Benavidez on a Quest for UFC Gold, Looking to Make History in the Process

Duane Finley@duanefinleymmaContributor IJuly 28, 2012

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 03:  Joseph Benavidez of the USA celebrates victory during the UFC On FX flyweight bout between Joseph Benavidez and Yasuhiro Urushitani at Allphones Arena on March 3, 2012 in Sydney, Australia.  (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)
Mark Kolbe/Getty Images

Every fighter dreams of that moment where their hand is raised and UFC President Dana White straps the championship belt around their waist.

It is the pinnacle of years of hard work and sacrifice, as their accomplishments are laid out on the sport's biggest stage for the world to see. It is the juncture where a career spent earning every inch of ground finally meets the greatest expectations they've always imagined they could achieve.

Becoming a champion in the UFC is the ultimate validation for a professional mixed martial artist. After expending countless hours breaking down their bodies in the hope of rebuilding a more capable version of themselves, a fighter will do whatever it takes to claim the sport's greatest prize.

In that fraction of time where their hand is raised in victory and the mission is complete, it would be hard to imagine a more rewarding achievement.

While this scenario has played through Joseph Benavidez's mind like a highlight set on repeat, 12 pounds of gold is not the only treasure at the end of this journey. Perhaps even more important than fulfilling his dream of becoming a UFC champion is the opportunity to become the first man to hold the flyweight title in the organization's history.

At the sport's highest level, champions come and go, but stepping into the Octagon and forging a piece of history will endure.

He will have the unique opportunity to claim everything he has been chasing when he squares off with Demetrius Johnson in the main event of UFC 152 in Toronto. The two men will battle to decide who will become the inaugural flyweight champion, and Benavidez is prepared to give everything he has to make this dream become a reality.

"I'm fighting for the first ever flyweight title and that's huge," Benavidez told Bleacher Report in an exclusive interview.

"People become champions in this sport all the time but becoming the first person to ever hold the title is an accomplishment that goes down in history.To compete in the UFC is an incredible honor. To become a UFC champion is a dream come true. But I get to be the first guy to ever win this title. This will only happen once and I get to be the man to do it.


"To become a champion has always been my goal. It is the reason I train so hard. I believe I work hard enough and I'm definitely willing to do the things no one else will do. That is what it takes to become a champion. I came close to getting the title in my fight with Dominick Cruz and this is another opportunity to make my dream come true. I've obviously improved since my last title shot and this is a better weight for me to compete at."

When the UFC announced the creation of the flyweight division and the names of the four men competing in the tournament, Benavidez was touted as an early favorite to earn the crown.

While Johnson drew Ian McCall in the opening round, Benavidez squared off with Yasuhiro Urushitani at UFC on FX 2 in Sydney Australia.

After dominating the opening round of the bout, Benavidez showed off his power by dropping Urushitani in the second round. Once he had the Japanese fighter in trouble, Benavidez's killer instinct took over and he pounded out the stoppage victory.

It was an impressive 125-pound debut for the Team Alpha Male fighter.

When Johnson defeated McCall the flyweight title bout appeared to be set. But after an error on the judge's score cards resulted in the fight being declared a draw, Benavidez was pushed to the sidelines.

Johnson and McCall would rematch several months later, and Benavidez had to bide his time until a clear cut contender emerged.

Following another battle that went the distance, Johnson would claim victory. Now Benavidez has his sights set on "Mighty Mouse." While the wait hasn't always been the easiest, he found ways to keep the situation in a positive space at all times.

"Waiting for this fight to come around has definitely been difficult but situations like this happen all the time in this sport," Benavidez said. "It is really all about making the situation positive rather than a negative. I could've looked at it as I had all the time in the world to take a break, not train and let my foot off the gas, but that's not what I did. I saw the opportunity to use the extra time to get that much better and I made the most of it.


"It's actually really nice when you are training without a fight set. When you have a fight coming up it is a steady grind and you are concentrating on one person. You are really getting into shape and preparing for what they are going to bring to the table. While I was waiting to see who I would be facing for the title it allowed me to work on a wider scope of things I normally wouldn't do had I been in camp for a specific fight.

"I switched it up with trainers and got different looks. I've been working with a boxing coach Jimmy Gifford in Las Vegas and those types of things really help. I also spent time assisting on The Ultimate Fighter and that gave me eight new bodies to train with as well. I was able to do a lot of things I couldn't do had I been in the regular grind of a fight camp and I definitely feel I've improved every aspect of my fight game.

"Every time I thought about having to wait for this fight all I had to do was remind myself I'm waiting to become the first ever flyweight champion in UFC history. When you have to wait it definitely makes it easier when you know the UFC title is what you are waiting for."

Benavidez and Johnson are easily two of the most dynamic fighters in the sport. Both have solid wrestling skills and speed which can be matched by few. Despite their stature, both had successful runs in the bantamweight division and it promises to be an exciting fight when they throw down in Toronto at UFC 152.

"It's an incredible matchup," Benavidez said. "D.J. is someone I have so much respect for as both a person and a fighter. I've always been impressed with him. He's one of those guys who was always fighting larger opponents and I've always been impressed. He's one of the most fluid and fastest fighters in the UFC. He's always fun to watch and I think I'm the same way. It's definitely going to be an exciting fight.


"Every single fight in the 125 pound weight class has been amazing so far. They are fast-paced, highly entertaining, and now we have the two best guys going at it with everything on the line. History is on the line here. It doesn't matter where you put Demetrius and I. They could put us in a backyard or in sparring and it would be an amazing show. But putting us under the spotlight to settle who will become the first flyweight champion is going to be a battle for the ages."

While Benavidez cannot predict the future, he's confident every ounce of sweat he's invested in his career has led to this moment. It has been a roller coaster ride, one that has taken him from the desolate backdrop of Las Cruces New Mexico to the bright lights of the sport's biggest stage.

He is a firm believer that you truly get out what you put in and in his heart, Benavidez knows he's paid his dues. All of the sacrifice and hardship have brought him to this point. He knows what it feels like to pick yourself up -- to push that much harder. While he can't fully grasp what the moment will feel like, he's prepared and determined to accomplish his dream of becoming a champion.

"It feels as if I have new life in my career," Benavidez said. "It's something I've been waiting for and I've always known this weight would suit me best. Now I have the opportunity to make my name as one of the best fighters ever.

"Just thinking about becoming a champion instantly cheers me. I can almost picture it happening but I could never imagine what it will actually feel like. I get that feeling of what it could be like and all the possibilities and the future. I'm starting to see things come together and with everything I've been through in my life, all the hard work is leading to this moment. This is what it has all been for. It's going to be the most amazing moment of my life when it actually happens."