Herrera has experience on his side

Mauricio Herrera, left, will use his experience as an advantage against Joseph Benavidez Jr. AP Photo/Eric Jamison

LAS VEGAS -- Although Mauricio Herrera came up short in his bid to claim the junior welterweight world title when he lost a close and highly controversial majority decision to Danny Garcia in March, the fight was still a positive for his career.

"The Danny Garcia fight changed my life,” Herrera said. “I finally have a promoter that is looking out for me, and all I have to do is train and get ready to fight."

Herrera fought so well against Garcia, and made such a good impression, that Golden Boy Promotions, which had signed him before the Garcia fight, made him a priority.

In his next fight in July, the company lined Herrera up to face interim titlist Johan Perez and he won a majority decision on the Canelo Alvarez-Erislandy Lara undercard.

And now Herrera is set to make his first defense against up-and-comer Jose Benavidez Jr. on Saturday night (HBO, 10 p.m. ET/PT) at the Cosmopolitan in the opening bout of the triple-header headlined by the welterweight clash between Timothy Bradley Jr. and Diego Chaves.

“I’ve had a career with a lot of tough fights, and I know this is only a small belt, but I worked hard for it. It tells me I am on the way up in boxing,” Herrera said at Thursday’s final news conference. “Benavidez is a good, young, strong kid, and he wants to take this from me, but I worked to hard for it. So it’s a small belt, but I will defend it, and then, hopefully, I can win a world title.

“I'm not taking Benavidez lightly, but Saturday night I'm going to give a great fight and continue fighting for a world title. I'm getting tough fights and I'm happy.”

In 2011, Herrera (21-4, 7 KOs), 34, of Riverside, California, handed former junior welterweight titlist Ruslan Provodnikov his first career loss. Herrera also went to war with Mike Alvarado in 2012 and lost a competitive decision in a fight-of-the-year candidate.

He has loads of experience, which is his advantage against the lanky 22-year-old Benavidez (21-0, 15 KOs) of Phoenix.

“Herrera is a tricky, dangerous fight,” said Oscar De La Hoya, Herrera’s promoter. “He can take you in to deep water, but he can swim.”

Said Herrera, “My experience will be a big advantage for this fight. He just has not fought at this level. He is young, and there is going to come a point in the fight where he will either step up or fold, and that's when we test his will.”

Benavidez was so good as an amateur that he was given a special permit by the Nevada State Athletic Commission to turn pro at age 17 instead of 18, as is the rule. He will be in his first scheduled 12-round bout and facing -- by far -- his most notable opponent. Benavidez has never even been in a scheduled 10-round fight before. Still, he has that youthful confidence.

"I heard Herrera was real mouthy [on Wednesday at the media workout], saying he would school me on Saturday night,” Benavidez said. “Let's see what he says when we get into the ring. I trained in Big Bear [California], which is no joke because of the altitude. We train as if we are going into a 15- or 20- round fight, which means I am in top condition."