David Benavidez is back in the ring after costly failed drug test and tampering case

David Benavidez, left, punches Sherali Mamajonov during their super-middleweight fight Jan. 28, 2017, in Las Vegas.
(Steve Marcus / Getty Images)

At 20, David Benavidez stood as boxing’s youngest world champion.

Now 22, his World Boxing Council super-middleweight belt has been stripped after he tested positive for cocaine. He’s been embroiled in a tampering case that cost him a $250,000 bonus, and he’s worked to heal the relationship with his father-trainer that has been painted as dysfunctional.

“Boxing is really super hard,” Benavidez said Thursday as he prepared to attend the undercard news conference at AT&T Stadium, where he’ll meet J’Leon Love in the co-main event to the Errol Spence Jr.-Mikey Garcia welterweight title fight Saturday on Fox pay-per-view.


“Nobody tells you that when you start making money … there’s no instructions that come with it. That’s why some fighters get lost and feel like they’re ripped off. You live and you learn. I’ve learned a lot of lessons. Now, I know how to take care of things.”

Benavidez (20-0, 17 knockouts) got caught up in a dispute between his manager, Sampson Lewkowicz, and promoter Top Rank in May when the young boxer was steered toward promoter Bob Arum by agent Billy Keane and signed a promotional contract, accepting the lucrative bonus.

Keane told The Times then that Benavidez’s relationship with his trainer-father, Jose, was toxic, and that the move was in his best interest, considering the potential for a showdown with Top Rank’s then-168-pound world champion Gilberto “Zurdo” Ramirez.

But Lewkowicz quickly produced his own contract with Benavidez, which trumped the Top Rank deal. The bonus was returned and father and son reunited.

“There were some things I wasn’t satisfied with. It got resolved and I’m glad,” Benavidez said. “I’m never going to leave my father for nobody. I’d rather stop boxing than leave my father.”

Jose Benavidez Sr., whose oldest son Jose Jr. lost a welterweight title fight to champion Terence Crawford in October, said son David’s travails proved that “in this business, when you’re a nobody, there’s no problem, but when you’re a champion, everybody wants credit.

“I was made to be the bad guy. If I was the bad guy, how did we get here? I look over my son. My job is to protect him. People come in and they feel entitled .… I trusted people. [Conditioning coach] Alex Ariza came in and begged me on the life of his daughter that he could be trusted. The first time I leave him with David to be with another fighter, he and Billy Keane take him to Top Rank. They put things in his head. It was terrible.”

The elder Benavidez said he sought to heal any strain with his son.

“I love you, I’m here, I’m here to help you achieve your dreams,” the father told his son.

An admitted former “hustler,” Jose Benavidez Sr. transitioned to trainer after working his way up from dishwasher to banquet captain in 15 years at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Phoenix.

Keeping his boys out of trouble has been a chore. Jose Jr. overcame getting shot in the leg in Phoenix to resurrect his career. David tested positive for cocaine in September after friends from Phoenix partied with him in Las Vegas, Jose Sr. said.

“It was a mistake” David Benavidez said. “I’m a man. I make my own choices. It was a bad call on my part. I’m a world champion and I should act like it.”

“I’ve learned I’m a role model. I’ve got to set an example. Once you get to this spot, people look at you a different way. It hurt me financially, my belt got taken away, my image is ruined forever because every time people think of me, they’ll think of that. So I got what I deserved.

“My job now is to not let that be the end of me. I want to show the people I’m not going anywhere.”

Benavidez and Love (24-2-1, 13 KOs) nearly came to blows on the AT&T Stadium stage Thursday after Benavidez said the veteran fighter’s “time has passed.”

“We’ll prove that’s not true from Round 1,” Love said. “I try to be respectful, but when you start trying to pull my card, then you’ll get a different side. I am a fighter, I back down from no man.”

Asked if he believes the turbulence of the last year shows Benavidez is unraveling, Love said, “Don’t expect bad things to bring somebody down. It can fuel them.”

Benavidez said by making weight Friday, he’s prepared to move beyond the negativity.

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“I see an opportunity to get a spectacular knockout in this pay-per-view. A lot of people will be watching. I need to capitalize on the moment, need to get my groove back,” Benavidez said. “I’m hungry after everything that’s happened to rebound and prove I’m the best in the world.”

He said he expects a victory will take him to a late summer fight against new WBC super-middleweight champion Anthony Dirrell, who, like Benavidez, fights in the Premier Boxing Champions stable.

“I don’t belong with Top Rank. I belong in PBC because we have all the fighters — Dirrell, [IBF champion] Caleb Plant, Andre Dirrell, Peter Quillin, Jose Uzcategui.

“You have to be careful about the stuff you do. The contracts, the lawyers … you’ve got to take care of yourself. I know that now and I want to be one of the greatest of my generation, up there with Canelo [Alvarez]. From 2020 to 2030, that’s David’s era. I’ve just got to think about the long run and stay dedicated.”

Twitter: @latimespugmire