When examining the ranks of the UFC's flyweight division, the position in which Joseph Benavidez currently finds himself is certainly a complex one.
The former title challenger and Team Alpha Male staple is easily one of the elite in the 125-pound mix, but a pair of failed attempts to obtain championship gold—both coming at the hands of current belt holder Demetrious Johnson—have put the Sacramento, Calif., transplant in a curious place in the grander scheme of the divisional hierarchy. The argument could be made that he's the best fighter in his weight class not nicknamed "Mighty Mouse," as Benavidez has crumpled or battered every other opponent outside of his two showings in title shots.
A fighter having the ability to put together dominant runs, especially on the sport's biggest stage, is an admirable accomplishment by any measure. Yet with Benavidez, the usual standards do not necessarily apply. And it's something he strangely understands.
Benavidez knows his failure to make good on two attempts at the flyweight title have left him standing in a curious position in the divisional rankings. While the exact location of that place is difficult to pinpoint, for Benavidez, there are elements he recognizes from his time as a perennial contender in the bantamweight fold.
In a manner of speaking, those circumstances are just the way of things at the current time, and while Benavidez can't change the more jagged parts of the past, he can certainly get back on the hunt, regain his footing and bring things back to center. The losses to Johnson are in the past. Nevertheless, a big part of personal growth is understanding the cause of setbacks. Benavidez has found whatever peace can be made with the situation and turned his focus to getting things back on track.
"There was nothing easy about dealing with either of those losses to Johnson," Benavidez told Bleacher Report. "Going into the first fight I put so much pressure and emphasis on winning the title that it actually became a distraction that took me out of my game. I built it up so much where it had to happen and it ultimately led to me not performing at my best that night. When you build something up so much, the letdown that follows is huge, but then I realized that things were only amplified as much as they were because I made them that way.
"Yeah, I lost the fight, but nothing really changed in my life. I didn't die, and my family and friends still loved me. I still had my health and all the great things that I'm surrounded by in my life, so it was just a matter of putting things into perspective and getting back on track after that first fight. I was pretty successful in doing so and put together a few solid wins and got back to another title shot. My mentality was much different heading into my second fight with D.J., and I didn't allow myself to build up all this pressure about the title. But I went in there, got overaggressive and got caught.
"Getting caught and losing that fight the way I did sucked." he added. "Everything about losing that way was difficult, and it definitely put me in a position that tested me. I had to make a decision whether I was going to allow this thing to break me or get back up and get back at it. I wasn't going to allow it to break my confidence and got right back after it."
In terms of returning to the grind and looking to get things back on track, the flyweight staple will attempt to do just that when he faces Tim Elliott this Saturday at UFC 172. Where Benavidez is one of the few established names in the 125-pound ranks, the GrindHouse MMA fighter has garnered attention for being one of the most promising prospects in the division.
While the 27-year-old was dealt a setback by Ali Bagautinov in his most recent outing, he's shown a continued progression and a knack for putting on exciting fights in his other showings under the UFC banner. On Saturday night in Baltimore, both men will bring their high-paced styles into the Octagon, and Benavidez believes it has the makings for an action-packed scrap.
"Tim Elliott is a wild man," Benavidez said. "I love the way that guy fights, and I'm excited to get in there with him. We both like to push the pace, and that is going to make for an exciting fight. He likes to keep things moving, switches his stances a lot and tries to stay in your face. Throughout my career I have done well with guys that try to pressure me, and I'm looking forward to getting in there with him.
"This fight is especially big for me," he added. "It's particularly important because I'm coming off a loss to D.J. in my last fight—the worst loss of my career—and I needed to bounce back strong. Every fight is important; there is obviously some emphasis on this one."
Duane Finley is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report. All quotes are obtained firsthand unless noted otherwise.
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