On the shelf dealing with a knee injury for the better part of the last two years, Tim Elliott wasn’t privy to the ongoing drama surrounding the status of the UFC flyweight division, which only now looks like it’s stabilizing.
That’s one blessing Elliott can count while he’s been inactive. He told MMA Fighting that not competing has allowed his whole body to heal, and he’s also maintained a top-10 ranking in the division (partially due to the fact that the UFC appeared to be gutting the flyweight roster at one point). This Saturday, he fights for the first time since December 2017 when he returns at UFC Tampa to face fellow contender Deiveson Figueiredo.
Elliott once challenged Demetrious Johnson for a UFC championship, threatening “Mighty Mouse” on the ground in the early going before eventually losing a unanimous decision. The man to eventually dethrone Johnson was current flyweight and bantamweight champion Henry Cejudo, a verbose star who has proclaimed himself the savior of the 125-pound division.
On that, Elliott doesn’t exactly agree, given the possibility that Cejudo may make a permanent move up to 135 pounds in the future.
“I feel like he helped the division by beating T.J. (Dillashaw) and all that, but to not defend, he really didn’t save anything,” Elliott said. “The guys that are saving it are the guys that are sticking around the division and trying to make it happen. I could have went up to 135, I even wanted to go up to 135 at one point, but then when I heard the division was going to go under I wasn’t gonna be one of the guys who just left on my own free will.
“I wasn’t gonna leave a division that I helped build. Me and Joe B, we helped pave the way to make this 125 thing be a thing.”
The “Joe B” that Elliott speaks of is multiple-time world title challenger Joseph Benavidez, a former foe, coach on The Ultimate Fighter 24, and current training partner of Elliott’s. Benavidez is widely considered the No. 1 contender at flyweight having won nine of his last 10 fights, including a split nod over Cejudo in 2016.
Given how closely his career has intertwined with Benavidez’s, Elliott said it would be a “storybook ending” and “movie s*it” if he were able to someday rematch his friend for the flyweight belt after falling to him by first round submission back in 2014.
Elliott’s competitive fight with Johnson in 2016 created the potential for a rematch in the future, though inconsistency and the injury he suffered shortly after defeating Mark De La Rosa in his last fight have slowed his climb back up the ranks; now, with Johnson over in ONE Championship and Cejudo possibly changing weight classes, the title picture appears to be wide open.
“I don’t know if it’s a clear path, it’s definitely something that I feel like I could achieve. I just don’t know what’s gonna happen,” Elliott said of his chances of earning a title shot in the near future. “I don’t see Henry Cejudo coming back down and I know no matter what happens, Joseph Benavidez should be the guy getting the shot. I actually trained with him, he’s helped me quite a bit for this camp. He was gonna fight this guy, so he knows a little bit about him, and he’s been helping me really since The Ultimate Fighter.
“But yeah, I feel like the whole division is open right now and it’s one of those things where any of those guys in the top-3 I feel like can beat me, but at the same time I could beat any of those guys and that includes Cejudo. I think it’s definitely an option and something that I kind of dropped my sights of being a world champion after the Demetrious Johnson fight, but I feel like I have that opportunity again and I’m not gonna waste it. I only have a few more fights left and I’m going to make sure they’re good fights and good opportunity fights.”
First up is getting past Figueiredo this weekend. “Deus Da Guerra” was just starting his UFC career when Elliott last fought and has now leapfrogged Elliott in the rankings. Figueiredo is not a name that Elliott had been watching nor is there any personal beef there, he just happens to be sitting in the spot that Elliott wants to take back.
“Honestly, I didn’t know anything about it,” Elliott said. “I heard they gonna do a flyweight tournament or something and that’s why they were signing the guys like Brandon Moreno back. Then when they started signing those guys to fight, my first thought process was Henry Cejudo’s not gonna defend.
“So when I saw Henry Cejudo wasn’t gonna defend, I called the highest ranking guy out that I could think of that would be a good matchup. … Now, I’ve been out for two years and then my first fight back I’m gonna fight the No. 3 guy, so looking at my next one maybe being a title fight.”