Virginia Beach, VA — What a long, winding path it’s been to get to this point. Joseph Benavidez has long been considered the best flyweight in the UFC not named Demetrious Johnson or Henry Cejudo. He actually holds a win over the latter, while the former, best known as Mighty Mouse, long ago set sail for Asia and the confines of ONE Championship.
Yet despite all that, to many it felt like another title shot for Joe B. would never happen. He’d had two, both against Johnson, and both times he came up short. With the flyweight division itself on the brink of annihilation, it felt like the day might never come.
The Team Alpha Male fighter himself felt the same, he told Cageside Press at the UFC Norfolk media day Thursday. “Of course. Going all the way back to my last fight with [Demetrious Johnson]. You thought about that, and ‘hey how the heck could this happen?’ But I always believed, and the people around always me believed, a lot of times more than I did in myself.”
Benavidez told himself that he pretty much needed to beat up everybody in the division. It was that, “or D.J. has to lose. When D.J. finally did lose, I was coming off of ACL surgery, and a loss as well [to Sergio Pettis], that should have never happened. That I actually block out of my mind, it’s weird I mentioned it.”
“Joe Jitsu” would visualize ways to the title — “there’s these round about ways, this could happen, even though I lost, the guy that beat [Johnson], I had just beat.” He figured that already having a rivalry with Cejudo, thanks to beating him in their 2016 meeting, would help him land a bout against the double-champ. Then Cejudo won the bantamweight belt. “There was so much turning. I always just kept the faith. And my wife [Megan Olivi] knows me so well, and believes in me so much, she was always just like ‘look, your journey’s always been like funky and wavy all the way through, that’s just who you are and how you do things. I don’t know why, but you’re going to accomplish what you need to do — sometimes it’s just the hard way, or a different way in general.'”
In the end, said Benavidez, his wife was right, and everything came to make sense. While it’s not against Henry Cejudo, he has his title fight. And there’s no disappointment on Joe’s end about it not coming against the now-former double champ. “It’s honestly refreshing. This is beautiful, we’re in a quiet place, it’s a peaceful, quiet town, we’re right by the beach. It’s just low key, it’s nice. I think it’d be just a circus with Triple C. Not to mention, I already beat him and fought him. The goal is to win a title, not to beat a guy that you’ve already beat.”
This time around, compared to his previous title fights, “feels different, but it feels similar to the fights in between,” Benavidez later added.
“So much happens in the span of even a training camp,” he pointed out. “Maturity. Experience. Fights in general. Training in general. It feels way different. It feels bigger, I’m doing more, I know there’s an accomplishment at the end, and I feel that inspiration and motivation as a competitor. But in general, it feels like another fight. The [title fights] before that, they really didn’t. They felt like there was something on a pedestal that was taking too much thought or emotion or whatever it may be.”
Watch the full UFC Norfolk media day press scrum with Joseph Benavidez above. The event takes place this Saturday, February 29 at the Chartway Arena in Norfolk, Virginia.