Two former champions in the sport’s most exciting division will touch gloves this weekend in a Showtime PPV offering from Las Vegas featuring no shortage of bad blood between the fighters atop the marquee.
After years of jawing with one another in interviews and on social media, David Benavidez (26-0, 23 KOs) and Caleb Plant (22-1, 13 KOs) will meet in a pivotal 168-pound matchup on Saturday inside the MGM Grand Garden Arena.
As we draw closer to fight night, let’s take a loot at the biggest storylines entering this grudge match.
1. This ain’t for show — these guys really do hate each other
It wouldn’t be a big-time boxing event if those involved — including fighters, promoters and media — weren’t conspiring to hype up every single ounce of potential combustibility between the two combatants in hopes of driving up interest. But a fight like this, after five years of two-way trash talk from both sides, simply sells itself each time Plant or Benavidez are in proximity of one another. The fact that the two teams representing them had to be separated before, during and after February’s kickoff press conference says it all. Not only is the beef between them very real, it appears to trace back specifically to a 2018 tussle captured on camera at a gym in Las Vegas. Plant appeared to throw the first punch at Benavidez’s older brother and former welterweight title challenger, Jose Benavidez Jr., setting off a melee between both teams after the elder Benavidez had confronted Plant and verbally accosted him. Since then, there simply hasn’t been an interview involving Plant or Benavidez in which they haven’t been asked about one another, which only added repeated fuel to the fire.
Warning: The following clip contains explicit language.
In 2017, Benavidez became the youngest champion in super middleweight history when he outpointed Ronald Gavril at 21 to capture the vacant WBC title. It’s a belt that Benavidez went on to be stripped of twice in ensuing years as he slowed to mature, first for a positive cocaine test in 2018 and then for missing weight in 2020 after regaining the crown. The setbacks not only prevented Benavidez from facing Plant, who captured the IBF title in 2019, in a more timely manner, a suddenly belt-less Benavidez was left out of Mexican superstar Canelo Alvarez’s quest to become the first four-belt undisputed champion in division history (which he completed by stopping Plant in 2021) simply because he lacked a world title. All this did was continue to anger Benavidez and force him to work harder, especially as Alvarez became the sport’s pound-for-pound king even though Benavidez has long been seen as the only 168-pound fighter truly capable of giving him trouble thanks to Benavidez’s size, power and high-pressure style. Alvarez, who returns May 6 in Mexico against mandatory challenger John Ryder, still has all four titles in his possession, which means a win over Plant in his first headlining PPV role could lift Benavidez to the doorstep of one of the best fights that could be made in the sport.
3. Caleb Plant is operating at a scary level of self confidence
It has been hard to overlook just how big the chip on Plant’s shoulder has grown to and just how dialed in he appears to be entering this one. If his competitive ninth-round knockout loss to Alvarez taught Plant anything, it’s that he belongs on the elite level. But it’s what has happened since that fight that has been the most eye opening. Plant rebounded from his first pro defeat by facing former champion Anthony Dirrell last October in the co-feature of a PPV card in Brooklyn, New York. In his first fight under the tutelage of new trainer Stephen “Breadman” Edwards, the typically slick boxing Plant looked anything but a stick-and-move boxer when he uncorked a two-punch combination of left hooks — one to the body followed by one upstairs — that knocked the durable Dirrell out cold in 2022’s knockout of the year.
It was a statement to the rest of the star-studded division that Plant wasn’t done finding out how great he could be and offered an interesting twist to the idea of how a fight against Benavidez might turn out to be. All Plant has done since then is stand firm in the face of any intimidation attempts by Benavidez, usually with a calming and condescending voice. Plant even purchased the web domain of his opponent’s name, turning it into a site showcasing his own pre-fight documentary clips and a Plant online store. Although he might be fighting a man in Benavidez who has long been looked at as the division’s bogeyman, Plant hasn’t backed down one bit from the standpoint of pre-fight mental warfare.
4. With that said, Plant needs to be careful what he asks for
In boxing, there has long been a thin line between the idea of being crazy like a fox and becoming a danger to oneself. From a stylistic standpoint, Plant’s repeated preference to pressing the emotional buttons of Benavidez might just play into his hands come fight night where his speed and footwork could see him playing matador to his opponent’s angry bull. From that perspective, getting Benavidez to throw away his game plan in exchange for the lust of violent revenge could be the best way for Plant to keep him off balanced and exhausted by making him chase. On the flipside, giving a technical brawler like Benavidez this much reason to train his hardest in order to cut off the ring and deliver punishment through an unrelenting style that takes no backward steps is a dangerous proposition to wish upon oneself.
5. It’s time to find out who the best super middleweight in the world is
Considering Alvarez remains the division’s undisputed champion, the above statement might feel disingenuous. But Alvarez took a pair of fights outside of the divisional rankings in 2022, first losing to light heavyweight titleholder Dmitry Bivol before outpointing longtime middleweight rival Gennadiy Golovkin in their third meeting (and first contested at 168 pounds). In the meantime, the division only got stronger. Former two-division champion Demetrius Andrade moved up in weight and made his PBC debut while fellow unbeaten David Morrell Jr. made two defenses of his secondary super middleweight title while announcing himself, at just age 25, as a future threat to the full crown. Meanwhile, unbeaten middleweight titleholder Jermall Charlo continued to tease a full-time move up in weight as the division only continues to add big-name depth. Yes, Alvarez remains the best in show following a trio of title unification stoppages in recent years over then-unbeaten champions Callum Smith, Billy Joe Saunders and Plant. But the division has reloaded in his absence, making Benavidez-Plant a key matchup in getting us closer to figuring out the true hierarchy.