When you rank the greatest fighters in UFC history to never hold a world title, Joseph Benavidez might be at the top of the list.
As a former WEC bantamweight title contender and two-time challenger for the UFC flyweight belt, Benavidez has been fighting the best of the best for the past decade, but a championship has continued to evade him.
On Saturday night, Benavidez will take another stab at the title when he faces Deiveson Figueiredo in the main event at UFC Fight Night from Norfolk, Va., with the vacant flyweight title on the line.
Unlike past opportunities, Benavidez isn’t as obsessed with becoming champion as much as he was when he fought Demetrious Johnson for the inaugural flyweight belt back in 2012 or in his rematch a year later in 2013. This time around, Benavidez is just focused on winning and beating the guy in front of him and the championship will just be the reward he receives afterwards.
“This camp has been great because it’s normal,” Benavidez said in the lead up to the fight. “The best way to say it is a title’s on the line and people want to say that but I look at it like it’s just another fight. Because I’m not obsessed about a title or anything like I used to be.”
A UFC belt is no longer Benavidez’s driving force
According to Benavidez, the championship used to be a driving factor in his career, but after a second loss to Johnson, he knew he had to find something else to fight for. At that point, there was no guarantee he’d get a third chance to compete for the gold.
He began thinking about the bigger picture —particularly focusing on things he’ll remember from his career that have nothing to do with a belt being wrapped around his waist at the end of a fight.
“To me, the best part about winning the belt is hugging my wife after,” Benavidez explained when speaking to MMAFighting.com. “That is a moment. You can have things, but moments are everything. That’s a moment that is more important than anything. Hugging my coach and my cornermen and seeing the UFC staff that I’ve seen every event backstage for years and years, the fans that have watched me for years and years, those moments are more important. I’ll be motivated to have more of those moments and those feelings and everything that goes along with it.
“That’s what got me here. Just respecting those moments every single day. It will be a bigger moment. [The belt] is just an object.”
While he may never have held a title up until now, Benavidez has still remained one of the top flyweights in the sport ever since the UFC introduced the division nearly eight years ago.
During that time, Benavidez has taken out nearly every contender the UFC could throw at him. He also currently holds the last win over reigning bantamweight champion Henry Cejudo.
Benavidez’s legacy can only grow with flyweight title
Considering the resume he’s put together, Benavidez knows he’s done enough to be remembered for his accomplishments regardless of a UFC title.
“People would ask me about my legacy, and I would tell them my legacy is what I did,” Benavidez said. “You can’t change it. It’s just what you do or what you did. This one, I’m grateful for the opportunity, and I’m excited, but it’s a bonus for everything honestly. I never needed this. Every other one, I needed it. This one is incredible. It was almost an unexpected thing, even though I worked for it and earned it. You just never expect things like this.
“There’s no expectation. Because I’ve put so much expectation on every other one, and this is what happens. So what’s the worst that’s going to happen? The worst has already happened. Every single thing has happened so there’s no expectation. I’ve been through that part.”
Benavidez has largely downplayed the significance of the title going into his fight with Figueiredo, but he definitely doesn’t discount what a win will mean for him this weekend.
He’s never stopped dreaming of becoming a UFC champion — he just stopped letting it define him.
“I’ve always believed I was going to win a world title. I never stopped working towards the goal of a world title,” Benavidez said.
“Of course, I’ll never want to lose it, but it is an object. It can’t all be about the belt. When you appreciate something and you’re grateful for it — like going in to work everyday or just your partner or your job — you just do it that much better because you’re lucky that you’re doing it.”