This story first appeared in The Ring’s February 2023 virtual edition.
TWO TRAINERS TELL US WHAT THEIR STRATEGIES WOULD BE IN THE UPCOMING SUPER MIDDLEWEIGHT SHOWDOWN BETWEEN CALEB PLANT AND DAVID BENAVIDEZ
They have been jawing back and forth at each other for some time. On March 25, either David Benavidez or Caleb Plant will be forced to eat his words after the two former super middleweight titlists meet at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas.
What makes this fight so intriguing is wondering which version of Benavidez (26-0, 23 knockouts), The Ring’s No. 1-rated super middleweight, will show up. The 26-year-old Phoenix, Arizona, native is listed at 6-foot-2, just an inch taller than his adversary, but Benavidez comes in a bulkier package. Plant, The Ring’s No. 2-rated super middleweight, is a more natural 168-pounder.
Tensions are high between Benavidez (left) and Plant going into the fight. (Photo by Esther Lin/Showtime)
The difference became clear when Benavidez, after losing his WBC belt because of a failed drug test, recaptured it in his signature victory over Anthony Dirrell in September 2019, then was stripped again for coming in almost three pounds over the limit in his first defense, against journeyman Roamer Alexis Angulo.
We’ve also got drama in the potential style matchup.
Both combatants are coming off impressive victories. Benavidez stopped David Lemieux in three last May, while Plant (22-1, 13 KOs) destroyed Dirrell in nine last October – his comeback fight after losing the IBF title to Canelo Alvarez in November 2021.
“Canelo set the tone [for] how to beat Plant. With that said, I wouldn’t want to roll the dice the way Canelo did.”
– Bob Santos
Will Plant be intoxicated by what he believes is newfound power? Can Benavidez lure him into a firefight?
This will be 30-year-old Plant’s second fight under Philadelphia trainer Stephen “Breadman” Edwards. Benavidez is trained by his father, Jose Benavidez Sr.
Seeking insight on how the two fighters might craft their strategies for the upcoming encounter, which will be a PBC event on Showtime pay-per-view, The Ring went to two world-renowned coaches: 2022 Trainer of the Year Bob Santos, who handles No. 4-rated middleweight Carlos Adames among others, and the highly decorated Ronnie Shields, whose current charges include WBC middleweight titlist Jermall Charlo.
Here are the battle plans they offered for Benavidez and Plant.
BOB SANTOS, ON HOW HE WOULD TRAIN DAVID BENAVIDEZ:
“I would like an eight- to 10-week training camp. I would prefer 10 weeks. At a very minimum, eight weeks for David. What I like for sparring is to get someone like a Julian Williams, who uses that same shell defense Plant uses. A lot of the Philadelphia fighters use that East Coast style. That’s the sparring I would get to prepare my guy for the fight.
“Conditioning would be two times, sometimes three times a day around the time that we would actually fight. That’s a given. For me, I’m big on road work. I know with a lot of strength and conditioning coaches, they like doing new things. For me, I didn’t change anything from what had been taught to me. I believe in old-school training and sticking with the basics.
“For me, the old-school guys were going 15 rounds. I believe in push-ups, pull-ups, sit-ups and dips; hardening the guy up with heavybag work. These guys get too caught up in CrossFit, which looks great, but it’s not conducive for the fight. I wouldn’t want David using weights, because he’s already a big guy and he would gain muscle.
(Photo by Esther Lin/Showtime)
“We have to make weight, and I don’t want to cut any additional muscle. I’m also not a firm believer in the mitts. How often do you see that combination on the mitts in the gym in an actual fight? I would focus solely on the combinations that would work for David in the fight.
“We would spar for six of the eight weeks and taper off. Depending how David looked, how his body responds, would dictate how many rounds we would spar.
“With Benavidez, I know he’s a big guy; I would want him around eight to 10 pounds [over the weight limit] 10 days before the fight. Right there, we would be close by wringing out the water. You defer to your fighter what works in losing weight. That’s a team-concerted effort as to what works best.
Benavidez catches David Lemieux. (Photo by Esther Lin/Showtime)
“When you’re working hard, you can keep the diet in moderation. As far as the basic foods: chicken, fish, steak, but when you’re working hard, you can eat what you want to eat – again, in moderation – when you’re burning more calories than you’re taking in.
“Canelo set the tone [for] how to beat Plant. With that said, I wouldn’t want to roll the dice the way Canelo did.
“I would want to start early on with Benavidez to implement a jab, because he’s very long and he has a really, really good jab that sometimes he underutilizes. In the fight, I would make sure he used that jab as much as possible and pressing forward with the jab.
“From Round 1, I would have him put on subtle pressure – not overcommitting, but enough to where Plant knew we were there. I’d have him slowly, slowly mixing some things up, not totally focused on the body, or the head.
“What you can do with Plant is once you get him into that fourth and fifth round, slowing Plant down, then I like Benavidez a lot in the fact that he has faster hands than Plant. Once we can slow Plant down with his feet, I have to like my guy’s chances, because we’re the bigger puncher and we can get Plant more into exchanges.
(Photo by Michael Owens/Getty Images)
“The more we can get Plant into a firefight – or force him into a firefight – we can win. We can’t just box him. We need to make him fight. That will be the key to beating Plant. Little by little, we want to apply subtle pressure and increase that pressure in the fourth and fifth rounds. Make Plant fight every round from that point on, because I like my guy’s chances where if we don’t stop him, we’re getting the better of the exchanges so people can see we got the better of the fight.”
RONNIE SHIELDS, ON HOW HE WOULD TRAIN CALEB PLANT:
“I would like to have a 12-week training camp. The longer the better. You need to be on the same page with your fighter to fight someone like Benavidez. We would do seven weeks of sparring, with the first five weeks implementing game plan, game plan, game plan every single day.
“Seven weeks of sparring is enough to get everything down, [sparring] three days a week and two days of game plan. We would want to use guys who are light heavyweights and mix that in with smaller guys. We would have one big guy, because we wouldn’t want to put too much pressure on Caleb in sparring, and two middleweights for their hand speed, to have that nice mix.
“Benavidez is fast. He throws punches in combinations.
“Caleb is a disciplined guy, and it would be much easier for him to make 168 than Benavidez. Caleb should be really strong at the end of camp, and the last week of camp for Benavidez will be hell week, because he’ll be coming down. What Benavidez is counting on is he has 24 hours to get it back. It’s why body work will be so important to win.
(Photo by Toby Acuna/Premier Boxing Champions)
“I would say a week to 10 days, I would like Caleb around 173, because he won’t have problems with his weight. That would be perfect. Benavidez will have to struggle to make 168. He’ll have to miss meals; he’ll have to do a lot to make weight.
“Conditioning: I would want Caleb running three to five miles maybe two to three times a week and taper that off closer to the fight.
“Caleb has a great shot of winning this fight. He’s a smart fighter. He’s always been a good fighter. Fighting someone like Benavidez, Caleb will have to be smart, because Benavidez talks a lot and tries to get you out of your game plan.
“I wouldn’t worry about winning the first two rounds. I would concentrate more on hitting Benavidez to the body. We would need to stay away from the ropes, because Benavidez throws a lot of punches. I would have Caleb not move a whole lot but concentrate more in staying in the middle of the ring and keep a jab in his face and go to the body to slow him.
(Photo by Toby Acuna/Premier Boxing Champions)
“By the third round, I would want to keep Benavidez in the middle of the ring, concentrating still on the body and beating his arms down. We’ll need to step around. I wouldn’t want Caleb to hold Benavidez. Holding Benavidez allows him to rest. We want Benavidez to keep punching. We want him to keep moving his hands the whole time. We need to keep him moving. We’re going to get hit, but we want to keep turning him both ways. We don’t want him to rest. He’s probably going to be coming down from 200 pounds before the fight and he’s shrinking down to 168.
“Every time Caleb would catch a punch, we would have to fire back. It would be the same thing around the fourth, fifth round. Each time we get touched, we punch back. We wouldn’t want to get into a holding fight.
(Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
“By the eighth round, we could hold a little more. We still want Benavidez to keep working. Caleb is going to have to be in great shape to keep up a great pace. If Caleb can be even after eight rounds, that’s the most important thing for him.
“In the last four rounds, Caleb is going to have to make the fight. The thing about Caleb is he has a really good left hook, and we saw that against Dirrell.
“But we need to bring Benavidez’s hands down. Caleb is going to create a great pace. The goal is to steadily drain Benavidez, then attack late.”