Joseph Benavidez has every intention on staying the course toward another shot at the flyweight title, but he's more than happy to take each step as it comes.
The Team Alpha Male staple and number one contender to the 125-pound division has clearly carved out his position atop the division. That being said, the Las Cruces native also understands there is only so much about the situation he can control, and Benavidez is content to put his focus on the things his hard work can directly effect and let the process of progress grind on.
Over the weekend at UFC on Fox 7 in San Jose, Benavidez put forth the best showing of his career, dominating highly regarded grappler Darren Uyenoyama. After controlling the striking and dictating the action in the first, Benavidez ended things in the second with a pair of measured, thunderous body shots that left Uyenoyama in a heap on the canvas.
While the victory put the 28-year-old at the front of the title race, Benavidez will not make it the primary focus at this time—and for good reason. The first go around at the flyweight strap consumed his world and he refuses to allow those conditions to materialize again. Nevertheless, Benavidez will stay on track and when that next title opportunity comes front and center, he'll step into the challenge a better fighter than he was the last time out.
Until then, he'll enjoy the fruits of what the hard work has afforded him.
"My progress is the only thing I want to control right now and that's the most important thing to me," Benavidez told Bleacher Report. "I'm having fun right now and every day I feel lucky and blessed I get to do this for a living. I'm going to continue to have fun with it, be grateful for what I have and make sure I enjoy it. I'm going to continue to work as hard as I can in the gym to make sure I'm getting better.
"I feel like I'm improving and I'm going to make sure what time I do have off, to make sure I enjoy it because I've earned it. I make sure to keep that perspective and to realize how lucky I am that this is my life and my lifestyle. To be able to go from such a negative place to seeing so many positive things is huge to me and I see that. I understand how far things have come and that's why I'm able to put so much into this. That's what I think about on my time off. And on my time in, I just think about improving."
Since the unanimous decision loss to Demetrius Johnson at UFC 152 last September, Benavidez has locked his focus on improving his skills inside the cage. While signs of progression showed in his bout against Ian McCall at UFC 156, his skills appeared to be on another level against Uyenoyama last weekend at UFC on Fox 7 in San Jose.
The former title challenger gives full credit to his team of coaches and believes the fight against Uyenoyama was the next step in his road to becoming a more complete mixed martial artist.
"Darren is a good fighter," Benavidez said. "He had two solid wins in the UFC coming into our fight and I knew he was going to be a tough opponent. But I was definitely on that night and it was probably a good matchup for me. He had one chance and that was to take me down and hold me there, which is probably the hardest thing to do to me.
"I felt good in the fight and it's probably where I left off in my fight before that with McCall. I was starting to feel super loose and comfortable where it felt like a sparring session in the second and third round with McCall and things felt really good. I think I picked up from there against Darren. I had a major advantage with speed in my stand-up and once I started hitting him, it was just my night.
"I would never take anything away from him because he was the number eight guy in the division, but if I'm the number one contender in the division, that is what I'm supposed to do to the eighth ranked fighter. If I'm at the top of the division and truly deserve to be, that is what was supposed to happen when I fight the guy ranked in the eighth spot."
While Benavidez has always had a solid wrestling pedigree to rely on, it has been his striking which has made the difference in his past two fights. The stand-up aspect of his skill set is where he's put the most emphasis in his training and the hard work paid off in impressive fashion against Uyenoyama.
From the opening bell, Benavidez blended his speed and power together in seamless fashion as he battered his opponent around the Octagon. Ultimately it was a crushing body shot that sealed the deal and further proved Benavidez has some of the best power punches in the flyweight division.
"I definitely felt my power was making a difference," Benavidez described about the fight last Saturday. "The punches that don't knock you out are the ones you feel the most. The ones that knock you out, you never feel them and they just put you out. But the ones you get hit with that don't knock you out, those wear on you. They wear on your mind and your confidence. They really start to wear you down. The punches that land start to sting and suck the life right out of you.
"My boxing coach Jimmy Gifford was telling me that as soon as I hit Darren, whether he blocked a kick or an overhand right, he was going to know. And I wanted to make sure he knew the power I was bringing on my feet. It is not even that I was trying to put a ton of power behind every shot, that's just how I punch.
"I've been working under the tutelage of my coaches consistently now on throwing more straight punches," Benavidez added. "I was hitting him with straight lefts and then mixing in the overhand instead of only coming in with my overhand which I have done in the past. I'm mixing up my kicks from high to low very well and it's a product of my coaching. I work with Duane [Ludwig] day in and day out and I can obviously see those improvements.
"Those power shots were definitely taking a toll on him and messing with his mind, especially when he's trying to take me to the ground and he can't. Those punches suck when you can't do anything about them. They aren't putting you out and they are just hurting you every time they land. It breaks you down and I was able to accomplish that in this fight."
The win in San Jose secured the number one contender spot for Benavidez in the eyes of the MMA community, but getting the next title shot isn't an issue he's concerned about pressing at this time. He is confident another opportunity will come, and if that process takes time to play out, then it is his job to continue winning fights and proving his worth in the 125-pound weight class.
Benavidez has learned to avoid an obsession with becoming a champion and put belief in the fact he will achieve his goals through the rigors of hard work. While earning a big victory often times can sweep a fighter up in the moment, Benavidez is a difficult man to move in that regard. He'll take things as they come and in the meantime, continue to invest in the process of becoming the best fighter he can possibly be.
"As far as being in a rush for title shot, that hasn't changed since my last fight," Benavidez said. "After my title fight and putting so much emphasis on the end goal of winning the belt, I've been focused on switching up since then. Obviously becoming champion is always going to be my goal and something I want to accomplish, but I can't control being the champion and winning and losing. You can't control the result. All you can really control is the preparation, getting there and all the hard work you are going to put into the fight. You have to go out there and fight as hard as you can. You have to go out there and work as hard as you can and do the right things. Then you go out there and perform and either it's good enough or it's not. But you can't control the result and make it good enough, you can only do everything you can to try to reach that result.
"My goal is to win the title but I can't allow myself to think about it and want it so much because that is what messed me up in the last title fight. The biggest lesson I learned in that experience is that this isn't life or death. I almost wanted it too bad. I had to wait so long in between my fight and the title fight because Demetrius [Johnson] and McCall and to fight again. It just wore on me. By the time I got in there all I had thought about was the result and I didn't really fight as good as I could have.
"I didn't have fun with it because I felt it was life or death. I can't really have fun and be loose when I'm fighting like that. I lost and I didn't die. I still had my health, family and people who loved me. It was fine and I learned a valuable lesson from that experience. My outlook now is that the title shot is going to come, but until then I'm going to do everything I can to keep getting better and be prepared when the opportunity arises.
"I'm ready for whenever it comes," Benavidez added. "I'm not worried about it because I need to be ready for whenever I get in there and I can only get better until then. If they want me to fight another fight; I take that as an opportunity for me to get better. Honestly, if they want me to fight another guy and I lose, then I don't really deserve to get the title shot anyway. That's how I see it.
"Being the champion is still my goal but until that situation comes, I'm working as hard as I can to improve my skills and be a better fighter."
Duane Finley is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report. All quotes are obtained firsthand unless noted otherwise.