Benavidez ready to make opponent regret asking for fight
“Coming off a loss, you would think you would want to play it safe, and get a tune-up fight or something. I honestly don’t know what he was thinking.”
“He” is Eddie Wineland, the upcoming opponent of Team Alpha Male bantamweight Joseph Benavidez. The two will meet this Sunday at the Bradley Center in Milwaukee, Wisconsin as part of the UFC on Versus 5 undercard. Currently entrenched as the second-ranked 135 pound fighter in the world, the 14-2 Benavidez shouldn’t be anyone’s idea of a tune-up fight.
“I guess props to him — he wants to stay in the title mix. You hear all the fighters say they want to fight the best guys out there, and maybe that’s something he wants to do, but I just think it was not a good decision. Two losses in this sport can really hurt you.”
Though he means consecutive defeats for Wineland, who lost to Team Alpha Male’s leader Urijah Faber back in February, the two losses Benavidez has suffered thus far have him resting uncomfortably in a precarious position despite being separated by a pair of impressive wins.
It’s August and for the first time in two years, Benavidez isn’t fighting Dominick Cruz. The two met in both 2009 and 2010 with Cruz winning both times; the first a title eliminator, the second being the first defense of the championship Cruz still holds to this day. Like Rich Franklin following his successive defeats at the hands — and knees and elbows and power and speed — of Anderson Silva, the 27-year-old now sits in championship purgatory, unsure if he’ll ever get the chance to fight for the title again.
“It’s definitely a tough situation. It’s tough to explain the situation a lot of the times too because I don’t really know what the bosses and everyone thinks,” explained Benavidez when he spoke with HeavyMMA. “I know what I’m capable of and I know I can go out there and dominate anybody. I still believe I’m the best fighter in the division; the most dominant and dangerous guy that anybody can fight. It’s a little tough, but I’m motivated.
“Some people think it would be easy to lose motivation, but it’s like I’m motivated just to fight and to win every fight. Whether it’s for a title or it’s a guy I like or don’t like, I’m motivated to go out there and win.
“I’m young in the sport and I have a lot more fighting to go. All I can really do is take it fight-by-fight, look at the fighter in front of me, and go out there, beat him up as bad as I can — make as big of a statement as I can — and in between fights, get as good as I can and keep getting better. If I keep doing that, I’m doing the right things and I feel like everything else will happen like it’s supposed to.”
Proof of the predicament Benavidez finds himself in came in mid-July, when the UFC announced a pair of high profile match-ups in the bantamweight division.
Fresh off his victory over Faber at UFC 132 at the start of the month, it was announced that Cruz would next face Demetrious Johnson in October. That same night, news of a bout between Faber and former champion Brian Bowles made the rounds as well, with the winner earning next in line status in the quest for the 135 pound strap. Benavidez said he understands the decisions.
“As far as the fight they announced with Bowles and Faber being able to go for the title shot after it, I kind of expected that to happen,” offered Benavidez. “I mean, they are probably the two more likely prospects when they announced Demetrious to go for the title; I thought that only left Bowles and Faber.”
The decision, of course, leaves Benavidez on the outside looking in once again, despite the fact that a win over Wineland would be his third consecutive victory since losing to Cruz last August. While some might build up a resentment for becoming the somewhat forgotten man in the bantamweight ranks, Benavidez says it doesn’t bother him and choosing to try and change his fate each time he steps into the cage.
“I can’t really think about what everyone else is getting; I’ve got to be self-motivated and just be the best that I can be. All I can do is go out there and make statements and get better. I can’t control what everyone else does, what bosses think.
“I can’t control who they think should be getting a title shot. I can control what they think about me; I can’t control what they think about everyone else though. Everyone’s going to go out there and fight, and I’ve just got to fight better.”
That doesn’t bode well for Wineland.
In addition to being hungry to prove he’s deserving of greater opportunities, Benavidez is motivated by the fact that the first WEC bantamweight champion requested him as an opponent. He also has the added tactical benefit of having helped Faber prepare for Wineland back in February.
“There’s a lot of motivation to go out there and make a statement. Beating a tough guy like Eddie and finishing him is definitely a huge statement. He had four wins in a row before he lost to Urijah, and he gave Urijah a pretty decent fight.
“I’ve been working a lot with Urijah, and there’s nothing better that can replace that. A thousand times watching a video can’t even do that. It’s definitely been awesome. It’s one thing watching video and seeing what he does, seeing his tendencies. It’s a whole other thing having someone who has been in there in the heat of battle with the guy; knows exactly how strong he feels, knows how he feels in this situation; that’s a huge advantage.
“There’s of course motivation that he asked to fight me. I honestly don’t know what he was thinking,” continued Benavidez, the genuine confusion he feels about Wineland’s decision coming across in the staccato of his speech. “I don’t know if he thought that he gave Urijah a good fight — so maybe this fight would be easy – I don’t really know, but I can’t wait to go out there and show him that he made the wrong choice there.”
While a victory over Wineland most likely won’t bring Benavidez back into the title picture immediately, there is one hypothetical situation that could arise and put a title shot on the table.
Bowles hasn’t had the best luck staying healthy and making it through training camp unscathed in his relatively brief career. His first title shot had to be postponed due to a back injury, and a broken hand in his first title defense against Cruz forced him to retire on his stool following the second round. A foot injury then delayed his initial bout back after losing the title as well.
So what if Bowles got hurt and the UFC called offering Benavidez a spot opposite Faber, with victor guaranteed a title shot? Would he take the fight?
“It’s not happening; not against Urijah,” answered Benavidez without a second’s hesitation; it’s not the first time he’s been asked this question. “He’s been so instrumental in my career. Honestly, I would not be where I am today without him. If I had done something else and not met him, not had him kind of guiding me, I would definitely not be where I am.
“I have a long time in this sport, and I have no doubt that I’m going to reach my goals and get to the point where I want to be, and it’s not going to take me fighting Urijah to get there. There’s a lot of other ways for me to get there, and I have a long time and a lot of fights left in this sport.”
One of those potential options is a drop to flyweight. The UFC has discussed the idea of adding the 125 pound weight class for a couple of years, and UFC President Dana White stated recently that the division could possibly premiere before year’s end.
“I’m a natural ’25 pounder; I don’t diet whatsoever to make 135,” Benavidez admitted. “I don’t watch my wait until I get to the point of being five days out from the fight. So if I did what everyone else did, I would be cutting to ’25. There’s not a problem with me beating everyone up in the division and being one of the top fighters, but the fact is still that they guy that has beaten me is the champion and I’ve had two shots against him.
“We talked about fulfilling my goals, and obviously a lot of that is to be world champion; that’s one of the biggest ones out there. There’s an outlet right there — a whole other weight class. We’ve seen guys do that before. It would be the right move. It’s something I think I’d owe to myself and the fans and everything to try it out if it was every to come along. I’d regret it forever if I never took that chance to do it.”
That doesn’t mean he’s lost focus on maintaining his position as one of the top bantamweights in the sport or getting delivering an exciting performance in beating Wineland on Sunday night; he’s just keeping his options for the future open.
Right now, Benavidez just wants end his losing streak in the month of August.
“I’m looking to change my August luck and get a win this time. I always remember it because it’s after my birthday, and obviously because it’s my only two losses have been in August. I’m not really a superstitious guy. I want to go out there and prove that it has nothing to do with the month.”