By Tré Berry III🖊️ | 09/09/2020
Some people are born with talent who are unable to harness it, and some have natural abilities that can be 🔑unlocked through repetition and hard work. There are also those who classify as prodigies, whose talent overrides the natural progression that one is supposed to take in harnessing those skills, which enables everything to come easy for them. That there describes 🇺🇸🇵🇷Wilfred “El Radar” Benitez (53-8-1, 31KO👊) to a “T”. He was as natural a talent that boxing has ever seen, with nearly unrivaled defensive capabilities.
Wilfred was an all-time great boxer who is arguably Puerto Rico’s greatest Champion (🇵🇷Wilfredo Gomez and 🇵🇷Carlos Ortiz could make a valid claim as to being the best). Benitez was a 3-time Champion in three different divisions, and also became the youngest Champion of all time at the astounding age of 17. He was also the youngest fighter ever to win the Triple-Crown (3-division Champion) in boxing at just 22 years old.
In a short, but eventful career, Wilfred had faced 4 fighters who you would classify as ATG’s, and had beaten 3 Hall-of-Famers (🇵🇦Roberto Duran, 🇨🇴Antonio Cervantes, and 🇺🇸Carlos Palomino). In addition to being a 2-time Lineal Champion, he defeated 6 World Champions during his time in the sport, and had 5 official title defenses to his record. His prime may have been short when compared to other fighters, but one thing is for sure, when Benitez was on his game, only a few in the history of the sport could match his level of performance.
Starting his professional career at the young age of 15, and his father 🗣️Gregorio Benitez working as his Head-Trainer, he quickly rose up in the ranks, winning 25 fights in a row during a 2-year span. and 20 of those 25 wins came by knockout, with those fights taking place back and forth between Puerto Rico, and 🗽New York City at 🏟️Madison Square Garden.
YOUNG BENITEZ MAKES BOXING HISTORY
Wilfred Benitez took a huge step up to face Afro-Colombian transcendent great 🇨🇴Antonio Cervantes (who was the ♛LINEAL & WBA Junior-Welterweight Champion of the World), Benitez taking on this assignment at the ripe age of 17. To put into context how unfathomable that was especially given the opponent, Benitez had his 11th grade classmates attend the fight in San Juan, Puerto Rico, to cheer him on.
Cervantes (nicknamed “Kid Pambele”) entered the ring as a 4-to-1 odds favorite, and was attempting to make the 12th defense of his Title belts. Both started the fight very cautious, establishing jabs and throwing feints, measuring to check out each others tendencies. In round 2, Benitez began giving Antonio some different looks and started to land his up-jab. Realizing that the youngster was tough to out-technical, Cervantes became the aggressor in the 3rd, but still had a difficult time finding Wilfred due to his unpredictable moves.
The fight opened up with the Champion trying to impose his will, and the young gifted challenger was 📈gaining confidence along the way, opening up his arsenal. At this point, it appeared that Benitez was comfortably ahead on the scorecards. Round 5 was a swing round I felt went in the Champions favor. As Antonio was pummeled in the 7th round, the crowd sensed that something special was on the horizon, and it was being authored up by the young Puertorican savant.
Knowing the grip of the fight was slipping away, the 8th round broke out into a bit of a war, with more power shots thrown by the both of them than any other round. The Champion Cervantes landed a solid uppercut in the 10th, and made things pretty interesting by the end of the 12th round.
To the delight of his high school team and hopeful spectators, Benitez took it to a different level in the final 3 rounds, and after 🛎️15 rounds in the books, they went to the scorecards. The judges gave it to Wilfred Benitez by way of a Split-Decision verdict, and just like that, he became the new ♛LINEAL/WBA Junior-Welterweight Champion, becoming the youngest Champion in boxing history at just the age of 17.
A FIGHT TOO CLOSE FOR COMFORT
Defending his title twice after his historic victory, he had a non-title bout against 21 year old 🇺🇸Harold Weston (posted below). Benitez started the fight off in typical fashion, with accurate precise punching. In rounds 2 and 3, Weston figured out Benitez timing, and was able to effectively counter, something that spectators were not used to seeing.
In rounds 4, 5 and 6, Benitez was more assertive with his attack landing flurry combinations, switching stances at a whim and changing up periodically, giving Weston multiple different looks to keep him guessing. In the last 4 rounds, they exchanged back and forth, and as a result of the see-saw action taking place, the scorecards reflected that, declaring that this fight was a 📝Majority-Draw.
STIFF COMPETITION AT WELTERWEIGHT
Five fights later he squared off against esteemed amateur (possessed a 315-11 record reportedly) & future pro World Champion 🇺🇸Bruce Curry at Welterweight, and this produced a great back & forth contest. In the 4th round, Benitez was in big trouble as Curry put him down twice in the 4th round, which were the first 2 times that Wilfred was ever down in his professional career. Benitez went down yet again in the next round (he’s fortunate that at the time they went by the round based system instead of the points system used today).
Wilfred regrouped, and rallied down the stretch as Curry gave way a little bit. Benitez was awarded a Split-Decision victory. An immediate re-match took place against 🇺🇸Bruce Curry. Curry fought just 8 days prior, and didn’t exactly help him in this bout, as he looked a little lethargic. Benitez put forth his typical razor-sharp effort and escaped the fight unscathed, winning convincingly…although one blind judge forced the verdict into reading as a 📝Majority Decision.
THE TWO PRIDEFUL CHAMPIONS COLLIDE
Beating the talented 🇺🇸Ronnie Shields, and a journeyman, Wilfred signed up to fight Mexican great 🇲🇽Carlos Palomino in attempts to get his LINEAL & WBA Welterweight title belts. Palomino was attempting to make his 8th title defense, and the anticipation swelled. Benitez in the first round established his sharp jab, and they seemed to have a little extra pop than usual. Palomino began to find a groove by the 4th round, landing multiple bombs and winning the round pretty wide.
In the 5th stanza, Carlos was able to hurt Benitez badly at the end of the round with a sledgehammer 💥right cross. In round 6, Wilfred decided to change up his attacks and give Carlos different looks, resorting to and sustaining a heavy body attack. Benitez was able to conjure up two dominant rounds in a row, that featured shots landing at will, beautiful ring generalship, and a wobbled Champion at the end of the 7th.
The 9th round, all hell broke loose and produced one of the greatest 🛎️rounds of the era. Benitez was getting the best of Palomino in those exchanges and hurt him multiple times. Not often did you see Benitez throwing caution to the wind to trade power punches, but he looked damn good doing so. Every round, Benitez looked sharper and sharper, while the Champion gradually look more confused and frustrated.
When the 14th round came about, Benitez started to toy with Carlos, and authored up a 🖼️picture-perfect beautiful display of counterpunching off of the ropes in the last 30 seconds, and landed some serious combinations to punctuate the round. In a rare scene, the fans in the stands at 🏟️Hiram Bithorn Stadium in San Juan, Puerto Rico were all jumping up and down in unison, coupled with a roar and excitement, knowing their man was once again on the verge of history.
In the last round, Benitez closed the show how a Champion should. 📍On my scorecard, the fight was even after 6 rounds, but I gave Benitez every round after that. Somehow the fight verdict was rendered a 📝Split-Decision, but they awarded the right man, making him the new Welterweight Champion of the World, as well as a 2-division Lineal World Champion.
THE SHOWDOWN OF 2 GIFTED TALENTS
His re-match against 🇺🇸Harold Weston settled the score, with Benitez winning by Decision. The following match, he would square off against Olympic Gold-Medalist, and future All-Time-Great 🥇🇺🇸“Sugar” Ray Leonard, giving Ray his first opportunity at a World Title belt in the pro ranks.
Revisiting their careers, it is now general consensus that Ray Leonard was one of the 10 all-time greatest boxers to ever live, and here was a dream match-up against the man referred to as “The Bible of Boxing” – a savant in his own right. Fight night took place in 🏟️Ceasar’s Palace, and the place was packed on that memorable night of 🗓️November 30th, 1979.
There was a fierce stand-off between the two super-talents, that said in Ray’s favor that he was ready for this opportunity at the big time, and in Benitez case, showed a proud Champion who wasn’t going to give up his throne easily.
Despite Benitez being a master tactician, Ray was a 3️⃣-to-1️⃣ favorite. The first round showcased both fighters boxing from the outside, and Benitez was unable to jump out to an early lead. with Ray matching him from a technical standpoint. Wilfred was 💥knocked down in the 3rd round by a power jab. Benitez presumably down by 4 points after 3 rounds made some necessary adjustments and decided to counterpunch Ray while standing in the pocket, evening up the exchanges.
In the 6th round, Benitez suffered a nasty 🩸gash in the middle of his forehead. caused by an accidental headbutt, and the blood started to pour. The 🩺Doctor ruled him able to continue the action. Knowing he was behind on the cards and in trouble, he met Ray in the middle of the ring and exchanged some heavy shots with him throughout the rest of the 6th round. Rounds 8, 9 and 10 featured Benitez as the aggressor, and I believe he won all 3 of those rounds in my estimation.
With Benitez’s sharp defense on display, Leonard wasn’t able to land nearly as much as he would’ve liked to. By this point, the fight was evening up. Leonard became more assertive and raised his 📈level up a couple of notches, slowly beginning to frustrate and outpoint the bloody Champion. By the time the 15th and final round materialized, Benitez was aware that he desperately needed the last round, or even a KO to retain his belt, so he came out aggressively looking to change his fortune. Late in the round, Leonard finally knocked Benitez down to the mat, but he was able to get up to beat the count.
The fight should’ve been allowed to end at the 🛎️final bell, but Referee 🕴️Carlos Padilla put an unjust stop to the fight with 7 seconds left to go. It was clear Ray was the victor anyway, so there was no protest from the Benitez contingent. Immediately after, Ray’s people hoisted him in the air, and Benitez went over to congratulate the new LINEAL/WBC Welterweight Champion of the World – doing so with a smile on his face, the way it should be done.
BENITEZ BACK INTO THE TITLE PICTURE
Wilfred Benitez decided to move up another division after his defeat to Leonard, and beat 3 quality opponents in 🇺🇸Johnny Turner, 🇺🇸Tony Chiaverini and 🇺🇸Pete Ranzany. Wilfred would then get an opportunity to fight WBC Super-Welterweight Titlist 🇦🇬🇬🇧Maurice Hope for another shot at a title run. While Hope was a good Champion, the difference in class was evident, and it showed big time in this contest.
Benitez worked up a sizable lead on the scorecards, after 9 rounds as Hope kept searching for answers. Wilfred knocked the Champion down in the 10th round, but he was able to beat the count. In the 12th round, Benitez measured and landed a perfect 💥counter right hand over the top, and knocked Hope out cold, making him the brand new possessor of the WBC Super-Welterweight Title, putting himself 📖into the books.
My favorite part of this devastating knockout wasn’t even the knockout itself, 📍it was Benitez immediate reaction of letting off a huge smile before Hope even fell to the mat, knowing he just landed the perfect punch that would end the night. With this feat, Benitez became the youngest Triple-Crown-Winner of all time at the age of 22, and was only the fourth man at that time to ever achieve this incredible feat, joining esteemed company (🇺🇸Henry Armstrong did it in 1938, 🇺🇸Barney Ross did it in 1934, and 🇺🇸Tony Canzoneri was the first to do it in 1933).
RADAR MEETS HANDS OF STONE AS TWO LATIN LEGENDS COLLIDE FOR COMBAT
After defeating future Champion 🇵🇷Carlos Santos, next in line was another living legend for Benitez, that being “Manos de Piedra” himself, 🇵🇦Roberto Duran, who was vying for Benitez 2nd defense of his WBC Super-Welterweight World Title. Duran was widely regarded as the greatest Lightweight Champion of all time, and after his reign, he continued up the ranks in weight, trying to become a 3-division Titlist himself.
Coming into the fight with an absurd 74-2 record, Duran was one of the most intimidating fighters to ever lace them up, and opponents often lost their confidence just by looking at him right before the opening bell as Duran’s eyes were pierced on them, with the classic sneer to match. Benitez looked as cool as ever, he treated it as if it was any other fight.
The match started off in typical fashion with Wilfred Benitez establishing an outside jab, feinting and gauging Roberto’s tendencies, while Duran was trying to find ways to get on the inside. Duran found some success in round 2, but Benitez made adjustments, and everything seemed to go 📉downhill from there for the heralded challenger. Duran would try to utilize his different angles and a variation of multiple jabs to charge in, but Benitez would sniff out everything Duran was trying to do, and 🛑thwarted his attacks by either taking a step around to dodge it, or countering over Duran’s shots.
Benitez appeared to be fully in his element in the middle rounds, and Duran was having difficulty doing what he does best, and that was his in-fighting. Showing why one of his nicknames was “El Radar”, Benitez slipped many punches just by a hair. Duran did however rally back to win the 9th round. In the last third of the fight, Duran turned up the 🧯pressure, and the exchanges between the two were beginning to even out, however wasn’t very reflective on the ebbs and flow of the fight in terms of how well Benitez dictated the earlier rounds.
Benitez capped off the night with a strong showing in rounds 13, 14 and 15 to close the show. After the final bell, Benitez tried to give Roberto his patented hug, but Duran in typical fashion brushed him off, displaying bad sportsmanship once again. Benitez felt some type of way about it, so he began to taunt Duran in retaliation by flailing his arm around afterwards, reminiscent of Duran’s infamous second fight with 🥇🇺🇸“Sugar” Ray Leonard that led to Duran quitting mid-bout that night. Benitez was hoisted on the shoulders of his people, and was paraded around the ring. It was the most joyous scene of Benitez’s entire career 🖼️(pictured below).
I gave Benitez 12 rounds, but I was very surprised to hear how close the judges had it. Albeit a 📝Unanimous Decision, all judges had it either 1 round, or 2 rounds apart. Nevertheless, Benitez was awarded the decision, and kept his WBC Super-Welterweight belt. This 📜achievement solidified Benitez legacy as being one of the all-time greats in boxing history.
HITMAN CHALLENGE TO FIND THE RADAR
You’d think after beating a legend like 🇵🇦Roberto Duran, that you would dial it back a little for the next fight, but no…Wilfred decided to face off yet against another dangerous future all-time great, that being 🇺🇸Thomas “The Hitman” Hearns. At this point in his young career, Tommy was already a revered former Welterweight Titlist, and the one common bond that he shared with Benitez was that both were stopped late in their fights by 🥇🇺🇸Ray Leonard and lost their crowns.
Hearns took on the challenge of not just becoming a Titlist in his second weight class, but to also become a Lineal Champion for the first time as the vacant LINEAL Super-Welterweight Title was also up for grabs along with Benitez WBC belt. As the fighters entered the arena, one of the most intense stare downs of all-time took place between the 2 great standouts for about ⏲️20 seconds, with the taller Hearns ready to go to war, and the pride-filled Benitez looking ready to go to work and take care of business.
Wilfred Benitez was finding it difficult to establish a rhythm with the jab because Tommy Hearns was about 4 inches taller with much longer arms, and he had nearly the same boxing acumen as Benitez had, even though he was mostly vaunted for his immense punching power, most notably his cannon of a 💥right hand that the boxing clergy marveled over.
In the 2nd round, Hitman caught Benitez with a couple of big right hands that hurt the Champ, and he had Benitez pinned on the ropes. Hearns threw a barrage of 20 some-odd heavy punches, but somehow Benitez was able to dodge most of them, with his rapid impeccable head movement and vision.
In the next round, Benitez was trying to establish the up-jab, but Radar had trouble locking in on his 🎯target, and Tommy threw first in most exchanges, throwing Benitez rhythm off. Tommy had a point taken away from him in the 4th for holding Benitez head down, but still showcased enough to make it an even round. The 5th round, Benitez was barely scraped by a right hand that he was dodging, but there was enough on the punch to put him on the canvas. Benitez was also badly hurt in the 6th by a 👊monster right hand by Hearns, and Wilfred stumbled backward into the ropes, but somehow he stayed up and survived the round.
By this juncture, Benitez knew he was way behind on the points, so a tactical change had to take place, and Benitez did just that. From the middle of the fight on, instead of trying to box from the outside, he became the aggressor to try and get inside of Tommy’s reach to land some counterpunches, and from there, the 🌊flow of the fight changed its tune.
Benitez in my eyes pulled out about 4 or 5 rounds in a row, including a flash knockdown Tommy suffered in the 9th round. It was pretty clear Tommy felt uncomfortable with the pressure being put forth. With the fight close on the cards, Hearns rallied down the stretch in the last 4 rounds. The judges scored the fight marginally close as I also seen it, and Hearns by way of 📝Majority Decision became the brand new LINEAL/WBC Super-Welterweight Champion of the World.
MAJOR UPSET, AND THE DECLINE STARTS
Benitez moved up in weight, throwing his 🧢hat into the Middleweight division in pursuit to fight the best. In his second fight at the weight, he faced off against the rough and rugged strong challenger 🇸🇾Mustafa Hamsho. With the bout taking place at an outdoor venue in Las Vegas, Nevada, the temperature peaked at about 101 degrees. Wilfred Benitez father 🗣️Gregorio Benitez was no longer in his corner, and this may have been a fight where Wilfred could’ve benefit from hearing his voice, and heeding his overall guidance.
Seeing the notable size difference between the two, Hamsho was able to cut the ring off and throw Benitez off with his typically awkward style, and mauled him on the ropes. Benitez would land some nice counterpunches over the top, but the shots landed did very minimal damage, and did nothing to stop Hamsho in his tracks. Because of this, Mustafa didn’t have anything to worry about 🪃coming back towards him.
With the fight being fought predominantly on the ropes, Benitez had no answers, and was not able to get Hamsho off of him. This was Benitez true 📍“welcome to the Middleweight division” reality-check, and the scorecards were reflective of the mauling that was taking place. Hamsho pulled off the major upset by 📝wide Unanimous Decision, and it forced Benitez into a tough spot regarding his career prospects.
TWO FADING BOXING PRODIGIES COLLIDE
Realizing that Middleweight was too much for him to handle, he decided to go back to the Super-Welterweight division that he held heavy 🗠stock in to try and regain his status. Standing in his way was young prodigy, and former Super-Welterweight Titlist 🇺🇸Davey Moore in a non-title contest.
Davey’s lone defeat was against 🇵🇦Roberto Duran, where he was completely demolished and ransacked by the legend, losing his belt in the process. Here we had 2 boxing prodigies trying to regain what was once had, and against each other.
In the first round, Benitez was caught with a perfect counter right hand, and somehow ended up breaking his 🦶ankle on the way down to the canvas. He managed to get back up, but he was shaking his head in a very strange fashion that was not at all reflective of the injury he sustained.
As the fight resumed, Benitez couldn’t really move, and he was stuck in a corner. Davey went on the offensive, trying to go for the kill 📢(figuratively speaking), with plenty leather.
Benitez in one of the greatest defensive displays of his entire career virtually slipped and dodged all of those punches to survive round 1. With an unanswered attack from Benitez, and continuously shaking his leg in discomfort, the Referee for this contest 🕴️Gerlando Rucia stopped the fight in the 2nd round. The train began to 🛤️derail on Benitez career.
KNOCKOUTS, DECEIT & PASSPORT ISSUES
With his habits and seemingly his health at this point rapidly declining, he took on undefeated challenger 🇨🇦Matthew Hilton, who was only 1 fight removed from defeating a faded former Middleweight Champion 🇮🇹Vito Antuofermo in his final career bout. While Benitez was tacking on the points, he appeared to be uncomfortable at certain points of the fight.
Hilton had some power, and some of the shots he sat on were just barely missing. In the 9th round, Benitez was pinned against the ropes, and Hilton was throwing shots over the top. Benitez with his hands down tried to dodge his shots with his head movement, but one devastating right hand from Hilton got through and crumbled Wilfred horribly to the canvas. In the saddest scene of Benitez career, he was once again shaking his head in an odd fashion 📍(perhaps foreshadowing of neurological damage occurring), and struggled trying to ⏲️beat the count…but he couldn’t – suffering another devastating defeat. The train was now COMPLETELY off of the tracks.
After a couple of wins to follow against journeymen, he decided to visit the homeland of all-time great Middleweight World Champion 🇦🇷Carlos Monzon, and fought 🇦🇷Carlos Herrera in Argentina. Benitez at this point was a complete shell of himself, and he lost by TKO in the 7th round. The worst of that night wasn’t losing the battle, it was in him learning that the promoter of that fight stole his money, and passport, leaving Wilfredo stranded in Argentina for roughly a year. What a dirty way to do a legend. There is word though however that Wilfred’s wife MAY have instructed him to stay in Argentina until he got paid what he was owed.
THE GET-BACK, AND CAREER REFLECTION
After a lengthy year of being without money and living homeless, the Argentinian Government and Puerto Rico worked something out to where their (PR) hero could return back home to their soil. Benitez would return home, and return to the ring 3 years after arriving back to Puerto Rico, but his late career aspirations didn’t go as planned. He came back to fight 4 more fights, beating 🇲🇽Ariel Conde and 🇺🇸Sam Wilson, but losing to 🇺🇸Pat Lawlor and 🇺🇸Scott Papasodora. After his final fight and loss to Papasodora, Benitez decided to wrap it up and retire from boxing world at the age of 31.
The career was short, but it was eventful. That saying “it is not the years in your life that counts, it’s the life in your years” applies perfectly to his career, and despite being lazy (let’s be honest here), he amassed a career that most fighters who sustained full careers had a difficult time to match. The overall general consensus that the famous “CORE-4“ only consisted of 🇺🇸Sugar Ray Leonard, 🇺🇸Thomas Hearns, 🇺🇸Marvelous Marvin Hagler and 🇵🇦Roberto Duran was skewed…..because Benitez clearly belonged in that group as much as any of them, which would’ve formed an official “FAB-5“.
To this very day, Benitez is looked at as a standard-bearer of defensive fighting, with a rather unique style of operating out of a wide stance, 📡rolling punches, and his utilization of upper body movement. He is also looked at as a standard-bearer to younger Puertorican fighters that followed after him looking to fill in his 👞👞shoes and carry on where he left off.
LEGACY SHROUDED WITH HEALTH WOES
Post-career, Benitez has amassed many health problems that may have started from the days of his time in the ring, and over time these things have progressively gotten worse. Currently he is not well at all, and is being taken care of by his sister in Puerto Rico. It pains me to see him in that state, so I put up a couple of 🖼️pictures post-career when he was in decent health to recollect Benitez in his better days.
During the end of his career, he suffered from a condition called post-traumatic encephalitis. His cognition got worse, and there were random angry outbursts. He was taken care of by his mother 🗣️Clara Benitez until she passed away in 2008. His sister 🗣️Yvonne has been taking care of him ever since.
Wilfred suffered an unfortunate stroke in 2012, furthering his complications. Often times not lucid, and not being able to walk, he got up out of his wheelchair, to the shock of everybody at his fellow countrymen 🇵🇷Hector “Macho” Camacho’s funeral and posed for a few pictures standing up.
🇺🇸Ray Leonard visits Benitez from time to time, but Wilfred’s memory goes in and out. At times he is not in his right mind, and other times, he remembers the things that he once did in his career. During one of his sharper moments, he told Ray that he didn’t train for his fight, which is completely true.
Benitez also stood up one time during a session and started crying while watching his fight against 🇨🇴Antonio Cervantes, remembering the incredible feat that he had pulled off at that particular time. Amid the problems, the Champs resolve is still there, and we hope for him to see better days going forward in life, with some turnaround in fortune in his quality of life.
- 2X Lineal World Champion (Junior-Welter | Welter)
- 3-Division World Champion (140, 147, 154)
- 5X World Champion (RING/WBA/WBC Titles)
- Won 8 Title Fights in his Career
- Won 6 Lineal World Title Contests
- 4 Wins Against Lineal Champions
- 3 Wins Against Hall-of-Fame Inductees
- Youngest Champion in Boxing History (Age 17)
- First Boxer in 43 Years to Win Triple-Crown
- First Puerto Rican Fighter to Win the Triple-Crown
- Regarded by Some as Puerto Rico’s Greatest Fighter
- Revered as One of the Greatest Junior-Welterweights
- Seen by Many as One of the Most Elusive Defenders Ever
- One of the Most Intelligent Boxers to Ever Live
- International Boxing Hall-of-Fame 🏆(Inducted in 1996)
SIGNATURE MOMENTS – Defeating legendary Colombian boxer 🇨🇴Antonio Cervantes at just the age of 17; Also in conquering iconic fighting machine 🇵🇦Roberto Duran.
NOTABLE WINS – 🇵🇦Roberto Duran, 🇨🇴Antonio Cervantes, 🇲🇽Carlos Palomino, 🇺🇸Harold Weston, 🇺🇸Bruce Curry (2X), 🇦🇬🇬🇧Maurice Hope, 🇺🇸Randy Shields.
NOTABLE DRAWS – Benitez had a highly contested draw against 🇺🇸Harold Weston in their first encounter.