Polar Opposites Meet in Battle for Flyweight Title at UFC Fight Night 169

Kelsey McCarsonFeatured ColumnistFebruary 27, 2020

Will Joseph Benavidez finally capture the UFC flyweight title?
Will Joseph Benavidez finally capture the UFC flyweight title?Josh Hedges/Getty Images

Whichever fighter wins the vacant UFC flyweight championship this weekend at UFC Fight Night 169 in Norfolk, Virginia, one thing is absolutely clear after speaking to both Joseph Benavidez and Deiveson Figueiredo by phone this week: The mindsets the men are carrying into Saturday night's main event cage fight couldn't be more polar opposite.

"For me...I feel like gratitude has really helped me to keep perspective on everything," Benavidez said. "The gratitude of doing what I get to do. The gratitude for my everyday life. The gratitude for simple things. The gratitude for other people and not putting myself or anything else on a pedestal and just realizing how precious life is and how important every single person is."

"Benavidez is getting me at the wrong time," Figueiredo said through a translator. "I'm going to beat Benavidez so bad he won't be able to walk again."

Such is the amazingly strange world of combat sports. One fighter sees the value of every human life. The other seems amped to the max with malicious intent long before the two fighters even see each other for the first time during fight week. 

Truthfully, it would seem Benavidez is the one ready to seize the flyweight throne. One could argue, at least situationally, that the 35-year-old San Antonio native has already done about half the work. 

After all, Benavidez defeated No. 2 contender Jussier Formiga in his last fight by second-round stoppage and already holds a win over departing flyweight champ Henry Cejudo.

With Cejudo intent on keeping the bantamweight part of his "champ champ" status intact moving forward, and longtime divisional ace Demetrius Johnson across the world plying his trade under the ONE Championship banner, Benavidez nearly stands alone atop the UFC's 125-pound pile. 

But before "Joe Jitsu" finally gets to hoist that coveted UFC gold high above his head in celebration, the tough Texan must first defeat rising divisional dynamo Figueiredo.

That sure won't be easy. 

Figueiredo, 32, from Brazil, has looked sensational as of late. Since suffering his lone loss across all promotions to Formiga last year, Figueiredo has notched two straight victories. The fighter got back to his winning ways by defeating Alexandre Pantoja at UFC 240 in July. Then, he secured the Round 1 tap from Tim Elliott at UFC Fight Night 161 in October. 

Now the two hottest flyweight contenders are set to lock horns for the coveted UFC flyweight championship. But perhaps more interesting than even the scintillating fight itself, which is sure to be a barnburner, is just how differently these are guys thinking headed into things.

To put it bluntly, Benavidez seemed like the nice neighbor who always tries to help you carry in your groceries, while Figueiredo is more like that scary one you try to avoid at all costs. 

But perhaps that's just how these things go. After all, Benavidez will be taking his third stab at garnering the UFC title this weekend. He was narrowly defeated by Demetrius Johnson at UFC 152 in 2012 and stopped in the rematch the following year, so Benavidez's past experiences likely offer him a fresh perspective not many other fighters have at their disposal.

"I never thought I was going to lose the first title fight," Benavidez said. "I was literally obsessed with the outcome only, and I couldn't imagine any other way possible. I thought I was going to explode and die before I lost. But I lost. And there was still other more important stuff there, and I had what I needed at the end of the day. 

Meanwhile, Figueiredo seemed agitated and ready to tear into his opponent as soon as humanly possible.

"Benavidez is gonna be a color commentator for the UFC when I'm done with him," Figueiredo said. "I'm going to retire him."

When I told Benavidez about the types of things Figueiredo said about him, including his plan to cripple Benavidez for life, the stalwart veteran challenger barely seemed concerned.

"It tells me more about him than about the fight," Benavidez said. "I think about the fight. I think about my sole purpose and what I'm doing."

But there is one way in which Benavidez and Figueiredo are similar. Neither care that they don't have the opportunity to face Cejudo for the belt. 

"I wanted to fight Cejudo only because it meant I was gonna win the title," Benavidez said. "It wasn't about fighting a person."

Figueiredo certainly agreed. He said basically the same thing, just in an angrier and more menacing way. 

"It's not important at all," Figueiredo said. "I don't know how you can even ask me that. Here's the way for me to get to the belt and no matter who has the belt, I don't care. I'm going to get this belt no matter what."

UFC Fight Night 169 will be streamed live on ESPN+ beginning at 8 p.m. ET

Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand.

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