Ask any fighter the fundamental question of why they risk life and limb in the circle of combative sports and your answer will be as unique as the fighter answering. The truth is the decision to fight is always unique to the individual at hand.
Some fighters fight out of a desire to compete, others turn to the prospect of pummeling another individual as a means of cathartic release, and some just do it for the money.
Then, there are those who find fun and excitement in testing their mental and physical fortitude against another in the high stakes world of prize fighting. Ryan Benoit is a fighter who subscribes to this belief.
With a professional mixed martial arts (MMA) record of 2-1, the 20-year-old Benoit is still in the infancy of his fighting career. However, in speaking with the McKinney-based fighter, it’s abundantly clear that he has the mindset of a seasoned fighter to perfectly complement his youthful exuberance.
For the average individual, the prospect of being locked inside a cage with another human salivating at the prospect of tearing your head off is a nightmare most pray to never encounter. For Benoit, such an idea fills him with all the giddiness of a child on Christmas Day.
“Realistically, it’s just fun man,” Benoit stated with tangible happiness. “If you look, everybody wants to be a fighter. Everybody is wearing TapouT, everybody is wearing Affliction, these name brand clothing, all the stuff the fighters wear, but I’m actually one of those [fighters].
"I’m not just one of the guys that wear those clothes; I’m one of the guys that those clothes are made for. Just fighting in general is something that I love. At this point right now, I’m not even in it for the money; I’m in it for the experience and for the fun.”
But before you start labeling Benoit some sort of adrenaline junkie, know that he has spent nearly half of his life learning and competing in the world of combative athletics.
A talented wrestler, Benoit placed second at the Texas State Wrestling Tournament in 2006 and 2007 before going on to represent the Lone Star state at the Junior National Wrestling Tournament. It wasn’t long before Benoit began to gravitate toward the sport of mixed martial arts.
“I started wrestling when I was 10 years old in Virginia. That’s kind of where my mixed martial arts career sort of started because that was my first style of fighting that I learned,” Benoit explained.
“I started wrestling when I was ten and wrestled in tournaments all the way through high school. I had transferred schools out to San Francisco and continued wrestling there. While I was out there, I went over to American Kickboxing Academy with one of my buddies and there I saw Mike Swick, I saw Cain Velasquez, all these dudes, and they were all wrestlers.
"So from then on, I had already done some grappling but I hadn’t done anything serious. After that, I decided I really wanted to be a fighter and when I moved home from California I went out to Saekson and started learning muay thai. Eventually I started transitioning, I started training at another place for jiu-jitsu and it all started to evolve together so that’s kinda how I started.”
Saekson Janjira’s muay thai credentials are legendary. The six-time muay thai world champion is wildly considered one of the preeminent striking instructors in the world and his brand of Janjira Muay Thai is considered among some of the most bone-crunching martial art techniques in the world. Fighting under Team Saekson Janjira, it’s easy to see why Benoit feels confident every time he steps inside the cage.
“It gives me a huge level of confidence because he definitely has to be the best in this area,” Benoit said. “I’m sure my opponent is working on everything, working on his stand up, but he doesn’t have what I have, and that’s a world champion in my corner. My level of training is going to be on another level than his. I have world class training, not just Texas, DFW, training.”
Benoit continued, "Some of the guys that Saekson’s known for training like Pete [Spratt], and Chidi [Njokuani], I mean they aren’t the only guys that he’s trained. He’s trained some real high level fighters before.
"It’s funny; I was reading an interview where Georges St-Pierre said that Pete Spratt was the hardest kicker he ever fought against. To me, that’s awesome because I’m learning the same kick that Pete was taught. Georges St-Pierre is one of the greatest fighters out there, and for me to be learning that same thing is unbelievable. It makes me wonder how far I can take my kicks, you know?”
If Benoit has a reverence for Saekson Janjira, it’s due in large part to the renowned muay thai instructor’s method of incorporating Benoit’s wrestling acumen with world class muay thai. That and the bond between trainer and fighter are like that of family.
“[Janjira] said before that he has nothing but respect for wrestlers because they can control the fight when they take it to the ground,” Benoit explained. “He’s trying to help me evolve. It’s funny that I’m on this card because I feel that I’m a lot like Chuck Liddell in that I always try to pressure while keeping my takedown defense as good as possible.
"Saekson has been awesome about helping me with that. I don’t think I could be with a more perfect trainer to help me. He’s one of the best instructors in the country, definitely. For him to be in my corner is just a huge deal for me.”
The card that Benoit mentioned is this Friday night’s Steele Cage MMA card taking place at the Dr Pepper Arena in Frisco, TX. He will face the always tough Randy Villarreal of the Texas Fighting Syndicate on the night’s undercard. While local fighter Joe Christopher’s name is on the marquee, it’s another UFC legend—Chuck Liddell— who is bringing the buzz. For Benoit, the opportunity to fight in front of his idol is a dream come true.
“I’m happy that I was able to get on this card,” Benoit said. “I will be able to fight in front of Chuck Liddell. Chuck is the man! It’s just a huge honor to even be fighting in front of Chuck Liddell. He was my hero growing up and when I first started watching MMA. Chuck was the guy I wanted to watch every time.”
But this fight with Villarreal represents a lot more than just fighting in front of a legend. For Benoit, this fight represents a chance to get back to his winning ways following a close split-decision loss to Houston’s Tim Snyder in his last outing. The fight with Snyder was nip and tuck battle, one that many felt Benoit should have won, but as Benoit points out, circumstances were less than ideal leading into the fight.
“I think the fight was really close and I think the fight could have gone either way,” Benoit explained. “I don’t feel necessarily that the judges were wrong, because there are some people who feel I lost the fight, but there are more people that think I won the fight. I feel the judging was pretty close to being right, but I feel that I won the fight.
"I remember getting really, really sick the day before the fight. I couldn’t hold any food down and I was fighting basically on an empty stomach. I was really dehydrated and throwing up, so it was the worst possible conditions in the fight for me. I have nothing but respect for Tim, he beat me, but he beat me at a time where he definitely should have beat me.
"If I had fought someone as sick [as I was], I would definitely win, more than anything I would expect to knock him out. I was completely drained, I had no energy. He beat me in the fight, but he beat me when he was supposed to win. Hopefully I will be able to get a rematch, and I’ll be able to fight him again when I’m strong.”
While Benoit makes no secret his desire for a rematch with Snyder, Villarreal represents the immediate challenge. Heading into this fight, Benoit has changed things up a bit in training and with the assistance of his sponsors Lockout Supplements, Unrivaled Fight Gear, and Rudog Nutrition, this camp has been Benoit’s most productive to date and come Friday night, the fans in attendance will see a much improved fighter.
“Everything has been going great. We made some changes, some pretty good changes, so I’m getting prepared for this fight, and future fights,” Benoit said. “I’m starting to change my routine a little bit, this has definitely been the best camp before a fight I have been in so far. My energy level, the way my body looks, I think I’m transformed a little. I’m feeling really healthy and really great.”