When the UFC finally established the 125-pound flyweight division, it didn’t take long for former bantamweight title challenger Joseph Benavidez to make the move to a new weight class.
Technically, Benavidez found out along with the rest of the world after UFC 140 when UFC president Dana White announced the division was now official and Benavidez was a part of a four-man tournament to declare the first ever flyweight champion.
It was a natural move for Benavidez, who had always been one of the fighters targeted for the move to 125 pounds once the UFC finally opened up the division.
“It wasn’t even a question. As a lot of people know, I was in a weird situation at bantamweight anyways, kind of like a purgatory, limbo I was in. I definitely thought I was going to keep smashing on people, but I wasn’t getting the fights I wanted and I wasn’t getting to expose myself and gain anything from the merger cause I was fighting on the undercards,” Benavidez told MMAWeekly Radio.
“This flyweight division is just giving me a great opportunity. I always knew all along I could make flyweight.”
While Benavidez’s body seemed perfect for the move to 125 pounds, he still needed to make sure it was the right move while he was working out during his training camp. The former WEC fighter made a test cut to 127 pounds with no problem and he knew right away that flyweight was going to be a great home for him starting in 2012.
The move doesn’t come without certain pressure and scrutiny, however.
There are four fighters total in the flyweight tournament, but Benavidez has been tabbed as far and away the favorite to win the first ever 125-pound title in the UFC. Those expectations do bring a much bigger spotlight on his fight coming up at UFC on FX 2, but Benavidez isn’t worried about it.
As a matter of fact, he welcomes any and all expectations.
“I don’t mind it. I feel like already in practice I feel better. So it’s just going to be another fight. Obviously it’s a new weight class so people are wondering who’s the best. For me, it’s great, people that think I am the best and deserve to be the champion and I’m going to be champion, that’s great, I can prove that they’re right,” said Benavidez.
“The people that don’t support me and think that maybe this other guy is going to win because he’s already a 25-pounder, that’s going to be too much of a weight cut for Benavidez or whatever, I can prove them wrong. Either way it’s a win-win.”
It’s also a win-win because Benavidez was rooting for a tournament to crown the first ever flyweight champion. He didn’t want to just get tossed into a fight with another 125-pound fighter and the winner gets a belt.
Benavidez wants to prove himself as the best flyweight in the world, and the only way to do that is to win his next two fights.
“You should always have to prove yourself and fight, but I knew Dana didn’t like tournaments. The fact that they made these four (fight) is perfect,” Benavidez stated.
For his first-round match-up, Benavidez drew Japanese flyweight Yasuhiro Urushitani to kick off the tournament this weekend in Australia.
Admittedly, Benavidez wasn’t as familiar with Urushitani as he was the other competitors in the flyweight tournament, but he’s now watched a lot of fight video on the Japanese standout and he’s confident he’ll come out with a win.
“I’m going to be too fast for him to run away from, he has pretty good takedown defense, but as soon as we get on the ground, I’ll have a huge advantage. I think I beat him on the feet too, so I definitely see myself winning, but he’s a great opponent,” Benavidez said.
As far as the other bout goes in the flyweight tournament where Demetrious “Mighty Mouse” Johnson faces Ian McCall, Benavidez believes he knows who will win, but won’t be surprised if there’s an upset.
“If I had to give an edge, I’d definitely give a slight edge to Mighty Mouse, but I think a lot of people are already counting Mighty Mouse getting past him, and I wouldn’t quite do that,” said Benavidez. “I give McCall a better shot than a lot of people are giving. But if I had to give an edge, I’d have to give it to Mighty Mouse.”
It really doesn’t matter who wins though because Benavidez is ready to run through whoever faces him in the finals of the tournament after he gets past Urushitani.
All Benavidez is thinking about is wrapping the inaugural UFC flyweight title around his waist in a few months.
“I think the flyweight division is going to be a great success,” Benavidez commented.
“They’re getting some tough guys down there. I’m looking forward to being the champion and representing that weight class, and being a great champion and proving I’m one of the best fighters in the world at any weight class.”