High atop the San Bernardino Mountains lies the city of Big Bear, named after the majestic grizzly bears that once roamed the area freely as the kings of the mountain. These days the only kings travelling to Big Bear are the kings of the ring.
The Summit High Altitude Training Center owned by Abel Sanchez has hosted a legendary roster of fighters to train in its hallowed halls to include Oscar De La Hoya, Mike Tyson, Shane Mosely and newly crowned fan favorite Gennady Golovkin. Attracted to its isolation from distractions and thin air that aids in endurance training, Jose Benavidez Jr. has made the pilgrimage to prepare for his upcoming fight against Mauricio “El Maestro” Herrera.
Benavidez starts his warmup with some shadow boxing; punching, bobbing, weaving, and moving his feet with years of repetition and experience requiring no thought. Instincts are what move his body: jabbing, anticipating, sliding, dodging. “Since he was like two or three he just had a lot of energy, but he was just a good kid that was good at everything.” Jose Sr. talks about Benavidez not only as a trainer but with the smile and proud eyes of a father that has seen both of their sacrifices intertwine into the accomplishment of shared goals.
“When he was like five I took him to a boxing gym and I didn’t think they were going to have him spar, but they asked if he wanted to spar a kid that had been boxing for like two years. I asked him do you want to spar? I was thinking this kid is going to kill my son! But he said yeah I’ll spar him and he wound up doing really good and it just kind of took off from there.” “I put him in his first fight like two weeks later and he won and he just kept winning.”
Benavidez Jr. talks about his time as a young amateur like an old war vet reminiscing about the glory of combat, travelling to a foreign land, and winning the battle. “I liked travelling a lot going to Los Angeles and Kansas and winning tournaments. I remember meeting all the other kids and different fighters it was a lot of fun growing up that way.”
Like the Spartan warriors bred, raised, and trained for combat until the calls of war sound; Benavidez fought, trained, and honed his craft as a child until that moment when the warrior reaches a point that signifies his maturity and readiness to transition from training to war.
The moment for Benavidez came in 2009 when he became the youngest fighter in history to win the National Golden Gloves Tournament at only 16 years old. “Winning the Golden Gloves was a big deal, I remember fighting this guy he was a lot older than me and he was really buff” Benavidez says laughing. “My brother David was like these guys are big! But I wound up stopping that guy with a body shot and then the next guy I stopped with a body shot.” “It was really exciting.” The preparation was complete; Benavidez turned pro at the age of 17 immediately after.
The gauntlet that fighters go through to step into the ring is one that prepares the warrior within to fight anybody anytime. Benavidez Jr. believes that a fighter should train as they fight, and he’s sparred with a who’s who in the welterweight division. “I worked a few camps with Amir Khan, Manny Paquiao, Shane Mosely, and Shawn Porter. We were at the Wild Card and there you have to fight hard because everybody is trying to shine because Freddie is watching and everyone wants him to train them.”
“It’s always been my dream to become a world champion and I’m not going to stop until I get it.” Standing in Benavidez’s way is Mauricio “el Maestro” Herrera a fighter that has been dodged by many; because he presents a difficult target and never allows his opponents to look good against him. Herrera’s recent big fight against 140lb champion Danny “Swift” Garcia resulted in a majority decision loss that everyone in the boxing community felt he won.
“The guy that I’m fighting he’s a tough fighter but I have what it takes to take his belt from him and I’m not going to stop until I get it.” Benavidez talks about his opponent with a tone of respect indicative that he doesn’t underestimate the size of the situation “He’s not just a gym warrior this guy’s a world class fighter.”
Warmed up like an engine ready to redline and blast off in a quarter mile race Benavidez Jr. starts to hit the mitts and punches with ferocity as he breaks into a full sweat. “I’ve been here in Big Bear for a couple camps now, the first time we came here was two years ago.” Benavidez’s face takes a serious tone as he knows the importance of a solid training camp and isolating one’s self from distractions to focus solely on the task of committing violence on fight night. “There’s no distractions here you’re so far away from everyone.” “I like the thin air because every time I first get here after the first two or three rounds of sparring your dying and tired but after a couple of weeks you’re in a zone and when you come off the mountain you just don’t get as tired.”
Benavidez transitions from the mitts to beating the heavy bag like it stole something from him. Jose Sr. stands in the background barking instructions ensuring proper technique and placing an emphasis on the solid foundation of fundamentals that elevated Benavidez to his current level.
Sit ups, push-ups, crunches, the heavy breathing and pain in the muscles force thoughts and images of a hand raised in victory. Forging and hammering his body like a blacksmith Benavidez travels the path of champions, preparing for battle in the squared arena.
December 13th Jose Benavidez Jr. goes to war; the training will be complete, the moment to transition from young promise to warrior has come. The championship belt desired by so many and worn by so few is within his grasp. Like the gladiators of old the weapons for this symphony of violence are chosen and Jose Benavidez Jr.’s weapons lay under the hand wraps.