Benitez (born September 12, 1958) is a Puerto Rican former professional
boxer and the youngest world champion in the sport's history. Earning
his first of three career world titles in separate weight divisions
at the age of seventeen, he is best remembered as a skilled and aggressive
fighter with exceptional defensive abilities.
the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1996, he is considered among
the best Puerto Rican boxers of all time, sharing the honor with Felix
Trinidad, Wilfredo Gomez, Carlos Ortiz, Hector Camacho, and Miguel
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 boxing families, his brother Frankie and Gregory
Benitez having also been top contenders in the 1970s. The Benitez
troop was largely directed by their mother, Clara Benitez. 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.
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.
retained the championship three times, and then moved up to the welterweight
division. Benitez challenged WBC world Champion Carlos Palamino 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.
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 Duran, 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.