The future of the flyweight division in the UFC remains a question going into the historic showdown on Saturday night between 125-pound champion Henry Cejudo and current bantamweight king T.J. Dillashaw.
The fate of the weight class could already be sealed but Cejudo believes if he can stand his ground and defend the title against the bantamweight champion that the 125-pounders will still have a home in the UFC.
On the flipside, Dillashaw has stated that he believes the UFC is paying him to drop down to flyweight to win the title and effectively kill off the division by defeating Cejudo on the debut card on ESPN+ this Saturday night.
Top ranked flyweight contender Joseph Benavidez, who serves as the backup to the main event this weekend and previously trained with Dillashaw, obviously has a vested interest in the outcome, especially if the future of the division really does lie on Cejudo’s shoulders.
No one from the UFC has said flat out that a Cejudo win could save flyweight any more than a Dillashaw win would kill it but that is definitely the narrative the fighters are painting ahead of their showdown.
For his part, Benavidez would never go as far as ‘rooting’ for one fighter over another because he understands the work that goes into a training camp and how heartbreaking a defeat can be.
That said, Benavidez can’t deny the picture that’s being painted ahead of this fight that Cejudo could potentially help convince the UFC to keep the flyweights employed if he’s able to get the job done against Dillashaw.
“It’s a weird thing ‘rooting’ cause I don’t wish a loss on anyone. I don’t,” Benavidez explained when speaking to MMAWeekly. “Because I know how that feels and how much work I put into it when I fight. On a bigger notion, you look at like a team or who’s behind you, or what side you’re on, I’m on the side of flyweight forever.
“In a way T.J. made it about ‘I’m crushing the division, I’m getting paid to do it, I’m killing it’. So I don’t think any flyweight out there doesn’t want Henry to go out there and prove how good we are and being able to do it against a guy like T.J., who is considered one of the best pound-for-pound [fighters] in general coming down to the weight. I don’t think there’s any flyweight out there not rooting for the champion at our weight to go out there and prove what we can do.”
If the flyweight division is being dissolved it’s definitely news to Benavidez, who just recently inked a new four-fight contract with the UFC.
Still, Benavidez knows the rumors that have been floating around about the fate of the division ever since former champion Demetrious Johnson was traded away from the UFC in a deal that sent him to ONE Championship.
When you then see Dillashaw’s comments about him being a paid assassin to eliminate the flyweight division, Benavidez can understand the intense feeling behind everybody at 125-pounds getting behind Cejudo.
“How could you not root for [Cejudo] after things T.J. is saying about flyweight?” Benavidez stated. “He’s out there representing flyweight and I want to fight him. That’s a whole other weird dynamic. I have a lot of respect for [Cejudo] and that’s another rivalry that could live on.”
Benavidez does hold a victory over Cejudo and he hopes that they are both victorious this weekend so they could compete for the flyweight title later this year. Benavidez has his own fight scheduled for Saturday night against Dustin Ortiz.
While Benavidez is a heavy favorite in his fight, Cejudo remains an underdog according to the odds makers but the former WEC title contender warns that counting out an Olympic gold medalist who just defeated the longest reigning champion in UFC history is not to be underestimated.
“He’s a beast,” Benavidez said about Cejudo. “You don’t become an Olympic champion without having everything. That’s what it was against Demetrious, it was execution. Everyone is obviously athletic in the division but he went out there and executed and put his mind on something and took out the best of all time.”