Wilfred Benítez was born on September 12 in 1958, he is a Puerto Rican former professional boxer and the youngest world champion in the sport’s history. With such an accolade you would expect more people to know of him, after all we all know Mike Tyson was the youngest ever Heavyweight champ yet Benitez was the youngest world champion of them all! Benitez earned the first of his three career world titles in separate weight divisions whilst still a teen at the age of seventeen, he is remembered for his exceptional defensive ability, when you talk about the sports greatest defensive artists, a young Benitez is always in the mix alongside greats such as Willie Pep, Nicolino Locche, Pernell Whitaker and more recently Floyd Mayweather Jnr.
Benitez was just 15 when he turned pro, a young prodigy who was managed by his father Gregorio Benitez, was a member of one of Puerto Rico’s 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. Wilfred was nicknamed “El Radar” for his uncanny ability to foresee and dodge his opponent’s blows. By 16 El Radar was already ranked amongst the top boxers in his division by the WBA and the WBC. It would not be long before he was challenging for the world title, at only 17 on March 6 1976 with his school friends in attendance he took on WBA Light Welterweight champion Antonio Cervantes. Known as Kid Pambele. The result was a fifteen-round split decision in Benitez’s favor. “I had no doubt in my mind that I would beat him,” Benitez said of his coming-of-age party when he halted Cervantes. “I was in great shape and had no problem at all. I was ready to become a champion.”
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.
May 23, 1981, at age 22, he became the youngest three-time world champion in boxing history by knocking out WBC World Super Welterweight Champion Maurice Hope in twelve rounds in Las Vegas.
Wilfred Benitez was fighting around the period of the four kings, Sugar Ray Leonard, Roberto Duran, Thomas Hearns and Marvin Hagler and if there was a fifth member of the famour fighting group it would surely have been Wilfred Benitez. The reason Benitez is generally denied entry into the Leonard-Hagler-Hearns-Duran club is because he never shared a ring with Marvin Hagler, so despite beating Duran and running Sugar Ray very close and being outpointed by the Hitman Hearns he is unfortunately not always mentioned in the same breath as them. It was in 1982 he impressively outscored Duran over 15 rounds to set up a fight with Thomas Hearns. Hearns was to defeat Benitez and unknown to anyone at the time, would start the downhill slide in El Radars career.
Benitez began to stutter around the ring, those who had no business being in the ring with him were now beating up on him, El Radar so often making opponents miss, was now sitting on the ropes and getting hit – hard and very often. Still only 24 he should have been entering his peak, instead he was slowing down and boxing as if he was 34. Davey Moore was to say as much after their fight in which he duly despatched Benitez in just two rounds “He’s still a young man but he’s an old fighter,He didn’t show much opposition tonight.”
Benitez it has been said was a sad waste of talent, arguably the biggest waste of talent Boxing has ever seen. Benitez had a poor attitude to training, preferring luxury to hard work and often sidetracked by the fame and everything it bought to a man still so young. As the training took a back seat weaknesses began to develop as he relied on his natural talent but at the highest level you cannot get away on talent alone, it must be accompanied by hard work, retreating to the ropes due to a lack of stamina was soon becoming the norm for the out of shape Boxer. But the application, that includes beating Duran, pushing Leonard to the brink, and being outpointed by Hearns, should never be discarded. Wilfred Benitez was a masterful defensive fighter and an elegant artist of the ring. “It was hell to get him to train,” said a trainer of Wilfred’s from that time.” He thought because he is Wilfred Benitez he doesn’t have to train. I remember his father saying to him, ‘Who do you think you are fighting? A nobody? Leonard is a monster created by American TV and you have to beat him convincingly.”
The lack of training was to have near fatal repercussions, He nearly didn’t survive to be 40, much less fight until that young age. Wilfred, damaged by the onset of pugilistic dementia, was 38 when he collapsed on his mother’s living room floor and slipped into a coma. . By 1988, he was diagnosed with post-traumatic encephalopathy, a degenerative condition of the brain caused by cerebral trauma. Or more simply, he had brain damage caused by being repeatedly punched in the head.
After retiring from boxing, Benitez returned to Puerto Rico, where he lived with his mother Clara on a $200 a month pension provided by the World Boxing Council. In 1997, Wilfredo was moved permanently to a public run nursing home for medical reasons by his mother Clara, a licensed nurse
Inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1996, he is considered among the best Puerto Rican boxers of all time, The youngest world champion in boxing history. WBA Light Welterweight Champion 1976 Mar 6 – 1977, WBC Welterweight Champion 1979 Jan 14 – 1979 Nov 30, WBC Light Middleweight Champion. Won 53 and lost 8, he was 44-1 before he lost to hearns and the downhill slide started. He now lives with his illness often unaware of the greatness he once achieved whilst many Boxing fans are also unaware of this forgotten legend of the ring.