Some boxers, like Floyd Mayweather, will fight defensively, as it’s a great way to avoid taking damage to the head. But other boxers don’t fight that way, or, even if they do, they still may take a lot of damage. That’s exactly what happened to Wilfred Benitez, a promising young star whose career ended due to a bout with a tragic brain disease.
Wilfred Benitez becomes the youngest champion of the world
Like many great boxers, such as Manny Pacquiao, Benitez started boxing when he was very young. Some considered him a boxing prodigy, and when he started fighting professionally at the age of 15 in 1973, it became clear that he was going to be someone great. He fought very often and he just kept on winning. It wasn’t long before he’d get a shot at a world title.
In 1976, at the age of 17 and with an undefeated record of 25 wins under his belt, Benitez fought Antonio Cervantes for the light heavyweight title. Benitez won this fight, and, according to The New York Times, he made history. Benitez had become the youngest world champion, a record that he holds to this day.
But, most great boxers will start losing eventually. In 1979, at the age of 21, Benitez lost his very first fight to Sugar Ray Leonard. Benitez got knocked out in the 15th round, but he made a quick rebound.
After winning five fights in a row, Benitez fought Roberto Duran, one of boxing’s most famous fighters. Benitez won the fight, but it was all downhill from there.
Wilfred Benitez’s declining health
In 1982, at the age of 24, Benitez fought and lost to Tommy Hearns, another great boxer. Despite being so young and in his prime, Benitez’s career kept sliding and sliding downwards.
He’d win a few fights, but he’d lose a few more. Some of those losses came by knockout as well. The once-great boxer retired in 1990 at the age of 32. Most fighters will have their best years in their 30s, but Benitez’s record was 53-8 by that point in time.
He, like many athletes, had lost his fortunes due to a variety of reasons. As The New York Times said, he had to keep fighting long after his memory and skills started fading due to the brain damage that he took from being a boxer.
A few years after retiring, Benitez, in his late 30s, started living with his mom, as he needed daily assistance. He couldn’t remember many things in his life, such as his opponents, his birthday, or, unfortunately, even himself.
CTE, as his disease is called, even sent him into a coma at the age of 38. He woke up, but his condition would get worse. He’d get diagnosed with diabetes a few years later, and he continues to suffer from CTE and other health issues to this day.
Wilfred Benitez today
Benitez, who is Puerto Rican, lived with his mom in Puerto Rico until she passed away in 2008. His sister started taking care of him, but unfortunately, Hurricane Maria destroyed their house in 2018. But, being as famous and beloved as he was, Benitez’s friends stepped in.
According to The Chicago Tribune, one of Benitez’s old friends, Luis Mateo, helped move Benitez and his sister to Chicago. Benitez is still alive and he’s still fighting, but CTE is slowly taking him away.
Like Muhammad Ali, who also suffered from CTE before his death, it’s only a matter of time before Benitez succumbs as well. But until then, Benitez is in a Chicago hospital, getting some of the best care that’s available for him.