Slow Road versus Fast Track When Jose Benavidez and Mauricio Herrera Meet

When Jose Benavidez steps into the boxing ring against Mauricio “El Maestro” Herrera two schools of thought will be confronting each other like a raging hammer against an assault-proof anvil.

Benavidez, blessed with the tools of the sweet science that should guarantee success, has been guided to this point as if by an army engineer guiding troops through a mind field.

Herrera, on the other hand, has been thrown into a pit filled with bombers, shankers, head butters and speedsters that others feared and still emerged at the top like a modern day Perseus.

Benavidez (21-0, 15 Kos) and Herrera (21-4, 7 Kos) meet on Saturday Dec. 13, to decide which mode of operation has succeeded or passed its expiration date at the Cosmopolitan Las Vegas. HBO will televise the meeting between Top Rank and Golden Boy Promotion’s representatives.

Let’s start with Riverside, California’s Herrera.

Herrera began his pro career at age 27, a mere seven years ago. It’s an age that some prizefighters contemplate ending their pro life. But Herrera’s amateur coach had a distaste for the pro style and refused to allow the student to pursue competition in a prize ring. Always a faithful student, Herrera grudgingly followed his master’s request. After years of watching others he had defeated in the amateurs rise to glory, Herrera broke ranks and asked veteran trainer Willy Silva to train him for the pros.

Silva jumped at the opportunity. Formerly, the trainer had worked with bangers like Carlos “El Elegante” Bojorquez and Shibata Flores. When the two merged they called local promoters Thompson Boxing Promotions who had guided the early careers of Josesito Lopez and Tim “Desert Storm” Bradley to success.

Ironically, Bradley fights on the same fight card against Diego Chaves.

Thompson Boxing’s Alex Camponovo, one of the most astute matchmakers in boxing, talked to Herrera and Silva knowing that at age 27 there was no time to play it cute. After three “gimme fights” to shake the rust, Herrera began facing opponents in 2008 that others avoided like Alan Velasco, Daniel Cervantes and Pavel Miranda. It was sink or swim for Herrera whose defensive and offensive talents were tested immediately.

“I stopped Pavel Miranda and he (Benavidez) nearly got knocked out by him,” says Herrera, 34.

Crowds began to fill the arenas whenever Herrera’s name was put on the poster. It was quickly apparent that Herrera was a special talent. The better the opponent the better he performed as if not wanting to waste the inner gifts.

“I always asked Alex (Camponovo) to put me in against the best,” said Herrera. “I don’t care what their records are or who they are.”

Despite facing monsters like Mike Alvarado and Ruslan Provodnikov the paychecks were far less than others were getting.

“I got only $8,000 for Provodnikov,” said Herrera, adding that now he gets more than $100,000.

That fight that took place nearly four years ago saw Provodnikov blast Herrera with some blows that nearly closed his left eye in the first round. But the crafty fighter whose nickname is “El Maestro” shut down the Russian juggernaut and soon had Provodnikov’s face a swollen mess. It was like watching an old 1950s fight between Gene Fullmer and Carmen Basilio. Herrera won the razor close fight but the rewards for the win were meager. Meanwhile Provodnikov was given the better paydays.

Herrera’s contract with Thompson Boxing ended and both he and his trainer Silva awaited for a phone call from that organization to reinstate him with a small bonus. They waited and waited and finally decided one more hour would do it. A call came but not from Thompson Boxing, it was Golden Boy Promotions asking if he would be interested. Herrera quickly said yes and when asked what kind of fight?

“I want to fight the best,” said Herrera who was given WBA and WBC champion Danny “Swift” Garcia. The boxing world knows the rest of the story.

Benavidez was an amateur legend at age 17 when he turned pro and was already a talked about boxer who had legendary confrontations with Golden Boy’s Frankie Gomez. He was just a teen when he turned pro and stepped into the Wild Card Gym to train with Freddie Roach.

“He has a lot of talent,” said Roach when I first saw Benavidez.

Tall, fast and blessed with power, he had tools that you cannot teach. Because he was still a teen and growing, Top Rank put Benavidez on the slow more deliberate road. Though on occasion he was called upon to spar with Wild Card stable mates such as Manny Pacquiao, the Arizona youngster was seldom matched with any threats until 2012. But those tools have been honed and polished and it is time now for the 22-year-old to fulfill the promise many saw in him as a youngster.

“I heard Herrera was real mouthy,” said Benavidez during the press conference. “Let’s see what he says when we get in the ring.”

Herrera, who acknowledges that Benavidez has skills and talent, says boxing is more than that.

“It takes experience against fighters that have experience to fight the best,” said Herrera. “He’s going to know the difference when we fight. School will be in session.”

—- Photo Credit : Chris Farina – Top Rank