NEW YORK – Danny Garcia handled his new weight class and Jose Benavidez Jr. very well on Saturday night.
A patient Garcia defended well, countered Benavidez with right hands at times and decisively beat Benavidez on two of the scorecards in their 12-round, 154-pound main event at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. Judges Glenn Feldman (116-112) and Anthony Paolillo (117-111) scored eight and nine rounds respectively for the shorter, sneakier Garcia, who won a majority decision because judge Waleska Roldan scored a draw for Garcia’s junior middleweight debut (114-114).
Garcia (37-3, 21 KOs) hadn’t fought in nearly 20 months before beating Benavidez. The former junior welterweight and welterweight champion lost a unanimous decision to undefeated IBF/WBA/WBC welterweight champion Errol Spence Jr. in his previous fight, which took place in December 2020 at AT&T Stadium in ‘Arlington, Texas.
“I took a break,” Garcia told Showtime’s Jim Gray in the ring. “You know, I was going through mental things. I felt a bit gloomy. You know, I went through a little…”
Garcia, 34,’s voice cracked, and he unexpectedly broke down and cried at this point in the interview.
“I went through anxiety and depression,” Garcia said. “I just tried my best to stay strong. That’s it. … It weighed on me for a year and a half. And I know the only way to get better is to fight and win. I I’m a fighter. That’s what I do and I love doing. And I know that’s how, if you’re fighting anxiety and depression, you better get over it. That’s what I did tonight – I came and fought my heart.
Phoenix’s Benavidez (27-2-1, 18 KOs) lost for just the second time in 12 years as a pro. His only loss before Saturday night was a 12th-round technical knockout against undefeated WBO welterweight champion Terence Crawford in October 2018 at the CHI Health Center in Omaha, Nebraska.
Although he didn’t come close to winning on the cards, Benavidez boxed better against Garcia than in his 10-round majority draw with Argentine underdog Francisco Torres in his previous fight eight months earlier.
“I’m happy with my performance,” Benavidez said. “I felt like I did a good job. Almost fighting in his backyard, you know? I fight, you know, one of the best of the best. I took his punches like nothing. As you can see, they didn’t hurt me. Honestly, I felt like I won. But that’s what it is – I’m not going to let that get me down. You know, a loss just makes you stronger and I’m just happy to be here, and I’m happy to be able to fight at Barclays Center, you know?
CompuBox scored 116 more punches for Garcia, who unofficially landed 233 of 746 to Benavidez’s 117 of 600.
Benavidez, 30, obviously needed a 12th-round knockout, but Garcia kept using his legs and made Benavidez chase him around the ring. Garcia stuck his tongue out at Benavidez midway through the minute of the final round, but then landed two hard right hands as Benavidez moved forward.
Garcia talked trash and hit his chest, but seemed content to move on and reach the final bell.
Garcia’s defense was terrific in the 11th round, but Benavidez beat his gloves with about 1:15 to go because he wanted Garcia to hold his ground.
Garcia’s right hand rounded Benavidez’s guard just after the halfway point of the 10th round. Another right hand from Garcia backed Benavidez with just over 10 seconds left in the 10th round.
Benavidez landed a right to Garcia’s head and a right to Garcia’s body 50 seconds into the ninth round. He caught Garcia with another right hand as Garcia backed away about a minute later.
Benavidez cut Garcia with a left counter hook just 45 seconds into the eighth round.
Garcia landed a right hand 10 seconds into the seventh round, but Benavidez said it wasn’t a blow. Garcia caught Benavidez with another right hand exactly halfway through the seventh round.
A counter left by Benavidez knocked Garcia off balance with just under 50 seconds remaining in round seven. Another right from Garcia caught Benavidez just before the bell rang to end the seventh round.
Benavidez landed a right hand as Garcia pulled back with just under 2:15 left in the sixth round. Willis cautioned Garcia for a low left hand that landed with just over 50 seconds left in round six.
Garcia made a showboat early in the fifth round in response to Benavidez’s play. Leaning against the ropes, Garcia surged forward with a right hand that landed with about 45 seconds left in round five.
At that point, Garcia’s elusiveness frustrated Benavidez.
Garcia’s right drilled Benavidez with just over 1:20 on the clock in the fourth round. Benavidez landed two counter rights as Garcia ducked with just over 50 seconds left in the fourth round.
Benavidez nailed Garcia with a right hand that backed Garcia into a neutral corner and snatched a smile from him barely a minute into the third round. Garcia fought back in combination and landed a right hand that knocked Benavidez off balance about 1:10 into the third round.
Garcia snuck a right hand around Benavidez’s guard 1:05 into the second round. A right hand from Benavidez landed with just under a minute left in the second round, although Garcia connected with his own right about 20 seconds later.
As promised, Benavidez used his jab in the first round a lot more than he did in his previous fight. They traded the right hand with just over 35 seconds on the clock in the first round.
Keith Idec is senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be contacted on Twitter @Idecboxing.