In spectacular performances on Saturday, David Benavidez and Subriel Matias again demonstrated that they are two of boxing’s elite punchers. Both fighters won by corner stoppage, with undefeated opponents Demetrius Andrade and Shohjahon Ergashev failing to answer the bell for the seventh and sixth rounds, respectively.
As we all know, punching power is a vital attribute for boxers. It can be a key separator between fighters. It may be the reason why a fighter can prosper at the highest level despite significant weaknesses. And certainly, knockouts directly lead to wins. But power can also be a more elastic concept; it's far more than the biggest single punch. Neither Benavidez nor Matias is a one-shot knockout artist, yet they are clearly among the most gifted punchers in the sport. And even within that group in which Benavidez and Matias belong, the two are vastly different from each other in how they stop opponents; there are subsets within subsets of power punchers.
|Benavidez (right) landing a right hand on Andrade|
Photo courtesy of Amanda Westcott/Showtime
Power can come from all different places. It could be how a punch is thrown with perfect rotational torque. Maybe it's a genetic disposition where a given fighter is blessed with superior physical strength for his weight class. Perhaps it's the combination of blinding hand speed with expert punch placement – hitting opponents with punches they don't see.
The source of Matias' power wouldn't fit in any of those categories. He throws hooks to the head from maybe six to eight inches away from an opponent. For most fighters, they would not have enough distance to create maximum power from that close, and yet Matias' short shots detonate on an opponent. Matias (a current champion at 140 lbs.) has to have crazy forearm and wrist strength; he's not a big swinger like a Benavidez. And yet his short punches cause immense damage. Perhaps the only other elite-level active fighter who has such prodigious power from that close is Artur Beterbiev.
These are unusual punchers and opponents aren't used to them. For so many fighters, getting in close to an opponent takes the sting off their punches, especially head shots. But it seems to be physically impossible to smother Matias. He gets his punches off so quickly and at such short range. Throw in that these punches can be fight-changers, and one can see how treacherous facing him can be. His punches look so innocuous, but they are devastating.
Benavidez, an undefeated former two-time champion at super middleweight (he lost his belts both times due to out-of-the ring issues), is also an atypical puncher in that he can take out opponents from every range. Although his bread-and-butter is beating people up with body shots on the inside, he is a major threat from distance. In the fourth round against Andrade, he connected with an overhand right from the outside that changed the fight for good. Andrade even had a glove up and partially blocked the shot, but the punch was so concussive that he still fell to the canvas a moment later.
In addition, Benavidez has one of the true sledgehammer jabs in the sport. Although he possesses towering dimensions in the super middleweight division at 6'2", Benavidez somehow can jab to the body as effectively as he does to an opponent's head. While Benavidez isn't considered an elite athlete by many (which is off base...and I'll get to that in a minute), he can give up his height without putting himself at a major risk to be countered. These are athletic maneuvers that appear to be easier than they actually are.
Benavidez has been accused of being a weight bully, of being clunky, of lacking athletic polish. People will criticize his footwork (he occasionally will cross his feet!) and his straight-line movements. Yet Benavidez has now beaten two of the better movers in the sport (Caleb Plant and Andrade), and he made sure that neither fight was in doubt. So, if you believe that Benavidez isn't a serious athlete, what would explain his success against top opponents who know how to use their legs?
Ultimately, Benavidez has a few secrets that have been missed by many observers of the sport. First, Benavidez is an unusual pressure fighter. Sure, he's coming forward, but he often initiates from the outside. And he's not just throwing from the outside; he's hurting opponents from that range. Thus, the movers aren't prepared for how good he is from distance and how much ground his punches can cover. They are worried about the short punches, but it's his longer ones that often hurt them.
He also has the element of surprise. With a full arsenal of punches, Benavidez has a tool for almost every circumstance. How about an overhand right? How about a long, sweeping left hook? How about a lead right hook? These are often untraditional shots that opponents haven't prepared for.
Two additional elements of his game further explain his success. One, he has an unwavering commitment to the body. The Plant fight was a sublime example of how to make a mover not move so much. Benavidez may have lost some early rounds, but he was doing damage to the body even if he was mathematically down in the fight.
Furthermore, his defense is far better than given credit for. Yes, you can hit him and even win rounds, but he's almost always defensively responsible. And more to the point, he doesn't mind taking a punch or two to land his. So, in aggregate, we have an unusual pressure fighter who has power from all ranges with pretty good defense and an understanding of how to break down even the most mobile of opponents. This sounds like a pretty good fighter, doesn't it? I'd say that he's on the short list of the best in the sport. And as Al Bernstein stated on the Showtime broadcast after the fight, "You either have to box perfectly against Benavidez for 12 rounds or really hurt him." So far no one has been able to do either.
|Matias (left) throws a short left hook|
Photo courtesy of Ryan Hafey/PBC
Now Matias is a little different in terms of his approach in the ring. Like Benavidez, he will give up some early rounds until he gets going, but he's not necessarily doing anything in the interim until he starts to come forward. He got ragdolled by Jeremias Ponce in the first two rounds of their fight earlier this year and Ergashev landed some thunderous left hands in the first against him on Saturday.
As devastating as Matias is in the ring, there is a pathway to beating him (and he has lost before, to Petros Ananyan, although he did avenge that defeat in impressive fashion). Matias is susceptible to a long-range puncher. But it will take a fighter to have the discipline to keep firing, while not punching himself out. That opponent will also have to be able to move without over-moving. It will require a fighter to thread a very fine needle against Matias to beat him, or perhaps someone who could bomb him out in the first round.
Although Matias doesn't offer much at long range, he can get inside pretty well. Like the best pressure fighters, he knows how to block or parry a punch while still coming forward.
Matias will also square up a lot on the inside and despite this being a "no-no" from many trainers, I think it's a critical aspect of his success. So often in boxing what is supposed to be "wrong" for many fighters winds up being right for another. Very few trainers would advise their fighters to square up, because that gives an opponent much more of a target to hit. But you know which trainer preached squaring up at close range? Cus D'Amato, the man who molded Mike Tyson. From D'Amato's biography, Cus believed that squaring up at close range gave his fighter the opportunity to inflict maximum damage. At that moment, Tyson could throw power shots with either hand and an opponent would not have the ability to anticipate the selection or sequencing of punches. This position leads to breaking down an opponent's defensive construct. Where does he place his hands? Where will the shots be coming from?
Matias' success has reminded me of D'Amato's beliefs. Right in front of an opponent, Matias will unspool wicked hooks and uppercuts with either hand. There's no longer a lead hand or a back hand; it's now two hands that can cause maximum damage. Even a decorated amateur and well-schooled fighter like Ergashev fell apart under that type of duress. He couldn't anticipate Matias at that position. His defensive construct suddenly lost its effectiveness. He had no answers.
Benavidez at 28-0 and 24 KOs and Matias at 20-1 with 20 KOs will never be mistaken for Deontay Wilder or Julian Jackson. They are not one-punch knockout specialists who will be talked about reverently for generations. However, they are two of the best punchers in the sport and possess unique gifts that even top opponents can't acclimate to. How many fighters can beat you up from any range in the ring? Who can end your night with six-inch punches from either hand in no particular pattern?
Both Benavidez and Matias are must-watch fighters. They provide unique and thrilling dimensions. They remind us that the orthodoxies of "right" and "wrong" can be fungible. Yes, Benavidez will walk forward and not always be in a boxing stance ready to throw. He'll cross his feet. He'll throw rear hooks from what many would consider irresponsible angles. And Matias will square up giving an opponent his whole body to hit. But he knows at that position, he's the far superior fighter with more power and tools.
Benavidez and Matias break molds. They challenge conventional wisdom. But while all of that is interesting on a theoretical basis, what they really do is deliver hurt. They administer beatings. They thrill the fans. And that's what keeps the sport humming.