Joseph Benavidez started out his combat sports career with boxing, and then wrestling while still in high school. He made his professional mixed martial arts (MMA) debut just two months before turning 22-years-old, and quickly assumed a record of 8-0; with two triangle chokes, two guillotines, a rear-naked choke, a kimura, and two TKOs.
This included a trip to Japan to fight for DREAM, all before making his WEC debut. Once in the WEC, he rattled off two unanimous decision wins – one over the 13-2 Danny Martinez, and another over the former Shooto Americas Lightweight Champion, and third degree BJJ black belt, Jeff Curran, who had almost five times as much experience as him.
He showed us a good amount of his game in that outing, from his solid striking to his incredible scrambles and grappling, including some interesting guard passing techniques; and if anyone knows who Jeff Curran is, you know how hard it is to pass his guard. His next fight would be his first defeat, as he’d fight future bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz, and lose via unanimous decision.
Benavidez would come back to get a first-round TKO win over former WEC Bantamweight title challenger Rani Yahya in a fight that lasted just 95 seconds. He then scored a submission win over former WEC Bantamweight Champion, and former top-ten ranked pound-for-pound fighter, who’d only had one loss (that was avenged), aside from losing his belt to Brian Bowles, Miguel Torres.
This would grant him a title shot against the newly-crowned champion Dominick Cruz, a very close fight in which he did much better than their first time around. He lost via split decision in a five-round war. If you haven’t seen that fight, I strongly suggest you go back and watch it, because it was an absolute masterpiece of MMA and WEC history. Both men were pushed to their limits in this fight, as it was a very back-and-forth affair with each fighter having tons of success throughout.
His final WEC fight would see him take on another third degree BJJ black belt in Wagnney Fabiano, only this time, he would get a finish by submission. It’s absolutely crazy to have less than five years of MMA experience and submit BJJ black belts the way Benavidez did. After his first fight with Cruz, he went 4-1, with his only loss to Cruz in the rematch for the title, and all four wins over BJJ black belts; three of which he finished, and two of which he submitted.
From WEC to UFC
Benavidez would then win his UFC debut against Ian Loveland via unanimous decision, before defeating former WEC Bantamweight Champion Eddie Wineland, again via unanimous decision. This marked the end of his career at 135 pounds, as the UFC adopted the flyweight division in early 2012, and had a four-man tournament to see who the best 125-pound fighter on the planet was. In the first round, Joseph fought current Shooto Bantamweight Champion Yasuhiro Urushitani, and won via knockout in just 11 seconds into the second round.
He was now set up to face the winner of Demetrious Johnson vs Ian McCall, which appeared to be “Mighty Mouse” considering he won via majority decision just before Benavidez walked out to fight Urushitani. However, we later found out at the post-fight press conference that the fight was scored wrong, and it was instead ruled a draw.
After waiting for Demetrious to defeat McCall in the rematch, Benavidez and Johnson were set to fight for the vacant UFC Flyweight Championship at UFC 152. Benavidez would lose this fight via split decision, and wouldn’t fight again until February of the following year. He would now have to face McCall, a fight Benavidez won via unanimous decision.
In his next two wins, Benavidez scored a second-round knockout over Darren Uyenoyama, and a first-round knockout over former Shooto South American Flyweight Champion Jussier Formiga, both of which were ended via body shots.
Now it was time to rematch Johnson for the UFC Flyweight Championship once again, only this time, he wouldn’t make it very far into the fight, before being knocked out with a perfectly timed overhand just over two minutes into the first round. We saw how much further along Johnson was than Benavidez, and a lot of people counted him out afterward considering.
Regrouping After Being Finished for the First Time
Benavidez’s next fight would be against Tim Elliott, who gave him all sorts of problems initially. Elliott tossed Benavidez around quite handily and took him down three times, and it looked like we were about to have a huge upset on our hands.
But the veteran instinct and elite grappling of Benavidez were able to wrap Elliott up in a guillotine choke just over four minutes into round one, and the former flyweight title challenger was able to get the tap. From here, Benavidez went on a decision streak, defeating Dustin Ortiz, John Moraga, Ali Bagautinov, Zach Makovsky, and lastly, Henry Cejudo. Impressively enough, he only lost one round in those first four fights.
His fight with Henry Cejudo did include a bit of controversy. Cejudo was deducted one point in round one for repeated fouls, and Benavidez ultimately won via split decision. It was a very close bout, which the mixed martial arts community remains split on who truly should’ve earned the nod to this day.
The judges’ scorecards read 27-29, 30-26, and 29-27; meaning that regardless of the point being taken away, Benavidez would have still gotten the nod, and it still would’ve been a split decision. Benavidez wouldn’t fight for another year-and-a-half, as he was battling injuries.
Return After 1.5 Year Break
His return would see him fight Sergio Pettis, a fight he’d lose via split decision after an extremely competitive bout. Benavidez would then fight surging up-and-comer, and former TPF Flyweight Champion, Alex Perez, who’d looked absolutely incredible thus far into his UFC career.
Benavidez finished Perez inside of round one, twice. The referee did not stop the fight when he should have the first time, and Benavidez was forced to continue, only to get the stoppage again not long after. This marked his first finish in four-and-a-half years, and over an opponent that had never been knocked out before.
He would then defeat Dustin Ortiz for the second time, before being matched up with, and defeating, Jussier Formiga for a second time. In his second fight with Formiga, Benavidez looked incredible. I think this was single handily his most impressive performance to date. His striking looked unbelievable, as did his grappling per the norm. The fact that some people were saying Formiga would out-grapple Benavidez was laughable. Benavidez out-grappled Jeff Curran just four years into his MMA career, which speaks volumes about his ability. Not to mention he has some of the best scrambles in the entire sport as well.
Since leaving Team Alpha Male, we’ve really gotten to see Benavidez evolve, who seemed stagnant for some time while with the camp, winning decision after decision, not really showing anything new, then not fighting for a year-and-a-half, before losing when he came back. Benavidez showed great combinations and switched stances constantly.
At 34-years-old, one could argue Benavidez is better than he’s ever been, and he certainly deserves to be next in line for the title. Henry Cejudo is injured of course, and most likely won’t be back until early next year. We still don’t know what title he’s going to defend first. Aljamain Sterling is a worthy contender at bantamweight, and Benavidez is a worthy contender at flyweight. In a perfect world, Cejudo would defend his flyweight title first given his last bout was contested at 135 pounds.
We could perhaps have an interim title fight, but as Benavidez pointed out, after Formiga, who’s a worthy contender for him to fight for an interim title? It’s too bad Sergio Pettis went up to bantamweight and is on a two-fight losing streak, as that fight would’ve been the perfect matchup for such an occasion.
I for one think that if Alexandre Pantoja defeats Deiveson Figueiredo, that’d also be a good fit. Alexandre Pantoja is the former RFA Flyweight Champion, former AXS TV Flyweight Champion, and only vacated his belts to join The Ultimate Fighter 24 cast. I like that matchup, as both men have good records, and Pantoja is 5-1 inside the UFC thus far.
Joseph Benavidez has never really fallen out of that top three spot in either of the weight classes he has competed in for the last nine years or so. He holds a record of 28-5, only losing to three people, and three of those losses were split decisions. Also, two of those guys that beat him are two of the best ever, Demetrious Johnson and Dominick Cruz; both of which he fought to close five round split decisions. He’s certainly one of the best fighters ever to have never won a belt.
His new nickname is “Joey-Two-Times”, and it fits. Though most refer that to his wins, defeating both Dustin Ortiz and Jussier Formiga twice, and finishing Alex Perez twice in one fight, he’s also lost to two different people twice. Could he beat Henry Cejudo in a rematch? Hopefully we get to see sooner rather than later.
As Benavidez said, Henry’s call-outs after UFC 238 really made no sense, and he’s the most deserving contender at flyweight, while Sterling waits at 135. However, Sterling isn’t almost 35 years old, he has more time to chase a title. Who knows how long this prime version of Joseph Benavidez will be around.
I’d really love to see him fight either Henry Cejudo for the vacant belt next, or the Pantoja-Figueiredo winner for an interim title. It’d make more sense if Pantoja was the winner, of course, considering Figueiredo is coming off a loss at the moment. But if he defeats Pantoja, he’ll be 5-1 inside the UFC as well. Figueiredo was also scheduled to fight Benavidez earlier this year, but the UFC ended up scrapping the fight and made Benavidez vs Ortiz II instead.
What would you like to see be next for Benavidez and the flyweight division?