Wilfred Benítez (born September 12, 1958 in New York, New York), is a Puerto Rican boxer. He is remembered best as a skilled and aggressive fighter with exceptional defensive abilities who won world championships in three separate weight divisions, and was the youngest world champion in boxing history. Benitez has been a member of the International Boxing Hall of Fame since 1996.
Benitez turned pro at 14, a young prodigy who was managed by his father Gregorio Benitez, was a member of one of Puerto Rico's most famous boxing families, his brothers Frankie and Gregory Benitez having also been top contenders in the 1970s. The Benitez troop was largely directed by their mother, Clara Benítez. Young Wilfred was nicknamed "The Radar". 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 15 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.
Professional boxing career
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.
Benitez retained the championship three times, and then moved up to the welterweight division. Benítez challenged WBC World Champion Carlos Palomino 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.
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