A common misconception amongst boxing fans is that Mike Tyson was the youngest ever world champion. ‘Iron Mike’ was aged just 20-years-old when he won his first world heavyweight title, but he’s not the youngest to ever conquer the boxing world!

Considered one of the best Puerto Rican boxers in history, Wilfred Benítez well and truly changed the game as he beat WBA light-welterweight champion Antonio Cervantes aged only 17 in 1976. The youngest world champion of all time, just who was ‘The Bible of Boxing’?

A three-time world champion, Benítez competed in the ‘Fabulous Four’ Sugar Ray Leonard, Roberto Durán, Thomas Hearns, and Marvin Hagler era. The record holder never reached his competitor’s levels of fame though.

Benítez who became a world champion with his classmates watching from ringside, carved a career that some argue peaked on day one – An ultimately sad sporting journey with a dark shadow that hovers over a once hungry and talented fighter.

Known for his no-nonsense attitude, ‘El Radar’ was raised around boxing. The brother to two professional boxers (Frankie and Gregory Benítez), the International Boxing Hall of Fame inductee began competing aged 15 in a New York boxing gym.


A family business, ‘El Radar’s’ father Gregorio Benítez trained his prodigy to rapidly forecast and dodge any punch thrown at him. Benítez who trained and mostly won in the States, Netherland Antilles, and Puerto Rico was mature enough that when aged 16, the only two governing bodies (the WBA and WBC) both ranked him as a contender.

Between first professionally competing as a light welterweight in 1973 and beating Cervantes (who had defended the title ten times prior to losing to Wilfred Benítez), the young talent had won on 25 occasions with nine knockouts to his already widely known name. Victorious against Columbia’s Cervantes with a split decision after 15 long rounds, going the distance was a common theme in Benítez’s career. Five of the North American’s seven title defenses were decided by judges.

Whilst the scorecards often decided the outcome of a Benítez bout, Sugar Ray Leonard made absolutely sure that ‘The Bible of Boxing’ would lose for the first time. Prior to battling ‘Sugar,’ Benítez had already retained the light welterweight title twice – His belt originally stripped following the injuries suffered in a car accident.


Beating Emiliano Villa (UD) and Tony Petronelli (TKO r3) in Puerto Rico, 1976, Wilfred Benítez decided that on home turf he would step up a division.

Fighting WBC world welterweight champion and only once defeated Carlos Palomino just two weeks into 1979, today’s birthday boy stole the welterweight crown. Becoming a world champion in a second weight class aged 21, Benítez won by split decision.

A fast-paced but, short-lived career, Benítez lost on eight outings in his 17-years of boxing. Following a well-earnt victory by unanimous decision against Harold Weston two months post-Palomino, it was far from sweet against ‘Sugar’ come the last month of the ’70s.

For the WBC welterweight title at Caesars Palace, Las Vegas, Leonard who held only the North American Boxing Federation belt, kickstarted a legacy when taking the title from Benítez. A bout organized by promoter Bob Arum, the anticipated match-up even featured middleweight Marvin Hagler on the undercard. ‘Sugar’ was dangerous. Although still without a respected title, he had proven his ability in the 1976 Olympics. Benítez didn’t take him seriously enough. Prior to the match-up, the reigning champion’s father grew concerned that his son was not training hard enough for the fight. The author of an interview in the Ring Magazine, Benítez (Gregorio) titled his article: “Why Benítez will lose his title.”


The richest non-heavyweight bout in boxing history at the time earnt Benítez $1.2 million – Money that in no way softened a Ray Leonard third-round knockdown, followed by a TKO with only six seconds remaining of round 15 – A left uppercut the straw that broke the camel’s back.

Of the ‘Fabulous Four’, Benítez would only beat Roberto Durán. Bouncing back from the loss to ‘Sugar,’ a ninth-round TKO against Johnny Turner four months later in March 1980 was the warmup for the fight that would decide whether or not Benítez could conquer a third division – the super welterweight.

On the 23rd of May 1981, Britain’s Maurice Hope (the reigning WBC world super welterweight champion) was knocked out in round 12 of the Las Vegas grudge match. Benítez had yet again astonished boxing fans as he began a new chapter as an even more established champion.

For a year and a half, ‘The Bible of Boxing’ dominated the super welterweight division. On his second title defense against Durán, Benítez handed the Panamanian only a third career loss.

Durán told the New York Times: “I think he won a good fight. I couldn’t do what I wanted. I wanted to confuse him a little more and wanted to be faster, but my body wouldn’t let me.”

Having beaten one of the sport’s biggest names, Wilfred Benítez ‘the Defensive Wizard’ would never see victory in a world title fight again. Losing his crown to ‘Fabulous Four’ legend Thomas Hearns by a majority judge’s decision at the end of 1992, the New Orleans bout marked the beginning of the end for a once unbelievable prospect.

Losing six of his last 15 bouts between 1993 and 1990, Benítez became lackadaisical and took a negative approach to training. The fire was extinguished long before his time, preferring luxury to hard work and often sidetracked by the fame.

Having never shared a ring with Marvin Hagler, Benítez will never be remembered in the same light as ‘The Fabulous Four.’


A sad end to his career, Benítez retired in 1990 at the age of 32-years-old. Taking brain damage from his life as a boxer, the fight continued for the Puerto Rican long after his time in the ring. Suffering from chronic traumatic encephalopathy (a disease associated with the development of dementia), the now 62-year-old is taken care of by family members as he continues to struggle with memory and life in general.

Forever known for his raw talent and being boxings youngest ever world champion, everyone at Boxing Guru wishes ‘El Radar’ a very happy birthday!


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