Days away from his Saturday rematch with Jussier Formiga, Joseph Benavidez is asked not about his upcoming fight, but former foe Henry Cejudo. But with the self-proclaimed “Triple C” out of the Octagon for the moment due to shoulder surgery, the fate of the flyweight belt remains uncertain.
“I’m the only person of the contenders that he could fight. I’m the only one with history with him; not only that, but a win over him,” Benavidez said.
With a battle for the belt sidelined until the end of the year at the earliest, Benavidez noted that it will give other flyweights the opportunity to establish themselves. He gave a shout out to rising flyweights Alexandre Pantoja and Deiveson Figueiredo, who will face each other at UFC 240.
“Every fighter tries to fight for a name for themselves every day, to fight off the prelims, fight towards main events, fight towards people caring about them.”
For Benavidez, the fight to be number one in his division was a decade-long process. Neither his enthusiasm for the Octagon, nor his efforts in the days of grueling training, have never wavered. He pokes fun at the “rise and grind” mantra paraded by other athletes.
“I’m not ‘rising and grinding.’ I go to practice with a smile because I get to do this. I think about single moms that are really grinding. They made lunch and put their kids to school, and now they’re going to work as a cashier and dealing with rude people. I think of that. [Whereas] I get to wake up and have fun, to do something I like and that challenges me every day.”
It sounds too good to be true, and Benavidez admits he didn’t always “enjoy the journey.” When he first entered the sport, he was bewitched by the belt. Benavidez said he would stare at a picture of the belt as he sprinted on the treadmill -- he was convinced that only a title would prove he was the “best.” Now, Benavidez credits his wife and coaches as his driving force.
“Now when I think about winning, I think about all the people it would make happy. It means the journey, and what people sacrifice for me.”
Benavidez looked down and twisted his wedding ring, embarrassed by the sudden emotion in his voice. “That was weird,” he joked, before returning to his thoughts on the belt.
“There is still that part deep down that it’s going to be a great achievement of self-worth and hard work, and the legacy and all that. That is always going to be a part of why you want to do it. But the motivations just change for it. I don’t look at a belt anymore; I look at how it’s going to make everybody else happy.”