Look up in the boxing dictionary the term' boxing prodigy,' and you will see the face of Puerto Rico's Wilfred Benitez (53-8-1, 31 KOs). A defensive master and counterpuncher who earned monikers such as the 'Bible of Boxing' and 'El Radar' fought in one of the most celebrated and most challenging eras in boxing in the 1970s and 80s.
He became the youngest world champion in boxing history in March 1976 when he won a 15-round split decision over Antonio Cervantes for the WBA junior welterweight title. He was only 17 years old. The accomplishment of defeating one of the greatest fighters in a weight class at such a young age is unlikely ever to be duplicated by future generations.
Benitez would continue collecting achievements by winning titles at welterweight and junior middleweight, becoming the first Latino three-division world champion. Along the way, he garnered victories over fighters like Carlos Palomino, Carlos Santos, Maurice Hope, and Roberto Duran.
Most famously, Benitez is known for his battles against three of the 'Four Kings' of the 1980s, including Sugar Ray Leonard, Thomas Hearns, and Roberto Duran, only missing a match with Marvin Hagler.
He gave Leonard and Hearns some of their sternest tests, at times getting the better of both all-time greats. Those two fights specifically have two of the most epic and tensest mid-ring stare-downs in boxing history. Benitez put on a master class display against Duran, who was still reeling from his infamous 'no mas' defeat to Leonard, but still close to his prime in 1982.
Despite his extraordinary talent and stellar resume, Benitez remains largely unmentioned and left out of discussions regarding fighters of the 1980s. Even in documentaries about his rivals, he is rarely brought up.
It's difficult to quantify just how talented Benitez was at such a young age. His natural ability to stay composed and defensively sound against oncoming assaults from elite fighters has rarely been seen before or after.
Sadly, the three-division champion's career was essentially over in his mid-20s. He fought until he was 32. It's possible that the lack of discussion about Benitez is due to the tragic nature of his story and a reminder of just how dangerous boxing can be.
Benitez, today, suffers from boxer's dementia due to repeated head trauma with symptoms including diminished motor skills and memory problems.
Undoubtedly, Benitez is recognized as one of the greatest Puerto Rican fighters of all time. But, anytime the names of Leonard, Duran, and Hearns are brought up, he should be mentioned right along with them as the fifth king.