OriginSan Juan, Puerto Rico
Benitez turned pro at 15. His speed, combined with punching power and surprising ring maturity for a 16 year-old, were enough to make him a world-ranked boxer by both the WBA and WBC, then boxing's only world-title recognizing organizations.
Word Champion, World Record
On March 6, 1976, at age 17, with his High School classmates in attendance, he faced WBA Light Welterweight champion Antonio Cervantes. Known as Kid Pambele, the champion was 30 years old, had a record of 74-9-3 with 35 KO's, and had made 10 title defenses. The result was a fifteen-round split decision in Benitez's favor.
Leonard vs Benitez
Benitez fought Sugar Ray Leonard in Las Vegas, Nevada on November 30, 1979. It was a scientific fight by both fighters, who demonstrated their defensive skills throughout the bout. Benitez suffered a third-round knockdown and a cut on his forehead, which was opened by an accidental head butt in round six. Leonard put Benitez down again in the fifteenth round and the referee stopped the fight with six seconds left in round fifteen.
Benitez vs Hope
After the loss to Leonard, Benitez again moved up in weight, and on 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. The knockout was named one of the knockouts of the year.
Hearns and Duran
In January 1982, he defended his title against Roberto Durán, winning a fifteen-round unanimous decision. On December 3, 1982, at the Carnival of Champions in New Orleans, Benitez lost the belt to another boxing legend, Thomas Hearns, via a fifteen-round majority decision.
On the Decline
Benitez's career went downwards after the fight with Hearns, as did his lifestyle. In 1984, he tried a comeback under the hand of Yamil Chade, but this proved unsuccessful. On November 28, 1986, with his health declining, he went to Buenos Aires, Argentina to fight middleweight Carlos Herrera. Benitez was stopped in seven rounds. But that wasn't the worst part of the trip. His money for the fight was stolen by the fight's promoter, along with his documents and passport, and he was stranded in Argentina for one year. After much government huddling and talks, he was finally able to fly back home to Puerto Rico in 1988.
Retirement and Illness
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. Benitez now suffers from an incurable, degenerative brain condition caused by the blows he took in the ring. In 2002, Sugar Ray Leonard visited Benítez, who by this time had forgotten his identity. During the visit, their fight was shown on television. Consequently, Benítez remembered the event and said to Leonard, "Ray, I did not train for that fight." In 2004, Benitez was diagnosed with diabetes. His mother died in the summer of 2008.
Good right hand
Benitez was the youngest world champion ever, at 17
In 1994, The Ring named him the 4th greatest junior middleweight of all-time.
In 1996, The Ring named him the 30th greatest fighter of the past 50 years.
In 1999, The Associated Press named him the 4th greatest junior welterweight of the 20th century.
Major World Titles
WBA Light Welterweight
WBC Light Middleweight
UD 15 Roberto Duran - 1982
TKO 12 Maurice Hope - 1981
SD 15 Carlos Palomino - 1979
RTD 6 Randy Shields - 1978
MD 12 Bruce Curry - 1978
SD 12 Bruce Curry - 1978
SD 15 Antonio Cervantes -1976
TKO 2 Davey Moore - 1984
UD 12 Mustafa Hamsho - 1983
MD 12 Thomas Hearns - 1982
TKO 15 Sugar Ray Leonard - 1979