Although there isn’t much there, it looks as though the UFC is sticking with their men’s flyweight division. Current 125-pound champion Henry Cejudo has accepted praise for the slight turnaround. But, it’s number-one contender Joseph Benavidez who deserves the bulk of the credit.
It’s impossible to take anything away from what UFC flyweight and bantamweight champion Henry Cejudo has accomplished in the 12 months. Defeating Demetrious Johnson, TJ Dillashaw, and Marlon Moraes in consecutive bouts is the stuff of legend. As impressive as his recent run has been, Cejudo isn’t the “savior” of the 125-pound division. That title belongs to current number-one contender Joseph Benavidez.
Benavidez has been an integral player in the UFC flyweight decision from the start. The former WEC veteran has 18 career fights in the Octagon, with 16 of those fights coming at flyweight. He fought for the inaugural flyweight championship in 2012, and has been chasing the belt ever since.
“I think (Cejudo’s) done a ton for the division,” Benavidez told MMA Junkie at UFC Minneapolis open workouts, “Beating TJ (Dillashaw), really shutting that down, period. Beating Marlon (Moraes), showing how good the flyweights are… Henry’s doing great, (but) I’ve been there since the beginning.”
While his long-term resumé makes him an all-time UFC flyweight great, Benavidez hasn’t lost a step. Despite suffering a torn ACL in May of 2017, and promptly losing his first fight back from injury, there’s no doubt that Benavidez is as good as he’s ever been.
In the last 12 months, Benavidez has matched Cejudo’s 3-0 record. Yeah, his level of competition hasn’t been that of Cejudo’s, but it’s easy to be impressed with his first-round finish of Alex Perez, his dominant decision win over Dustin Ortiz, and his second-round TKO of Jussier Formiga. Benavidez’s ability to keep pace with Cejudo during his “Champ-Champ” run has added much-needed fuel to the #SaveTheFlyweights campaign.
Especially now that Cejudo’s sights have been turned elsewhere. With two belts to defend, and a much more stable division at bantamweight, it’s easy to see why. Talk of bouts with Aljamain Sterling, Petr Yan, Urijah Faber, and more have cropped up since his victory over Marlon Moraes at UFC 238. That’s not a great look for a division that can barely fill-out a top-15.
While all of that is true, Benavidez has put together a worthy argument for being Cejudo’s next title defense. He’s won three consecutive fights. He’s 9-1 in his last 10 bouts, dating back to his most recent title-shot against Demetrious Johnson in 2013. Oh, and he has a win over Cejudo, too. What more could you ask for from a number-one contender?
The two-division titleholder is due back in late-2019 or early-2020, and will have plenty of options for which route he’d like to take.
Without having Benavidez at flyweight to shift the discussion, closing down the 125-pound weight class would’ve been much easier for the promotion. Yeah, Cejudo’s win over Dillashaw earlier this year helped. But without Benavidez keeping pace of late, the number of “yeah, but” arguments for keeping the division alive dwindles. His UFC career resumé, coupled with his victory over Cejudo, make Benavidez the perfect title-challenger, regardless of the weight class he’s in.
“You look at the number one guy at bantamweight, which would be Aljamain Sterling. And you look at the number one guy in flyweight, which would be me and Formiga. And having me come out of that, I make more sense than anybody right now,” Benavidez told Submission Radio. “Nobody else has history with Cejudo – and not only history, a win over him. So that’s what makes the most sense, is no one can say they’ve got a win over him. That last win, he has to avenge that loss.” – via MMA Mania.
A great champion like Cejudo is always fun. Watching incredibly talented fighters do their thing at the highest level is what draws so many of us to events nearly every weekend. But, as followers of the UFC’s women’s flyweight, women’s featherweight, light heavyweight, and heavyweight divisions can attest: it’s not as fun without top-tier title contenders. The flyweight division has that now with Benavidez. The promotion recognizes that, and that’s why the division still exists, and likely will into next year.
A lot still has to happen, but thanks to Benavidez, and to a lesser extent Henry Cejudo, men’s flyweight still has hope in the UFC. The promotion recently re-signed Brandon Moreno and signed highly-touted prospect Askar Askarov. The two flyweights will meet at UFC Mexico City in September.
Those moves signal a shift from the promotion’s recent decision making when it comes to flyweights. Those moves don’t happen without Joseph Benavidez’s efforts throughout his career, and performances during the last 12 months. Here’s hoping there are more on the way, even if Benavidez doesn’t get the next shot at Cejduo. But who knows? The duality of Dana White is fascinating.