Budding star David Benavidez is moving forward with or without Canelo

David Benavidez sat on the ring apron and wrapped his hands prior to a training session in late February at Downtown Miami's BOXR Gym. The prospect of a fight with Canelo Alvarez, the man he has long pursued, was slipping away from Benavidez yet again.

He wasn't about to sulk. Confident he had exhausted all possibilities to land the marquee matchup with boxing's top star, Benavidez did what he always does -- he went back to work.

The 27-year-old shadowboxed, hit the pads and trained, though no fight was scheduled at the time.

Alvarez went on to fight Jaime Munguia on Cinco de Mayo weekend instead of the super middleweight summit meeting the public demanded with Benavidez.

With his hopes of securing an Alvarez showdown extinguished for now, Benavidez made the prudent choice. Rather than wait around for Alvarez and the lucrative payday he brings -- the path many boxers travel in today's landscape -- Benavidez moved on and climbed one weight class. He'll make his light heavyweight debut against Oleksandr Gvozdyk in Saturday's co-feature to Gervonta Davis-Frank Martin at Las Vegas' MGM Grand Garden Arena (8 p.m. ET, Prime Video PPV).

"I did everything in my power possible to make the fight happen with Canelo," Benavidez told ESPN on Wednesday. "... I'm not going to wait on no other fighter to establish my career and really try to become the best in any division I'm in. ... I'm coming up to 175 [pounds] and I'm looking to take over."

There was palpable disappointment in the boxing world when Alvarez elected to fight Munguia in May rather than Benavidez, a more deserving title challenger who appeared to present far more danger. That's when Benavidez decided to move up to light heavyweight. After all, what was left to accomplish at 168 pounds outside of a fight with Alvarez that's perpetually out of reach?

"You lined my pockets, you made Munguia a s---load of money, all because you're afraid of David Benavidez," Golden Boy promoter and Hall of Fame boxer Oscar De La Hoya said Monday on social media in a message to Alvarez.

Already, Benavidez (28-0, 24 KOs) has practically cleaned out the 168-pound division. His breakthrough 2023 campaign included comprehensive beatdowns of former champions Caleb Plant and Demetrius Andrade, the two most accomplished opponents of Benavidez's career.

Surely, the pair of career-best performances -- along with his growing popularity -- would lead Benavidez to one of the best possible matchups in boxing, many believed. Only Alvarez showed no interest. And as the sport's top attraction, there's no doubt Alvarez calls the shots.

"I think he's scared of him losing and then me taking all the shine," Benavidez said. "... I don't really think he's scared of me. I think he doesn't want me to get the torch passed. ... I think he doesn't like me and he doesn't want ... another Mexican to take the shine."

Benavidez didn't stop Plant, but he did batter and bloody him up over the second half of their March 2023 meeting. Andrade, too, received a vicious beating; he was floored in Round 4 and retired on his stool following Round 6 of the November fight. Andrade, a two-division champion, had been undefeated through 32 fights.

Benavidez said Wednesday afternoon he had only 3 more pounds to shed ahead of Friday's weigh-in. At 6-foot-2½, the 168-pound weight cut had become taxing on Benavidez's body after 10-plus years at that weight.

"I feel like I'm going to retain more strength, more power and more endurance as well," he said.

That's a scary proposition for Benavidez's future light heavyweight opponents, starting with Ukraine's Gvozdyk (20-1, 16 KOs). Nicknamed "The Mexican Monster" by Mike Tyson, Benavidez earned the moniker with his swarming style that leads to pulverizing knockouts.

Gvozdyk, too, is an accomplished fighter, a 2012 Olympic bronze medalist who won the lineal light heavyweight championship with an 11th-round KO of Adonis Stevenson in 2018.

"I just feel like [Alvarez] doesn't want to fight me because he knows that I'm definitely going to beat him. ... He's obviously still beating everybody convincingly, but it's just going to be a different story when he gets in the ring with me." David Benavidez

Following one successful defense, Gvozdyk was stopped in Round 10 by Artur Beterbiev. He was hospitalized for days after and subsequently retired. Gvozdyk returned in February 2023 to end a 40-month layoff. He picked up three wins over low-level opposition and enters Saturday's bout a +450 underdog, per ESPN BET.

"I take every opponent serious because if I'm getting prepared for a fight with them, they know that they have to be at their 100% preparing for me," Benavidez said. "I'm getting ready for the best Oleksandr Gvozdyk possible. I've watched all his films. I know his strengths. I know his weaknesses. We put together a good game plan, so now it's just time to execute that game plan on Saturday."

Besides all the film study, Benavidez estimated he had sparred Gvozdyk two or three times, or eight to 12 rounds, in the past. "I feel like I dominated every single sparring session with him, and that's when I was younger," he said. "I didn't have as much experience as I have now. And now I'm basically coming into my prime, my man strength, and I have a lot of experience with these big fights."

If Benavidez can push past Gvozdyk as expected, he will have far more attractive options at 175 pounds. Turki Alalshikh, the chairman of Saudi Arabia's General Entertainment Authority, told ESPN he'd like to match Benavidez with the winner of the Oct. 12 undisputed light heavyweight championship bout between Beterbiev and Dmitry Bivol.

It's a bout Benavidez is interested in, too, and stands as one of boxing's most appetizing matchups. Benavidez gives the edge to Bivol over Beterbiev "because he's a little more fresher." Beterbiev turned 39 in January and withdrew from the planned June 1 date after he underwent knee surgery. "But it's a 50-50 fight, so I wouldn't be surprised if Beterbiev wins."

Benavidez said he won't be surprised if he eventually receives the call to face Alvarez in his dream fight. Alvarez has competed twice at 175 pounds -- his last light heavyweight bout was a decision loss to Bivol in May 2022 -- and reigns as the undisputed champion at 168 pounds.

Though he's now a light heavyweight, Benavidez said he would return to super middleweight for the Alvarez showdown.

"As long as we get him in the ring, that's the only thing I want to happen," Benavidez said. "Just make the fight happen. ... It's just too big of a fight to leave on the table. It definitely will happen. It's just that I don't know when it will happen."

And with Beterbiev and Bivol occupied with each other this fall, Benavidez will need a dance partner for the second half of the year. The logical choice is David Morrell, the undefeated Cuban who has lobbied for a shot at Benavidez while also fighting under the PBC banner. Morrell (10-0, 9 KOs) sits one spot behind Benavidez in ESPN's 168-pound rankings but will follow his potential rival to 175 pounds with an Aug. 3 fight vs. Radivoje Kalajdzic.

"That's the only other fight I have my eye on," Benavidez said of Morrell. "... I think David Morrell is a strong fighter, take nothing away from him, but I would definitely beat [him], and that would definitely prepare me really well for the winner of Beterbiev and Bivol."

A fight against either Bivol or Beterbiev for the undisputed light heavyweight championship is far from a consolation prize for Benavidez. If he defeats Morrell and then wins all four titles at 175 pounds, he will no doubt land on ESPN's pound-for-pound list. (Bivol is No. 5, Beterbiev No. 6.)

Surely then, Benavidez could not be denied by Alvarez; the pressure might be too much for even Canelo to ignore. But if the all-time great boxer still isn't persuaded to fight Benavidez by the end of 2025, he might never fight him. "[Benavidez] brings nothing to the table for me," Alvarez said in March. "He just brings 25 extra pounds on the night of the fight. That's it. ... If a promoter who I work with offers $150 to $200 million, then I'll fight tomorrow. That's the only reason I'll fight with him."

If no one can satisfy Alvarez's sizable demand, Benavidez can rest easy. After all, he didn't waste time sitting around on the sideline, picking easy opponents in hopes he would receive that elusive call while protecting his undefeated record.

"I just feel like [Alvarez] doesn't want to fight me because he knows that I'm definitely going to beat him," he said. "... He's obviously still beating everybody convincingly, but it's just going to be a different story when he gets in the ring with me. And once we make that fight happen, I definitely will prove to the world why I'm the best in the world."