For the last few years, whenever Joseph Benavidez woke up in the morning and walked out to his living room, one of the first things he saw everyday was a picture of a UFC title sitting on his mantel.
It was a visualization technique that Benavidez employed because he so badly wanted to clasp the UFC gold, and it consumed his every waking moment.
For Benavidez, winning a UFC title was the culmination of a life's work, and the payoff for every hour he's spent in training, and each fight he's won to be considered one of the best fighters in the world.
The first time he had a chance at a belt it was back in the WEC when he battled Dominick Cruz to a split decision in 2010. When he didn't go home with the title that night, the desire to hold the gold became that much more important for Benavidez.
Two years later and Benavidez was now considered the best flyweight in the world, but he didn't have the belt just yet, and as it turns out he wouldn't claim that title either. Benavidez ultimately lost in his bid to claim the 125-pound championship when he lost another close decision to Demetrious Johnson last year at UFC 152.
Benavidez bounced back quickly.
He has now won his last two fights in a row, and as he stands at the ready for his next trip to the Octagon on Wednesday night to face former top ranked flyweight Jussier Formiga, there's a lot on his mind as always, but the obsession about becoming champion no longer clouds his every thought.
"I feel like I never really left the title picture, even right after the Demetrious (Johnson) fight. I could have made a stink or whatever (about another shot), not that I would have got it, but I was in the picture," Benavidez said. "After the Ian McCall fight I was definitely in the picture, probably could have gone for it, but it was just kind of my choice as a fighter and as an improving fighter and individual to really just not obsess over the title as much.
"I made the mistake of really obsessing over the title and when I was going to get it. At 135, fighting Dominick Cruz two times within a year, losing, and then no matter what I did after that, I could be ranked No. 2 in the world the whole time I was never going to get another title shot. With the (flyweight) division so new, I just wanted to see it develop, and I feel like I had just fought Mighty Mouse. That's kind of the outlook I've took since that."
When Benavidez wasn't fighting for the gold, he was a completely different fighter.
He decimated opponents at both bantamweight and flyweight for several years, but that elusive gold strap somehow haunted him so much, that the obsession outweighed his performances and led to two defeats in two title fights.
Now, Benavidez isn't saying that Cruz or Johnson didn't deserve to get the nod in either fight, or that they weren't part of the reason he lost, but the desire to become champion overwrought his mind to the point where he was no longer having fun and enjoying himself in the cage during those fights.
As Benavidez enters his third fight since losing in the title bout against Johnson, he's realizing there's much more to life than just winning the UFC gold. Benavidez forced himself to look at the bigger picture when it comes his happiness, and he has a lot to be thankful for, even if he can't say he's a UFC champion.
"It's really an outlook I've always had, except when I had the title fight," Benavidez said. "It was like it was life or death when I was going in there fighting for the flyweight title. Now, it's fun for me again, and doing what I love to do. I just need to remember even if I don't get the title, I have an awesome life and an awesome family and friends."
With a win on Wednesday night in Brazil, Benavidez realizes his name is going to come up again for the title shot and a rematch against Johnson.
He's tactical in his approach these days when discussing the title because Benavidez knows the mistakes he's made in the past, and those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.
Benavidez has never wavered when it came to his training or preparation for a fight, but now he's got his mind in the right place when it comes to his standing in the sport, and what it means to be called "the best." If the call comes after his next fight that he's getting a title shot, it will definitely be special, but it will no longer saturate his mind with a single fixation of becoming champion.
"It looks like after this fight there aren't many options left as far as the division goes," Benavidez said. "It's not something I could really say no to. After three wins, and I'm starting to feel a whole lot better, I'm improving every fight. So we'll see what happens."
Damon Martin is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report and all quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.
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