UFC 152’s original main event was set to be Joe Benavidez vs Demetrious Johnson for the first ever UFC Flyweight Championship. In the wake of the cancellation of UFC 151, the card was shuffled around to make room for the UFC light heavyweight title and new main event, Jon Jones vs Vitor Belfort. When Heidi Fang of MMA Fight Corner caught up with the UFC flyweight at a media luncheon on Thursday afternoon, Joseph Benavidez said he’s only looking at the positives of the situation.
Though the flyweight championship was moved to the co-main event, Benavidez isn’t feeling jilted by the move. “It’s actually not that bad. This many more people get to see me go out there do what I do. I get to showcase my talents to more people now. I’m not stupid, I’m pratical, these guys are more popular than me, this helps me a lot,” Benavidez said. “When I start the sport and write down my goals, no one goes ‘I want to be a UFC main event,’ you say ‘I want to be the champion.’”
Still focused in on the main objective of making history and winning the UFC’s first ever flyweight title, Benavidez remained optimistic about the moves made to the September 22nd card in Toronto, Canada. “My eyes are on the prize, the belt’s not changed, it’s not like [Jon Jones] took the belt away from me. That’s my goal, and I still get to do that, and now I get to do it with more people watching, more fans to gain and I think everything’s really a bonus out of it.”
The Jon Jones situation and UFC 151 cancellation fallout has affected many fighters, including Alpha Male’s own, Danny Castillo. Castillo was set to fight TUF season 12 competitor, Michael Johnson, at UFC 151 and Benavidez was going to corner Danny in the fight. Benavidez and Castillo train together at Team Alpha Male. While Benavidez said the ripple effect of the cancellation has touched everyone involved, he still managed to find the brighter side of the outcome.
“That’s heartbreaking for anybody,” Benavidez said. “[Danny's] my brother, I see him everyday. There’s 20 other guys out there that went through the exact same thing. My heart goes out to Danny because I see him everyday. But to think there’s 20 other guys and those guys have a family, I guess everything was kind of ruined by Jon Jones’ decision. He did what he thought he had to do for himself,” Benavidez said of the fights that were displaced. “There’s always a positive and that’s what Danny’s looking at. Like ‘Hey I’m just gonna be better in 4 weeks.’”
Despite looking at the glass half full, the code of the fighter was evident in Benavidez’s take on Jon Jones declining a fight against Chael Sonnen causing the cancellation of an entire fight card. Benavdez said if he were in the predicament Jones was in, there would have been no question as to what he’d do. “Jon Jones is the one prepared he’s been training for 10 weeks. It’s not a short notice fight for him, it’s a an opponent change. Chael Sonnen is the man for taking it, if anyone, Chael Sonnen is more likely to turn down a fight like that. He’s fighting arguably one of the best guys in the world, top 2 pound-for-pound in Jon Jones, and he’s going a weight up on 8 day notice and he takes it,” Benavidez stated. “I mean he’s basically fighting an out of shape middleweight fighting on 8 days notice – and everything that was at stake for it, a whole card and everything being cancelled. So, for me, it would have been a no brainer, but I guess he did it for his own reasons. And you know he’s Jon Jones I guess for a reason. I know Greg Jackson had a lot to do with it also, but it wouldn’t have been anything for me. I’ve prepared that long, I’d be ready to fight anybody.”
Benavidez is 16-2 and has been on a 4 fight win streak. Six months have passed since he defeated Yasuhiro Urushitani to get to the flyweight final. After Ian McCall and Demetrious Johnson fought for the first time in Australia, the score cards had addition errors that forced a rematch to find out who Benavidez’s next opponent would be. During the waiting period, Joe said he maintained motivated rather than anxiously anticipating his next opponent. “I can look at it as I get this much time to get better – watch these guys again. And then I just had to slap myself and say, ‘You’re waiting for the UFC title, it’s going to be worth the wait.’ I think I made a lot of improvements in that time.”
When it all goes down at the Air Canada Centre next month, Benavidez is planning on making everything he’s been through and the drama that came along with his fight card, worth it. “My eye’s on the prize, main events are gonna come. I’m gonna win this belt and even though it’s been a long journey, this is just the beginning. It’s really a positive having a guy like Jon Jones on my card, especially after the debacle that happened this weekend I think even more people are going to tune in and I’m planning on stealing the show.”
Needless to say, Benavidez’s mindset and confidence are driving him on his quest for the belt, which is something two of his Alpha Male teammates have also done in the past year. Urijah Faber fought Renan Barao for the UFC bantamweight title and Chad Mendes took on Jose Aldo in a featherweight title shot. Though neither of them were able to bring a UFC strap home, Benavidez plans to avenge their loses and bring one home for the team. “Team Alpha Male being one of the best teams in the world…one thing we are lacking is a world title. I’m bringing that title to myself, I’m going to be the first flyweight champion. That separates myself from any other guy. I mean, there’s only how many people in the sport that have a UFC belt? So, I’ll be one of those guys, but our team will be one of those teams as well that will have a UFC belt in there.”
Being part of the UFC’s newest division and one of the more hyped fighters in the division, Benavidez said his gameplan for Demetrious Johnson is to assert his will and look for a finish. “I just feel like a straight monster at this weight. I feel amazing. I kept all my strength from when I was bigger,” Benavidez stated on his new home at 125. “Now I’m just faster, in better shape. And I’m fighting guys that are maybe a little faster, but they’re not going to make me look slow or have a huge advantage at that. I think I’ll have a big power advantage and all that stuff. So, I just feel great. I feel that this is always where I was meant to be. And I actually have to work hard to get to the 125 pound weight and that’s how it should be.”
After spending time with Demetrious Johnson in Toronto to promote UFC 152 Benavidez admitted, “I’ve never went into a fight and liked anybody as much as Demetrious.” But that doesn’t mean he’s not coming into this title shot prepared for what “Mighty Mouse” brings to the table. “I haven’t fought anybody really faster than me. I know Demetrious is probably the fastest guy in the UFC. In every other aspect, he has a small speed advantage on me and I think I’m going to have giant advantages in everything else.”
As far as looking at who’s next, Benavidez isn’t looking to get ahead of himself. ”I don’t really do that because I got Mighty Mouse in front of me and I got a world title and like we said it’s the first ever most important fight of my life, so I don’t know necessarily look at that.” However, Benavidez did say the 125 division looks promising. “There’s some awesome talent out there and I think it’s only going to get bigger with every weight class, it just takes time.”
UFC 152 will take place at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, Canada on Spetember 22nd. Jon Jones vs Vitor Belfort is the main event for the UFC light heavyweight title. Benavidez vs Johnson is the co-main event for the UFC Flyweight Championship.