After being shot in the leg, former champion Jose Benavidez makes surprising return to ring

Kevin Iole
Combat columnist
Former world champion Jose Benavidez will fight Matthew Strode on Saturday in Corpus Christi, Texas, his first bout since being shot while walking his dog in 2016. (Getty Images)

Jose Benavidez decided to take his dog for a walk near his Phoenix home before he went to bed on Aug. 23, 2016. It was a decision that nearly cost him his promising boxing career.

Long one of the sport’s top prospects, Benavidez won the interim WBA super lightweight title on Dec. 13, 2014, when he was 22. After a successful defense, he moved up to welterweight to seek a title there.

His walk was interrupted when a gunman leaped out and shot him in the leg. A bullet went into his right leg just above the knee and hit a main artery. He also had a wound to his left leg and was shot on the pinky finger of his right hand.

“The guy just came out of nowhere,” said Benavidez, who said a suspect has never been apprehended.

With his adrenaline pumping, Benavidez managed to scramble to his home and an ambulance was sent. He nearly lost his life because of the volume of blood loss.

When he first saw the doctor, he was told he wouldn’t be able to walk for more than a year, perhaps for two years. Benavidez mentioned that he was a boxer and the doctor gave him the news bluntly: His boxing career was over.

“He said, ‘Forget about boxing,’ ” Benavidez said. “Just like that: ‘Forget about it. It’s not in the picture. You’re not going to box any more.’ ”

Benavidez, whose younger brother, David, will rematch with Ronald Gavril on Showtime on Feb. 17 for a super middleweight title, didn’t care what the doctor said, though. That, he thought to himself, was the doctor’s opinion.

Benavidez, who was 24 at the time of the shooting, never doubted for a second that he would fight again.

“Someone can say whatever they want, but just because they say it, it doesn’t mean they’re right,” he said. “As long as you want to do something and you believe and you want it, you can do it. It doesn’t matter what anyone else says. He said I wouldn’t fight again, but I knew that I would. I knew whatever it took, I would fight again one day.”

That day has nearly arrived. On Saturday in Corpus Christi, Texas, Benavidez will make his return to the ring when he fights Matthew Strode in an eight-rounder with a weight limit of 150 at the Bank of America Center in Corpus Christi. His fight will be broadcast on the ESPN app.

Jose Benavidez Jr. celebrates a title-winning victory over Mauricio Herrera in Las Vegas on Dec. 13, 2014. (Getty Images)

It will be the start of a journey that he hopes will culminate in a welterweight title. He abandoned the super lightweight division when he got frustrated that he didn’t get a match with then-champion Terence Crawford.

He said he decided to move to welterweight to pursue one of the belts there and plans to pick up where he left off.

He’s matter-of-fact about the return, as if professional athletes get shot in a random and unexpected attack and return to competition at the same, or higher, level than they were previously.

“I’ve overcome obstacles all my life and people were telling me all my life I couldn’t do this or that and I’ve always been able to prove them wrong,” he said. “Don’t ever go by what someone else says; go by what you feel.

“This has made me better, to be honest. My mindset is better now. Mentally, I’m going in there with the mentality that, ‘I’m going to kill this guy.’ I have a different mindset now and it’s made me better at what I do.”