Las Vegas, NV — Joseph Benavidez is finally fighting for the UFC’s flyweight title — but not against Henry Cejudo.
At UFC Norfolk next month, Benavidez (27-5) will take on Deiveson Figueiredo. The 125lb title, recently vacated by Henry Cejudo, will be on the line. It’s insane to think that Benavidez hasn’t competed for the belt since a 2013 defeat against Demetrious Johnson. The Team Alpha Male fighter went on a six-fight win streak after that loss, which included wins over top-flight competition including Cejudo.
Instead of a title fight, Benavidez was booked opposite Sergio Pettis, losing a split decision. He’d bounce back with three straight wins, and has been in a holding pattern since last June.
The best thing about his upcoming fight against Figueiredo, Benavidez told reporters backstage at UFC 246, is simply getting active again. “The bonus of the title is great, but I pretty much expected a title fight to happen in my next one,” he stated. “There is always weird times when you didn’t know exactly what was going to happen, but I knew the next one would be a title shot. Didn’t know who. Just the fact that I have a fight is great. I haven’t fought since June. I’ve obviously been training. It’s hard when you know a big fight is in your future, and you have to wait for it.”
As for why he’s finally getting a shot at gold, “a lot of it has to do with Cejudo and the injury, but a lot also just has to do with the whole double champ thing,” he posited. “Something always happens, some kind of hold-up or something with that. I felt it first hand, but I’m glad we got it squared away, and I’m going for the title now.”
Benavidez has lost to but three fighters in a career that began back in 2006: Dominick Cruz (twice), Demetrious Johnson (also twice), and Sergio Pettis. Johnson and Pettis have since moved on to other organizations, while Cruz, who Benavidez fought as a bantamweight in WEC, has struggled with injury and may never fight again.
As rematches go, then, Cejudo was the biggest out there — and his name value might be the only thing that made him a preferable opponent for Benavidez, over Figueiredo.
“Everyone knows Cejudo, and that’s the only thing that’s better about him. I’ve never fought Figueiredo, I’ve beat Cejudo,” Benavidez noted. “So that is a bonus in itself.”
“Everyone knows Cejudo, he’s Triple C,” he added. “I also have a win over him. It’s easy to move on from him not wanting to put up a fight. That’s kind of how I look up at it. The ball was in his court to put up a fight or not. Play a game two or not. He just said ‘you know what, I’m not going to.’ It’s not like somebody else that has a win over me and I never get to fight him again. He made the choice himself, but you never know. I like that it’s new blood in the division. I think that’s what we really need.”
With nearly ten years in the UFC now — he began his tenure in 2011, going to the final of the flyweight tournament where he would lose to Johnson for the inaugural UFC flyweight championship — Benavidez is the longest-serving member of the UFC’s 125lb roster. Through that time, the organization has only had two champions in the weight class. The division was nearly shuttered just over a year ago. There have been many ups and downs; Benavidez has been a constant throughout.
Asked about the key to his longevity, Benavidez replied “Honestly a lot of luck I would say. Because I think everything is luck.”
“Just the fact that one person can do this and another person can do that, it’s easy to say ‘I was able to do this or do that’ or ‘I worked hard,’ but that’s not a recipe, you’re just lucky along the way,” he suggested.
Beyond luck, “my main source of longevity I think for me is gratitude,” added Benavidez. “Because I honestly feel lucky every day.”
Talking to the media, waking up next to his wife and dog, having a nice car. All of it makes Joseph Benavidez feel lucky, he said.
“And then on top of that I get to go to the UFC Performance Institute,” he continued. “A lot of people think fighting is a hard job, and the physical part of it is hard. But they’re like ‘rise and grind, rise and grind.’ You literally go and check in with your fingerprint, and get a smoothie. You can go sit in the sauna, a guy has a workout for you on an iPad. At the end of the day, you just are like ‘wow I’m so lucky to do this.’ And when you feel lucky for something, you really want to hold on to it.”
“In fighting, it obviously takes inspiration. And you need that inspiration every day,” Benavidez stated. “Sometimes you lose it if it’s just like ‘I had a bad childhood.’ You [can only] be motivated by that for so long. Or ‘My dad was an asshole’ — you can’t be motivated by that long. For me, I kind of find a new motivation with the gratitude every day. Even in my my fights, when I walk out I’m like ‘this is cool.’ And I feel lucky. You’re more likely, I think, to want to hang on to something and try a little harder when you feel like you’re lucky doing something. Honestly the gratitude I feel every day helps me. Obviously preparation is preparation, but through feeling lucky, I try my hardest every day. I try my hardest for a five minute round, and the next five minute round. I don’t want to lose any position, because I want to hang on to that.”
Watch the full media scrum with Joseph Benavidez from UFC 246 above! Benavidez faces Deiveson Figueiredo in the main event of UFC Norfolk on February 29, 2020 at the Chartway Arena in Norfolk, Virginia.