When it comes to making pay-per-view matchups that boxing fans can’t help but circle on the calendar as a must-see event, the idea of having two prime fighters with contrasting styles and equal levels of hunger to do whatever it takes to win sounds like the perfect foundation.
From that standpoint, Saturday’s super middleweight offering between former champions David Benavidez (26-0, 23 KOs) and Caleb Plant (22-1, 13 KOs) certainly checks all the boxes as the two prepare to touch gloves inside the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas (Showtime PPV, 9 p.m. ET) in a pivotal pairing for title contention in the sport’s hottest division.
But when you can add the element of legitimate dislike between the two and a saucy backstory that involves members of their own families and dates back at least five years, you have all the makings for a crossover fight that welcomes viewers from outside the world of combat sports.
Sometimes, the promotion of bad blood between two fighters can be more hopeful for the sake of marketing than is actually true as the two combatants often join in on the adversarial build to fight night in order to help create more of a buzz (and more money in their pockets). But in the case of Benavidez and Plant, this one is real.
It’s so real, in fact, that there’s little doubt the collective emotions of both boxers will likely play some kind of a role in how this weekend’s showdown is ultimately decided inside the ring.
So how exactly did we get here?
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From the perspective of Benavidez, a 26-year-old destroyer of proud Mexican blood from Arizona, he and his family — which includes father/trainer Jose Benavidez Sr. and older brother/former welterweight title challenger Jose Benavidez Jr. — have never liked Plant to begin with, going back to the days when both Plant and the Benavidez brothers were top amateurs.
“I feel like Caleb Plant just does a lot of shit talking, he’s not really about it,” Benavidez told “Morning Kombat” in 2022. “Honestly, he’s just a bitch. That’s all he is. He thinks he’s the best fighter in the world. He thinks he’s the second coming of [Floyd] Mayweather. He’s not. He’s not good at all and he just thinks he’s better than everybody.
“I just don’t like fake people. I have known Caleb Plant a long time and he is just the fakest person I have ever met in my life. I just don’t like him. I would love to get in the ring and break his mouth. That’s it, there’s nothing more to it.”
Most experts will point to a 2018 skirmish inside a Las Vegas gym, which was captured on tape by FightHype.com, as the origin of the strain between camps. Plant was aggressively approached by all three Benavidez members and an argument ensued until Plant appeared to slap Jose Benavidez Jr., which led to fisticuffs that saw former Plant trainer Justin Gamber appear to take the worst of the crossfire.
From Plant’s perspective, he was just defending his family regarding previous comments made by Jose Benavidez Sr. criticizing Plant for how he handled the death of his infant daughter Alia in 2015.
“His dad got an interview and said I only talk about Alia to get clout or to get famous,” Plant recalled this week as a guest on “The Pivot” podcast. “He said that she’s not here no more so I just need to be quiet and let things be. I don’t f— with that.”
Plant, a 30-year-old native of Ashland City, Tennessee, has never been one to be short on intensity and walks around with a chip on his shoulder. It has spilled out into public skirmishes before, including the build to his lone career defeat — a 2021 knockout to Canelo Alvarez in their undisputed title fight — when the two fighters traded blows at their press conference to announce the fight.
“As far as Canelo, that was him. He pushed me. I’m not going to let that slide. It doesn’t matter who you are or how big you are,” Plant said. “When he pushed me, it was fight or flight. What did you think I was going to do? I’m a fighter.”
When asked about the difference between his issues with Alvarez and Benavidez, Plant revealed that he and Alvarez made up immediately after the fight and showed each other respect. It’s a move he has no plans on doing with Benavidez or his family on Saturday because of how personal the rivalry has become.
“[Alvarez and I] shook hands after but some things you don’t come back from and are irreversible for me,” Plant said.
Not surprisingly, Benavidez has an altogether different recollection of what happened inside the gym some five years ago.
“So, let me tell you something about that. There were three of us there and he tried to sucker punch my brother,” Benavidez said. “He slapped him and then he hid behind his trainer. My guys took care of his trainer and beat up his trainer. What would’ve happened if all of us would’ve jumped Caleb Plant? We would’ve put him in the hospital. What would he have said now?
“If we really wanted to, we could’ve put that little boy in the hospital but we didn’t because I already know the game that Caleb Plant is trying to play. After that happened, Caleb Plant went on a big ass rant about, ‘I can’t believe the father would let people come up to us and record that.’ That’s what I’m talking about. Caleb Plant is fake. He acts like he’s a freaking gangster but he’s not. At the end of the day, he’s a little kid.”
The growing beef only escalated at February’s kickoff press conference as both teams needed to be separated before, during and (reportedly) after the event, which was captured by Showtime’s “All Access” cameras. Plant continued to incite Benavidez at every turn, dismissively telling him how “you’re not scary to me” before launching into a tirade at his father for escalating fights between camps despite not having been a pro fighter in his own right.
Watching back some of the interviews Benavidez gave during “All Access,” it’s clear that Plant’s mental warfare is making a mark on his opponent. In fact, Plant took things to an even deeper level when he slyly purchased the URL for a website in Benavidez’s name, which acts as an online store for Plant and a place to feature his own pre-fight documentary footage.
The bigger question, however, is whether inciting Benavidez is the smartest move for the uber-confident Plant, who rebounded from the Alvarez loss by delivering the 2022 knockout of the year in shocking fashion against former champion Anthony Dirrell. The two-punch combination of left hooks was seen as an evolution in Plant’s game as he transitions from slick boxer to well-rounded fighter entering his second camp with new trainer Stephen “Breadman” Edwards.
Given Plant’s advantages in speed and footwork, there may be a method to his madness in trying to agitate Benavidez in order to get him off his game plan. It might work if Plant proves he’s able to play the matador to Benavidez’s bull. It also might speed up his own exit should the plan backfire.
Benavidez is a two-time WBC champion who never lost his titles inside the ring. He has matured from his days of being stripped for a positive cocaine test in 2018 or his missing of weight in 2020. But the towering giant is as dangerous as anyone at cutting off the ring and wearing down opponents with hard combinations.
All one has to do is stare into the wide eyes of Benavidez when predicting what he plans on doing to Plant to realize that all the mind games have taken a toll. But what critics and even Plant might not know for sure is whether the added injection of emotion will distract Benavidez from the job at hand or only will him to train even harder for revenge.
“I still deal with it until this day. You have Caleb Plant talking shit saying, ‘fat boy this or fat boy that,'” Benavidez told “All Access” cameras. “I don’t care what people say, they can say I’m fat or that I’m not dedicated. But at the end of the day, I’m doing my f—ing job. When I get his ass in the ring [on Saturday], I’m going to break his f—ing mouth and I’m going to make him regret everything that he said.”
For Plant, it all appears part of his calculated plan. He has acted throughout the build to the fight as if he knows a secret that everyone else, including Benavidez, isn’t privy to.
Either way, one can expect a collision of colossal proportions come Saturday.
“Boxing is not a job for me, boxing is my life,” Plant said. “Anyone who is trying to get in the way of that or disrupt that … it is personal for me.”
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