Las Vegas, NV — Multi-time flyweight title challenger Joseph Benavidez may go down in UFC history as one of the best fighters to never wear gold. He knows, in all likelihood, that his last title shot, against Deiveson Figueiredo last July, was his last title shot.
Yet here he is at UFC 259, taking on another top contender in Askar Askarov. So what’s keeping Joseph Benavidez going these days, if not the title?
“It was about fighting a guy still at the top, and Askar was the right opponent, being ranked number three,” Benavidez explained during this week’s UFC 259 media day, speaking to media outlets including Cageside Press. “The highest person I could fight that was not lined up [with another opponent].”
That’s not to say that everything was hunky-dory immediately after his submission loss to Figueiredo — his second loss to Brazilian in 2020.
Getting over that defeat, “it took me a while,” admitted Benavidez. Especially knowing that he likely wouldn’t fight for gold again. “It was tough, it was devastating. It was weird — my first title fight ever was probably still my hardest acceptance, because I really had nothing to fall back on, I was so young.”
Benavidez’s first UFC title bout came in 2012, against Demetrious Johnson, a fight that ended in a split decision (he’d also dropped a split decision to Dominick Cruz for the WEC bantamweight title in 2010). Back then, he said, “I wasn’t anywhere near complete as a person, to the point where that was all I thought I was worth, was being this and that. That is where all my self-worth came from.”
With the Figueiredo fights last year, “it was annoying the way that first one ended.” That saw a head butt set up a controversial finish at UFC Norfolk. The second, well, “this one was clean, cut and dry. Obviously you’re still mad,” said Benavidez, “but it’s still normal things you deal with.”
“The fact that it was probably my last title shot, that was kind of the hardest part,” he added. Still, the veteran flyweight says he’s fallen in love with the sport again. “Now I just need to fight because it’s fun, I’m challenging myself, and proving to myself I can still fight at the top. So I need a guy at the top, and Askar was perfect.”
There’s a lot going on with Joseph Benavidez outside of the cage as well. For one, he has a new podcast, At Home with Benalivi, alongside wife Megan.
“I think there’s a point of obsession, to success in anything,” suggested Benavidez, in a virtual media scrum following his in-person appearance. But, as he’s gotten further into his career, the flyweight star has come to realize that “at the end of the day, you need balance as well.” That’s where things like his movie reviews, podcast with wife Megan Olivi, and Dapper Scrappers come in. Which is a far cry from how things were earlier in his career.
“When I first started fighting, I didn’t have a social life. I remember moving to California and I feel like I didn’t get laid for like a year. And I didn’t even care, because I was just working and training and knowing I was gonna succeed at something, just pretty much living in the gym all day,” Benavidez recalled. Apologizing for being “piggish,” Benavidez admitted that for over a year, he didn’t really talk to a girl, let alone do anything with one. Without event realizing it.
“I just didn’t care. Therefore, the balance through time has gotten better,” he continued. “The last fight was very devastating as far as a loss. And the first fight with Demetrius Johnson was a split decision loss, and that was a little more devastating as far as getting over. And when I look back at it, the big reason is, because when I lost that first fight against Demetrius Johnson, that was all I had, was being a fighter. Right? That was all my whole self worth relied on— being the best, being the champion.”
Joseph Benavidez faces Askar Askarov at UFC 259 on Saturday, March 6 at the UFC Apex in Las Vegas, Nevada.