Joseph Benavidez: A Title Challenger Robbed Of An Opponent
By Tom Taylor
Flyweights—they’re fast and they’re technical, and as Joseph Benavidez proved in his win over Yasuhiro Urushitani at UFC on FX 2, they hit hard. While the opening round of their flyweight bout in Sydney, Australia may have been lacking decisive action, the second round was a spectacle.
A few seconds in, Benavidez found his target, unleashing a violent right hand that took Urushitani’s legs out from under him. So went the first knockout in UFC flyweight history. It was a knockout that solidified Benavidez’s status as one of the two men who would battle for the coveted flyweight belt, and was without a doubt a shining moment in the 27-year-old’s career.
With this staggering finish and a well-deserved vacation in Australia now behind him, Benavidez took time out of his schedule to talk with Full Contact Fighter. The fight against Urushitani is one of his favorites ever, he says.
“The fact that it was in Australia and I got to have that experience – it was just part of history; I’m the first flyweight ever to have a knockout.”
Critics often worry that the fighters in the lighter weight classes sacrifice knockout power for speed. These claims frustrate Benavidez. He feels his knockout victory was a valuable reminder that flyweights are capable of finishing fights with strikes.
“It was nice to go out there and get a knockout because, honestly, the first thing that anyone’s going to say, that ‘Ah, these guys don’t have power.
“And anyway, if I was a fan watching,” he continued, “I would give up someone with knockout power just to have the technique that the flyweights have. I think that makes it more exciting anyway.
“You see a few big guys throw one punch at a time, you know, maybe one will land. That’s cool, but I still think a fight’s more exciting when these guys are throwing ten-punch combos, to a takedown, to a scramble on the ground. The fact that that’s the way most fights are going to be, and that we’re obviously going to have the knockouts too, I think it’s going to be one of the most exciting divisions in the sport.”
While his opponent, Urushitani, walked into The Octagon for the first time that night, Benavidez has called the UFC home for some time. In the now defunct WEC, he twice battled reigning UFC bantamweight champion Dominic Cruz, finding himself on the wrong end of the judges’ decision both times.
Outside of these two losses, which are the only on his record, he has secured impressive wins over the likes of Miguel Torres and Eddie Wineland. His career is studded with such triumphs, a fact that can be linked to his long history in martial arts—initially as a wrestler.
Yet, despite a decorated wrestling career in both high school and college, Benavidez did not make an abrupt transition from one sport to the other.
“I actually hadn’t wrestled for three or four years before I picked up MMA. I was just kind of coaching and working a regular job as a screen printer, of all things,” said Benavidez. All it took, however, was a little exposure to MMA on TV for the competitive fire to reignite.
“When MMA started to boom, I started watching it on TV,” he said. “I saw that some people were doing it around my town of Las Cruces, New Mexico, a small town, and I realized, like, why are these guys saying they’re fighters? I’ll beat all of these guys up.”
It did not take long for him to test this theory—and beat them up he did. After securing several victories in amateur fights, fate intervened in the form of a chance meeting with a prominent professional fighter.
“I met Urijah Faber on a chance meeting, just visiting my friend in Sacramento, and I trained with him. He told me I was talented and I moved down [to Sacramento], and started working at his gym, working out,” he recalled.
With a gym to call home in the sport he was becoming more and more infatuated with, Benavidez had the chance to hone his skills and realize his ultimate dream.
“The goal was always to get into the UFC, and here I am today.”
While he was at last a member of the UFC roster, following his two losses to Dominic Cruz in the WEC, Benavidez felt that his stock was dropping as a bantamweight.
“I concentrated on being a 135-pounder, but it was a little frustrating. I was in a weird position, having fought the champion twice. You know he was the only guy I lost to, and I felt like I was the number two guy in the weight class. I wasn’t really getting the greatest fights you know.”
His chances of a third shot at Cruz’s belt were made even slimmer by the fact that his long-time friend, Urijah Faber, was on the cusp of a title shot.
“[He} was right there fighting for the title so, you know, there were two guys right at the top who I couldn’t fight. I was in a tough position. I felt like I was getting fights that really would do nothing for my career. I was the number two bantamweight in the world and not even being televised.”
Relief came for Benavidez when the new flyweight division was announced and he was propelled from the prelims to the main card, fighting for a title shot. While he has secured his spot as a finalist in the flyweight tournament, his opponent for the belt is still unknown.
After three memorable rounds between Demetrious Johnson and Ian McCall, a judging error in that fight robbed fans of another finalist for the belt. While a rematch between the two is slated for June 8, the winner will need time to heal, leaving Benavidez on the shelf for the foreseeable future.
“It’s a little disappointing that I have to wait,” he said. “I don’t like the fact that I went out, I did my job like I was supposed to, these guys went out and did their job too, and one person didn’t, and now they get to fight again, they get to get paid again and get the exposure again while I’m just kind of sitting on the sideline not getting paid, not getting exposure.”
With the rematch looming, Benavidez has trouble picking a winner.
“At the beginning for the first fight I picked Mighty Mouse [Johnson] and I said I would not be surprised one bit if Ian McCall won,” he explained. “Now I’m kind of giving a slim edge to McCall, but I’m not going to be surprised if Mighty Mouse wins either. I guess I think the rematch kind of favors McCall, just the way the fight ended.”
Despite the frustration of not having an opponent, and being forced to wait for his title fight, Benavidez has enjoyed his life as a flyweight thus far, and he expects more great experiences as he continues to fight at 125 pounds. He believes that his style inside the cage will give him the edge over his opponents and ensure many more exciting fights in his future.
“Exciting, non-stop aggression— really just unpredictable,” he explained, describing what fans can expect from him. “If you watch me, it’s always going to be something you’re going to remember.”
Outside the cage, Benavidez says his personality is quite the opposite.
“As a person, honestly, I’m pretty boring. I don’t really go out, I just like to sit and watch TV. I go to bed pretty early when I can, and I sleep in. I just like to enjoy the finer things in life. I like being with my friends, I like eating, good music, good films.”
While he claims his life outside of the cage is lacklustre, his favorite food certainly isn’t.
“Cereal and milk shakes together,” he said. “You put Captain Crunch in a vanilla milkshake. It’s delicious.”
When he’s not eating or fighting, Benavidez likes to travel and he’s grateful for the opportunities that fighting has given him to go places he’s never been before.
“Anywhere I can travel, you know, anywhere new is a cool experience for me”, he said, indicating his eagerness to soak up every opportunity his life as a cage fighter presents.
He says Elvis is one of heroes. “Obviously for his music, but just the way he came in and kind of shook up the whole music world.”
Outside of Elvis, you’ll find The Beatles, Elton John, James Brown, and Stevie Wonder on the flyweight’s iPod.
With the new flyweight division buoying his career, Benavidez can focus on doing what he loves most: fighting. It’s something that is intrinsic, he says.
“I feel I was just born for it – born with a love for it that you can’t really explain. It’s like the first time I started competing with someone, or boxing with my cousins or my brothers, or wrestling in a sandbox, I always remember just loving it.”
With a title fight on the horizon, Benavidez knows that he would not be where he is today without his fans.
“I’d just love to thank them for supporting me. If I could I’d love to talk to them and meet every single one of them,” he said. “I’m gonna go out there and put on a show every time, and I feel it’s only because of them that I’m able to do this. So when I’m out there fighting, I’m fighting for them. I’ll fight my heart out every time for them.”