Wilfred Benitez: The Fifth Member Part Two

Updated: Aug 6, 2019

30th January 1982, Caesars Palace, Las Vegas

WBC Light-Middleweight Title

Wilfred Benitez Vs Roberto Duran

Wilfred Benitez returned to the ring in March 1980 after suffering his first defeat to 'Sugar' Ray Leonard. His opponent was Brooklyn light-middleweight Johnny Turner, who boasted a solid record of 34-3-1 and twenty-six knockouts, one more than Benitez.

Remarkably the former two-weight world champion was still only twenty-one-years-old and he went on to score a ninth round technical knockout over the New Yorker, who played French boxer Laurent Dauthuille opposite Robert DeNiro in 1980's Raging Bull.

He continued 1980 with an eighth round TKO over Tony Chiaverini in the August and finished the year by clearly outscoring Pete Ranzany over ten rounds. "Ranzany made me change my mind about a second round knockout. They told me he would be easy, but he gave me a hard fight," said Benitez.

"He's a very difficult man to hit. He kept me off balance, and I couldn't put anything together," Ranzany responded.

Benitez didn't enter the ring again until 23rd May 1981 when he faced WBC light-middleweight king Maurice Hope at Caesars Palace. The champion, born in Antigua and Barbuda, fought out of Hackney in London and represented Great Britain as a welterweight in the 1972 Munich Olympic Games. He turned professional in June 1973 and by November 1974 he knocked out Larry Paul in the eighth round to claim the British light-middleweight championship.

In October 1976 he travelled to Italy and claimed the European light-middleweight title with a fifteenth round stoppage over Vito Antuofermo. The fight was pretty much level and Hope capitalised on the exhausted champion. "Antuofermo was undoubtedly the most dangerous opponent I've met so far. I must admit that toward the seventh round I seriously feared I could lose. Then I saw Antuofermo wear himself out in the thirteenth and fourteenth. Therefore I expected an opening in the fifteenth, during which I won the title."

The European belt got Hope a shot at WBC light-middleweight champion Eckhard Dagge in March 1977. The bout took place in the champion's home country of Germany and after fifteen rounds the bout was scored even. The Londoner continued to win and finally got a second crack at the WBC belt 04th March 1979 against the Italian, who emigrated to Australia as a youngster, Rocky Mattioli. The champion knocked out Dagge in the fifth round in August 1977 to win the title.

Mattioli was making the third defence of his title in the country of his birth, meaning Hope was fighting for a world title on foreign soil for the second time. Hope made the use of the judges redundant and claimed the crown via a ninth round TKO.

The new champion defended his belt three times in London against Mike Baker, a rematch with Mattioli and Argentina's Carlos Herrera, who managed to the last the distance, before travelling to Vegas to face his most talented opponent yet, Wilfred Benitez on 23rd May 1981.

The challenger scored heavily off the ropes with his superb counter punching abilities. He was scoring at will, but judge Joe Swessel of the Nevada State Athletic Commission gave the first three rounds to Hope.

Benitez inflicted heavy damage from round six onwards and the champion fell even further behind when Benitez floored him late in the tenth. Hope was up by eight and fortunately for him the bell sounded. A clean overhand right from the challenger ended Hope's reign in the twelfth. Hope slumped to the canvas and referee Richard Greene didn't bother to count.

Putting Maurice Hope under pressure

It took Dr Donald Romeo and Hope's handlers about three minutes to revive him and a further five minutes to get him to his feet. The now former champion was in a bad way; he was cut inside his mouth, lost a tooth and had blood in bis urine. Hope was taken to Las Vegas' Valley Hopsital where he stayed overnight. "He's the greatest southpaw I ever saw and he gave me a great fight," Benitez said of Hope. "When I hit him, I took out my mouthpiece and I knew he wouldn't get up."