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boxing:

The next Mayweather Jr. prepared for boxing debut

Teenage prodigy considered one of the sport’s future stars

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Chris Farina, Top Rank

Jose Benavidez Jr. will make his boxing debut Saturday night at the Hard Rock in a super lightweight fight against Steven Cox. Benavidez Jr. is an accomplished amateur and 2009 national Golden Gloves champion. He recently signed an eight-fight deal with Top Rank.

Boxing prodigy ready to make his mark

Jose Benavidez Sr. never would have predicted that his child would become a professional athlete.

Benavidez enrolled his son, Jose Benavidez Jr., in just about every sport offered in their Phoenix neighborhood when the younger Benavidez was a toddler.

But the result was always the same.

"I took him to all of the sports, but he just wasn't good at anything," Benavidez Sr. said.

Then one evening, Benavidez Sr. noticed his son was mesmerized while watching a boxing match on television. Determined to find activities to keep his son off the streets, a way of life the elder Benavidez said nearly led to his death during his teenage years, father and son headed off to the local gym.

The rest is history.

Benavidez Jr., who was just 6-years-old at the time, was instantly hooked on a sport he would soon dominate. Now, he's being compared to the likes of Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Miguel Cotto and is expected to become a star.

Not bad for someone who is only 17-years-old and four credits shy of finishing high school.

"I was just so hyped up and excited from watching boxing. My parents couldn't calm me down," Benavidez Jr. said. "I knew that day that boxing was what I wanted to do with my life. Ever since I got into that ring and put on those gloves, I loved the sport."

Benavidez Jr. will make his professional debut Saturday at The Joint inside the Hard Rock against Steven Cox in a four-round super-lightweight bout. It's one of seven fights with the main event pitting challenger Kassim Ouma against undefeated Vanes Martirosyan in a welterweight title match for the NABF and NABO titles.

Benavidez Jr., a 2009 Golden Gloves national champion, signed an eight-fight contract with Top Rank five months ago. He relocated from Phoenix and his longtime home base, Central Boxing Club, to train under Freddie Roach — one of the sport's top trainers — in Hollywood, Calif.

During a Thursday press conference to promote the event, Top Rank officials continued with the comparisons to the likes of Mayweather. Roach, who also trains Manny Pacquiao and several other notable fighters, has been quoted as calling Benavidez Jr. his best prospect.

Yes, it appears, he is that talented.

"We are excited to see a seed that is getting planted so quickly," said Todd duBoef, Top Rank's President.

Talk about big shoes to fill. It's like debuting in the NBA and being compared to the likes of Kobe Bryant or LeBron James.

Just don't expect Benavidez Jr. to be overwhelmed. He has a maturity and confidence of someone much older and cherishes the opportunity to live his boxing dreams.

After all, come Saturday night, highlights of his fight will be the ones shown on television.

"I wake up everyday dreaming about that belt and becoming a champion," he said.

The road to a title shot surely will be micro-managed by Top Rank, which outbid Oscar De La Hoya's Golden Boy Promotions to promote Benavidez Jr. His next fight will likely be on the undercard of Pacquiao's March 13 fight in Dallas.

At 6-foot-1, 140-pounds, Benavidez Jr. uses his height to overwhelm much shorter opponents that are common in the super lightweight division. Cox, for instance, only stands 5 feet, 6 inches.

Benavidez Jr. also is credited with packing a powerful punch, especially his trademark left hook. Put it all together and the end result is a package several believe has stardom written all over it.

"I don't like to brag about my son," Benavidez Sr. said. "Words can't describe how happy and proud I am of him."

Ray Brewer can be reached at 990-2662 or [email protected].

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