Joseph Benavidez is coming off a stellar submission win over Tim Elliott at UFC 172. The win puts him back in the winning column and kept him steady in the UFC rankings at No. 2.
Truthfully, he could still be the No. 1 ranked challenger in the division. He is the second-best fighter at flyweight.
However, when you lose twice to the current champion, it is hard to gain a rematch. And that is the plight of being second best.
It is not the first time this has happened in UFC history. In fact, other fighters under the UFC umbrella today are fighting the same stigma. Most notably, Junior dos Santos—who has still yet to return to the cage following a brutal beating at the hands of Cain Velasquez.
If combat sports were truly a sport, then the top-ranked challenger would always contend for the belt regardless. That is not realistic. This is a promotion game. It is hard to sell a fight between two fighters when the matchup has been tilted only to one side.
Ask Rich Franklin.
To earn the third chance at the title, one must go on an even bigger run. The fighter has to change the perception surrounding him. One or two fights is not going to do that. The audience will just think to themselves that there can be no other outcome than the one we have already seen.
It is especially hard when your last outing left the impression of you unconscious on the mat.
That is Benavidez's biggest problem.
In the inaugural UFC Flyweight Championship bout between Benavidez and Johnson it was a close encounter. The fight could have gone either way, but it was “Mighty Mouse” who got his hand raised. In the rematch, on national broadcast television, Benavidez was iced.
After dropping the second-straight fight to the champion, the second-best fighter in the division has a long road. Virtually no matter what he does, he will be seen as the silver medalist. Better than the rest, but not worthy of another shot because it is something we have already seen twice before and thus know the end result.
As asinine assumption, but an assumption combat sports fans make time and again.
Where does that leave these fighters?
If they want another title fight, then they have to battle top-five opponent after top-five opponent. Or, in the case of Franklin, the fighter can begin seeking the biggest fights available to him. And that may be fights outside of his natural weight class (if possible).
Benavidez and Dos Santos are in that slot right now, and Benavidez's Team Alpha Male teammate Chad Mendes may join them following his rematch with Jose Aldo in August.
These men are elite fighters, but the champions of their divisions are just a bit better. It has created an illusion that they cannot win the big one, and that is simply false. They have all the tools to get it done.
Benavidez is talented enough to earn another title shot, but he will have to do more than anyone else in the division to earn it. That may be unfair, but it is the truth of the matter. UFC 172 was just the first step in getting back to the main event.
That is the struggle of being second best.