If the UFC is getting rid of the flyweight division, that’s news to two-time title contender Joseph Benavidez.
The UFC and WEC veteran is just days away from competing at 125-pounds again in a pivotal matchup against Ray Borg at the UFC Fight Night card celebrating the promotion’s 25th anniversary.
The fight comes after a trade sent former champion Demetrious Johnson to ONE Championship in exchange for Ben Askren while current flyweight king Henry Cejudo is in talks to face T.J. Dillashaw in a bantamweight title fight.
That all adds up to questions about the UFC’s commitment to the flyweight division but Benavidez says he’s heard nothing about his weight class going away. In fact, Benavidez suggests that a new champion like Cejudo being crowned could be exactly what the division needs to truly flourish.
“I think it would be different if they traded the champion away and that’s all people know is [Demetrious] being champion but there is a new champion, “Benavidez said when speaking to MMAWeekly about the future of the flyweight division. “You look at boxing as far as the skill level and the heavyweight title used to be everything in boxing. Now it’s the smaller guys. I think it’s just time. We have T.J. [Dillashaw] looking like one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the world and an Olympic champion who is now a UFC champion. Skill wise, it’s there and I think now it’s time to breathe a little more.
“I haven’t heard anything about [the division going away]. I look at what I can control and the division and me having a win over the champ. I try to look at the bright side. I think there’s a lot of talk about the division and more excitement than there has been in a long time and I don’t think that really revolves around getting rid of the division. I don’t really hear that. I’m excited to see what happens.”
Until his loss to Cejudo in August, Johnson was the only champion the division ever knew and he had defended his belt 11 times in a row. Johnson was the most dominant champion in UFC history but he never really gained that much attention from fans despite his gaudy record and accomplishments.
Benavidez has tremendous respect for Johnson and everything he’s done during his career but he can’t help but admit that a new champion at the top of the division could be exactly what the flyweights need right now.
“It’s just new life with a new champion,” Benavidez explained. “I think just change in any division is great. Just change in any division, new champions, new stars, that’s all good. You just haven’t seen it in the flyweight division because we’re the newest division. We haven’t had a history like a lot of the other divisions.”
If anything, Benavidez is positive about the future of the flyweights because with Cejudo as champion, there will be new opportunities available to contenders such as himself as well as other rising stars that will hopefully put the weight class on a new course.
“I have a win over the champion. It’s a really interesting time for some new matchups and maybe people get to focus on some different fights where they didn’t before because Demetrious was such a great champion,” Benavidez said. “When Cejudo beat him, it gave me so much confidence. The skill was never that far off and I just beat Cejudo a few fights before that. I think the execution was just off.
“I’m excited for the division. It’s being talked about more than it has in recent time.”