Joseph Benavidez uses Urijah Faber's blueprint for career rebound

Esther Lin

When it came time for Joseph Benavidez to find his inspiration, he didn't have to search far.

The Team Alpha Male fighter was at a career crossroads after his latest fight. Benavidez was knocked out in the first round of his flyweight title challenge against Demetrious Johnson at UFC on FOX 9 in December, his second loss to the champion in 15 months.

With two such defeats to the current champion, it seemed a one-way like a ticket to the Franklin Zone, where talented, respected veterans go to get matched up in fun fights without title aspirations.

But all Benavidez had to do to pick himself back up was look at the leader of his gym, Urijah Faber.

"That guy has been written off more times than any fighter in history," Benavidez said in a phone interview with MMAFighting.com. "And every time they say he's through, he just gets back to work, he dedicates himself all over again, and good things happen to him. It's not like Urijah sought me out and told me this, I just looked at him and what he's done and knew this was my model."

With Faber providing the blueprint, Benavidez jumps back into the flyweight fray. He meets Tim Elliott on Saturday in UFC 172 in the feature bout of the FOX Sports 1 prelim card.

Benavidez doesn't sugar-coat or run from his situation. The record's there in black and white: He's fought 15 times in Zuffa between the WEC and UFC, at bantamweight and flyweight. He's 11-0 against the bulk of the competition. Against the top tier, however, he's 0-4 against Johnson and former WEC/UFC bantamweight champ Dominick Cruz, three times in title fights.

"There's nothing I can do about it," Benavidez said. "The toughest thing to adjust to was, even after my first fight with ‘Mighty Mouse,' I could say, okay, I'm probably X fights away from getting another title shot. I could focus myself in that way. This time, that's not there, so I had to find a different way to get my head back into the game."

An unusual silver lining to the recent loss helped Benavidez turn things around: UFC on FOX 9 went down in mid-December, about two weeks before the holidays. So during a period in which most fighters who lost a high-profile title fight could slip into a depression, Benavidez instead found himself immersed himself in his family.

"It was crazy timing, but I want to home to Las Cruces (N.M.) and was home with my family after the fight," Benavidez said. "And I mean, it sucked the way the fight ended, but, all I did was lose a fight. That's all. The world didn't come to an end, the sun came out the next day, and I still have all the people who matter around me. Once I started looking at things in that perspective, it was actually pretty easy to let go of what happened."

Benavidez knew there were several paths he could follow after the second loss to Johnson. With the title path blocked for the time being, Benavidez could go back to bantamweight, he could flip Franklin-style between 135 and 125, or he could stay where he is.

He chose the latter, in part in deference to teammate T.J. Dillashaw, who gets the next crack at bantamweight champion Renan Barao.

"I thought about it, but to go back up to bantamweight, they'd have to offer something really special or out of the ordinary to get my attention. It would have to be a championship fight or something really special, and right now, it's T.J.'s time and I don't want to step on that."

Instead, three months shy of his 30th birthday, Benavidez fancies himself the elder statesman of the 125-pound weight class.

"I remember when I was coming up in the WEC, and I was the guy who was trying to make my name," Benavidez said. "And the guys who had the names in the division, veterans like Jeff Curran and Miguel Torres, gave me the opportunity to make my name. It's really crazy to think that I'm that guy now, it's pretty trippy."

And it's not like Benavidez is fighting a pushover in Elliott. The 10-4-1 Elliott has been right on the cusp of good things at flyweight, with victories over the likes of Jared Papazian and Louis Gaudinot. But Elliott also came up short in decision losses to John Dodson and Ali Bagautinov, fighters who have gone on to become challenger's to DJ's throne.

Benavidez understands that Elliott is likely to approach the fight as his last, best chance to climb into the ranks of legit flyweight contenders.

"This guy's legit," Benavidez said. "It's not like I'm fighting someone who is untested. Maybe he hasn't been in a main event yet, but he's been in there with some real tough guys and he's gone the distance with some top notch opponents. I'm not sleeping on him."

In the summer of 2012, Faber's obituary as a title challenger was prematurely written. Then he was fighting for the title again a year and a half later. Benavidez hopes to follow in his path, but won't get ahead of himself.

"One fight at a time, man," Benavidez said. "Sorry if that's a cliche but sometimes the cliches are true."

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