Benavidez saw his previous two title reigns end due to circumstances outside the ring. The unbeaten boxer was stripped of his WBC title in September 2018 after testing positive for cocaine during random drug testing through the WBC’s Clean Boxing Program. He regained the belt in a ninth-round stoppage of Anthony Dirrell in September 2019, only for the pandemic to cancel a planned April 2020 homecoming versus Alexis Angulo.
The fight with Angulo was rescheduled for August 2020 in the Showtime bubble at Mohegan Sun Casino in Uncasville, Connecticut. Benavidez lost his belt before he made it to the ring, badly missing weight before going on to win via tenth-round stoppage in what ultimately amounted to a non-title fight.
The development provided the loophole for Alvarez to position himself to fight for the vacant title, which he claimed along with the WBA “Super” belt in a twelve-round decision over England’s Callum Smith in December 2020. Alvarez then defended the WBA/WBC belts versus WBC mandatory challenger Avni Yildirim, whom he stopped after three rounds last February before fully unifying the division with stoppage wins over previously unbeatens titlist Billy Joe Saunders (WBO) and Caleb Plant (IBF).
Benavidez made his way back to the top contender spot following an eleventh-round stoppage of Ronald Ellis last March. A planned homecoming in Phoenix against former IBF titlist Jose Uzcategui fell through once Uzcategui tested positive for a banned substance, leaving Benavidez to face late substitute Kyrone Davis whom he stopped inside of seven rounds last November.
With a win over Lemieux in May, the expected approach by Benavidez and his team will be to apply pressure on Alvarez and the WBC.
“I’m sticking around at 168 until I make all the best fights happen,” insists Benavidez. “I want to become world champion again. If I get to the point where I can’t get those fights, we’ll look into moving up to light heavyweight. But the goal is to stay at 168 and become a three-time world champion at this weight.”