David Benavidez was landing punches at will, but the rising knockout artist couldn’t put Ronald Gavril away.
Benavidez was determined to finish Gavril, and that approach almost cost him the vacant WBC super middleweight belt Friday night at The Joint inside the Hard Rock Hotel.
After taking heavy punishment for 11 rounds, Gavril connected on a counter left hook that sent the 20-year-old phenom to the canvas during the final round.
Benavidez survived Gavril’s late charge and won a split decision — 116-111, 117-111, 111-116 — to become the youngest world champion at 168 pounds. He’s also the current youngest champion in boxing.
“I felt my performance was good except for the last round when I got too anxious and wanted to knock him out,” Benavidez said. “I let my young side take over, and I wanted to give the fans a great fight.
“I didn’t really feel hurt, but it was a shock knockdown. I know to be careful and more cautious. It was a learning experience.”
Gavril, a Las Vegas resident from Romania, displayed heart by refusing to go down against the power-punching Benavidez, who threw 98 punches in the 11th round alone. Each fighter threw more than 800 punches.
Benavidez (19-0, 17 knockouts) proved why he’s labeled boxing’s next big thing with a deep offensive arsenal. The Phoenix native connected on vicious body shots, uppercuts and quick combinations upstairs. His power overhand rights at times staggered Gavril (18-2, 14 KOs), but he immediately shook them off and continued to punch back.
Benavidez still has a lot to work on defensively, but he’s quickly turning into must-watch TV for fight fans.
In the co-main event, J’Leon Love and Abraham Han settled for a technical majority draw after a strange, abrupt ending.
Love and Han clashed on an accidental headbutt during the eighth round that gave both fighters nasty cuts. Han got the worst of it, as he writhed in pain on the canvas for a few minutes with blood gushing down his body.
Love, a Las Vegas resident, won on one scorecard 79-73, but the two other judges each had it 76-76.
Former middleweight champion Peter Quillin ended his two-year layoff by defeating Dashon Johnson in a unanimous decision (78-74, 79-72, 79-73).
It wasn’t the grand return Quillin had hoped for after struggling against Johnson, who has 22 career losses.
Johnson, who was Conor McGregor’s sparring partner during the Floyd Mayweather training camp, gave Quillin a battle during an exciting eight-round brawl.
Quillin, known as “Kid Chocolate,” was one of the top middleweights in the division before a first-round knockout loss to Daniel Jacobs in 2015 derailed his career.
Caleb Plant punished Andrew Hernandez for 10 rounds to win every round on the three scorecards 100-90 for a unanimous decision. The fight was almost stopped because of Hernandez’s swollen-shut left eye.
Contact Gilbert Manzano at email@example.com. Follow @GManzano24 on Twitter.