pronounced part of his offensive attack. He will sit down on his punches better than he has in the past and will try to score with convincing blows with both hands.
But keep an eye out for Benavidez's right hands from distance. As Caleb tries to exit the pocket, Benavidez's straight right and right hook will come into play, and he'll hit Plant unexpectedly. I also think that Benavidez will invest in the body early in the fight, shooting straight rights and left hooks whenever he can. He may not win many of the early rounds, but his plan will be to wear Plant down for the second half of the fight.
Ultimately, I think that Benavidez's pressure and power punching will turn the tide in the fight's final third. Plant will find that that ring will suddenly seem smaller. When he tries to trade, he won't get the better of exchanges. And attempting to clinch Benavidez is an awful proposition. He's a madman on the inside and can wear fighters down without even throwing punches. I think that Benavidez will be successful in softening Plant up in the championship rounds. The fight will be very close on the scorecards, but Benavidez won't let the bout make it to the final bell.
David Benavidez defeats Caleb Plant by 12th-round stoppage.