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David Benavidez returns Top Rank signing bonus, remains with Lewkowicz, Haymon

World Boxing Council super-middleweight champion David Benavidez returned a $250,000 signing-bonus check he received from Top Rank Inc. in Las Vegas on Monday, and will continue fighting under the banner of his promoter Sampson Lewkowicz and advisor Al Haymon’s Premier Boxing Champions, Lewkowicz told the Los Angeles Times.

Benavidez (20-0, 17 knockouts), boxing’s youngest world champion at 21, is scheduled to return to the ring in September in a mandatory title defense against No. 2-rated contender Anthony Dirrell.

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Benavidez’s possible defection to Top Rank, which is financially backed by a less-than-year-old television deal with ESPN, ruffled sport insiders this past weekend and led to speculation that a protracted legal episode would keep the champion out of the ring.

Top Rank Chairman Bob Arum said the matter was resolved after his attorneys huddled and decided “to leave it up to the kid.

“[Benavidez] came up to me at [Saturday’s Terence Crawford-Jeff Horn] fight [in Las Vegas] and said he was going to fight for us, but if he doesn’t want to … he’s a kid,” Arum said. “We’re not going to push him, and we’re not going to make a legal problem out of the damn thing.

“He returns the money we gave him … fine.”

Arum said unlicensed boxing recruiter Billy Keane “brought [Benavidez] to us,” which inflamed Lewkowicz, who pointed out that Keane previously attempted to tamper with former middleweight champion Sergio Martinez.

“Billy Keane is a scavenger of the boxing industry,” Lewkowicz said. “When he did this to Sergio, Sergio was experienced and told him to go [forget] himself. It was shame on Keane the first time. It’d be a shame for me not to sue him.”

Keane, from Southern California, read a prepared statement to The Times Tuesday:

“I don’t even know where to begin with Sampson’s statements. They’re pure fiction and completely untethered from the truth. I’m not going to get into hurling insults back and forth in the media.

“As for my failed attempt to poach Sergio Martinez, I have never met or had one single conversation with him, much less a person who speaks no English and I speak no Spanish. Perhaps he has me confused with someone else.”

Benavidez, raised in Phoenix, claimed a unanimous-decision victory over Ronald Gavril in February after edging him by split decision last year.

Lewkowicz said Showtime will televise the mandated bout against the 33-year-old Dirrell (32-1-1, 24 KOs).

5:45 p.m.: This article was updated with Keane’s response.

This article was originally published on June 11 at 4:55 p.m.

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