WBC president Mauricio Sulaiman announced the decision Monday to mandate a bout between super middleweight world titleholder Anthony Dirrell and former titlist David Benavidez at a news conference in Istanbul, as the organization clarified its position on its 168-pound belt.
Sampson Lewkowicz, who promotes Benavidez, told ESPN that the fight with Dirrell has been agreed to and would take place in August or September.
Sulaiman had been weighing a request from Turkish contender Avni Yildirim for an immediate rematch with Dirrell. Benavidez had been due to make a mandatory defense against Dirrell last fall but was stripped of the title when he tested positive for cocaine. He served a suspension and returned to impressively knock out J’Leon Love in the second round March 16 on the Errol Spence Jr.-Mikey Garcia undercard.
But with the title vacant — the WBC had declared Benavidez its “champion in recess” — Dirrell faced Yildirim for the vacant belt Feb. 23 in Minneapolis, where Dirrell won a 10th-round technical decision in a close, action-packed bout. The fight had been stopped and sent to the scorecards because Dirrell suffered a bad cut over his left eye in the seventh round. By the 10th round, it had gotten worse and Dirrell was ruled unable to continue.
Yildirim (21-2, 12 KOs), 27, of Turkey, and his promoter, Ahmet Oener, flew to Mexico City to meet with Sulaiman late last month to make their case for an immediate rematch. The WBC decided against it, but in ordering Dirrell-Benavidez, Sulaiman said Yildirim could return to fight on the Dirrell-Benavidez undercard and that he would get a mandatory shot against the winner of the fight (as long as Yildirim won the interim bout).
“I am very proud of these three fighters,” Sulaiman said. “Dirrell is a two-time WBC champion who has overcome adversity and defeated cancer; Benavidez is a young man who has come back from the evils of recreational drugs and has found a path for a new life; and Yildirim is a national hero hoping to become the first world champion from Turkey, who has dedicated his life with sacrifice and passion to make his dream come true.
“This is what boxing is all about — the best fighting the best and I applaud the three sides for working together in this process.”
Dirrell (33-1-1, 24 KOs), 34, of Flint, Michigan, said he was pleased by Sulaiman’s decision and hopes to face Benavidez when he is able to return to the ring once his cut fully heals.
“I think it’s a big fight for boxing and for the super middleweight division,” Dirrell told ESPN on Monday. “It’s two of the top guys going against each other.”
After Benavidez (21-0, 18 KOs), 22, of Phoenix, knocked out Love he made it clear he wanted to next fight Dirrell, who was ringside, in order to reclaim the belt he had been stripped of.
“I saw Anthony Dirrell with the WBC belt. He can’t call himself champion until he fights me,” Benavidez said in the ring at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, two weeks ago. “That’s my belt. I’m going to go get it. It’s mine.”
Dirrell said Benavidez had simply done to Love what was expected and that he looked forward to fighting him later this year.
“He did what he was supposed to do. All due respect to him, I think he was supposed to get him out of there,” Dirrell said. “They consider [Benavidez] one of the best so why not fight the best?”