MMA Interviews

The Fighting Life: Joseph Benavidez (Part II)

Joseph Benavidez (UFC)

Benavidez talks about the decision to drop to flyweight and his ambitions in the new weight class

As Joseph Benavidez continued to drift into divisional limbo, his frustrations were not visible during his performances inside of the Octagon. Still hungry for a championship and looking to scrap his way back to the top, things became more hectic when his close friend and teammate Urijah Faber, announced he was dropping down into the bantamweight waters to make a title run of his own. Talk began to arise about a potential showdown between the two friends, but the talk wouldn’t last long as a career-changing announcement was right around the corner.

While the rumor had lingered for some time about the UFC adding a 125-pound weight class, during the post-fight press conference for UFC 140 in Toronto, president Dana White made it a reality. White announced to the public and media the flyweight division was official and there would be a four-man tournament scheduled to decide the division’s inaugural champion.

“That was an incredible day,” Benavidez said.  “As soon as the news broke, the wheels started churning about how I was going to drop weight and prepare my training. I started checking out the rest of the weight class and the other fighters in the tournament. I was under the impression I was going to be fighting Ivan Menjivar on the Omaha card (on Feb. 15), but when the UFC announced the 125-pound division it changed everything.

“I knew I finally had my chance to showcase my talents and reach an entirely new percentage of the UFC fan base. The fans who watched the Facebook fights and the fights in WEC are the same people, but those fans who only watch the main card bouts or pay-per-views haven’t been able to see what I’m capable of. That’s exciting to me and really something to get up for.

“I have the opportunity to make history by becoming the UFC’s first flyweight champion. That is a version of immortality and something no one can take away from you. It will be a piece of history, and a UFC belt has been my goal from the very beginning. I have a picture of the belt on my mantel that I look at every day and I’ll keep it there until I get the real belt to replace it.

“Another great thing about the addition of this new weight class is it eliminates the talk about Faber and I having to fight one another. That is where things were getting a little weird. There were always questions about us having to fight each other and we had agreed that was something we weren’t going to do. I was in purgatory in the bantamweight division because if Faber wins the belt, I’m the next guy standing in line. Who knows how it would have went down or what they would have had to offer us to fight. I’m glad it’s not a situation we are going to have to deal with. It would have been tough, but now it’s a great scenario. We can both have our belts like we planned to do from the beginning because this year we are both going to have world titles.”

With the announcement of the new weight class and the competitors who would be gunning for the title, Benavidez found himself alongside Ian McCall as immediate front runners for the crown. Throughout his career fighting at bantamweight, Benavidez had always been one of the smallest competitors in the division and now his strength would be a newfound advantage. When comparing himself to the rest of the field – McCall, Demetrius Johnson and Yasuhiro Urushitani – Benavidez believes he will be heading into the tournament with the most well-rounded skill set in the group. With that being said, Benavidez knows every fighter involved has something to prove and guarantees the action will be a treat for UFC fans.

“They couldn’t have picked four better flyweights,” Benavidez said. “I really liked that the UFC decided to make a tournament to kick things off because I couldn’t figure out any other way. I know Dana really isn’t into doing tournaments but I’m glad they saw it fit because this is the right way to handle this situation. It’s better than having two guys get in there and the winner walks away with the belt.

“They picked the No. 1 flyweight in the world, Ian McCall, and now he’s going to have to prove he’s the No. 1 flyweight. Even though two better-known guys are dropping down a weight class, McCall will get his chance to earn that spot. The UFC also brought in the top flyweight fighter from Japan, which gives the tournament some international flavor. Demetrious and I both lost title shots at bantamweight and were both considered to be two of the smallest guys in the division. The unique thing about every fighter in this tournament is that we each have the chance to prove why we should be considered the top flyweight in the world. It’s a great situation and I’m excited to get this thing started. The fans are going to get to see awesome fights and a proper introduction to what will be a crazy division.

“People who haven’t seen me fight or seen any fights in the lighter weight classes fall under the impression that we are all small fighters who can’t finish. People think just because I come from a wrestling background that all I do is take my opponents down and lay on them. Takedowns are the weakest part of my game and I don’t really understand that criticism when it comes my way. The action is going to be intense and no one is going to be disappointed with what happens once this tournament starts.”

For Benavidez, the run for the flyweight throne begins Friday when he steps in against Urushitani in Australia for the UFC’s second showing on FX. Urushitani has long been considered to be one of the world’s top flyweight competitors, but riding a three-fight winning streak and having his confidence at an all-time high, Benavidez believes he will simply be too much for his opposition.

“I think I can beat Urushitani anywhere the fight goes,” Benavidez said. “I’m faster, stronger and more athletic than he is. I definitely have the finishing power he lacks. He’s a one-dimensional fighter, but he’s very good at what he does. The biggest issue he presents is his tendency to avoid the fight. If you watch some of his past fights, he likes to run away a lot. That can make things extremely difficult when you are looking to impose your will.

“He’s almost like a makeshift, generic Dominick Cruz without as much movement and no wrestling. He’s a good counter striker with good takedown defense. I’m yet to lose a striking battle in my career. Even though I lost to Cruz, he beat me with wrestling, not striking. Urushitani could possibly defend all of my takedowns, but even if he’s capable of doing that, he still has to handle me on the feet and he won’t be able to do that. I can finish him anywhere and I’m going to hunt him down once the fight starts.”

The training and preparation for his flyweight debut has taken Benavidez away from the other avenues the Team Alpha Male staple has been excelling at over the past year. Never one to water down his sense of humor or style, Benavidez has become notorious for his Twitter game. When the UFC announced it would be handing out quarterly Twitter bonuses to its fighters, Benavidez turned his creativity up a notch and thus far has been the only fighter on the roster to claim back-to-back Twitter bonus awards – an accomplishment he takes great pride in.

“On Twitter, I like to keep it fun and exciting,” Benavidez said. “Twitter is definitely a great outlet. I’m considered to be the pound-for-pound Twitter king. I’ve won back-to-back Twitter bonuses and I’m the only one who has accomplished this. I ran a contest where I let my followers pick my new nickname and the first annual JOBE Awards were a big hit. When I’m in the cage, I go out and fight my ass off to put on a great show for the fans. But interacting on Twitter allows me to show fans that I have a personality and I’m not some robot who just trains and fights.

“I think it’s super important to relate to the fans, and I try to give them a look at my real life. If they follow me, they know what I’m interested in, the music I listen to and the clothes I think are cool. They respond with their opinions and that builds a connection. Sometimes I think people don’t get my sense of humor, but it all comes from a genuine place.

“I’m always going to be myself and what you see is what you get from me. Obviously this is a business and you want to market yourself, but you can’t try too hard in the process. If you travel that route, you end up coming off as fake. I’ve always stood out amongst my teammates because of my sense of humor, personality and fashion choices.”

A rising star inside of the cage and a buzzworthy social media profile, things seem to be coming together at exactly the right time for Joseph Benavidez. As a member of Team Alpha Male, surrounded by other talented fighters he could easily be lumped in with, Benavidez’s unique personality and fighting style set him apart from the pack. While he is thankful for the guidance and tutelage he’s received from team leader Faber, marching to the beat of his own drum is something Benavidez feels has and will continue to benefit him for years to come.

“Being a part of the team I’m on, it’s easy to get lost in the shuffle,” Benavidez said. “We are all kind of in the same general weight vicinity, and having a guy like Faber on our team, as our leader is huge. There is no one in this sport who is going to be more marketable than Urijah Faber is, and you are always going to be compared to him in some fashion. It’s awesome. He’s taught me so much in all aspects of the sport, business and life in general.

“It’s great to have a guy like Faber on your side. He gets more publicity and rightfully so. It’s not just more publicity than myself, Chad Mendes or T.J. Dillashaw – it’s more than pretty much anyone in the sport. He single-handedly built the weight class and brought attention to the WEC. That is why he gets moved to the forefront. It’s a business and it’s important for me to make my own way. I don’t necessarily look at it as getting out of his shadow, I’ve just always marched to the beat of my own drum. I go out there and fight my style and it’s great both ways. Being put in the same category as the rest of my team is a huge compliment, but it’s also great to be able to go out and pave my own way in mixed martial arts.”

With his next fight right around the corner, the dreams and ambitions of Joseph Benavidez are all coming within reach. If things go the way he intends them to go, in short order he will no longer have to look at the picture of a UFC championship belt which sits on his mantel. In fact, if Benavidez does what he believes in his heart he can and will accomplish, all things imagined will become tangible. Becoming the first UFC flyweight champion is a mark to be made in history and while the bright lights of the Octagon are a long way from the rocky landscape of Las Cruces, N.M., those who have never stopped believing in him will provide the motivation to reach his ultimate accomplishment.

“I want to continue to be happy, man,” Benavidez said. “I want to make my family proud, continue to help them out in any way I can and just live a great life. I want to inspire people with my story and the hard work I’ve put in. My family and close friends have always been there for me and continue to be a driving force in my life. I want to let everyone who has ever supported me know it wasn’t done in vain. There have been so many sacrifices along the way, but at the end of the day it will all be worth it.”

“When this year is over, I will be the first UFC flyweight champion in history and hopefully have at least one defense of my belt in the books. I want to be on my way to being recognized as one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the sport. I believe in myself, think I’m the No. 1 flyweight in the world and that’s what matters. The fans who already believe in me will be validated and those who doubt me will be proved wrong.”

Part I of “The Fighting Life: Joseph Benavidez” ran on Monday.

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