All Joseph Benavidez wanted was an opportunity to become flyweight champion.
After rattling off three straight wins and a 9-1 record in his past 10 fights, the former UFC and WEC title contender was anxiously awaiting word on his promised shot at the 125-pound belt.
UFC president Dana White touted for months after Henry Cejudo became a two-division champion that his next fight would come against Benavidez with the flyweight belt going up for grabs. Unfortunately, Cejudo underwent shoulder surgery that put him out for the second half of 2019 and despite White’s wishes, he never seemed all that interested in returning to 125 pounds.
Last week, Cejudo finally relinquished the belt and now Benavidez faces Deiveson Figueiredo for the vacant title on Feb. 29 at the upcoming UFC Fight Night card from Norfolk, Va.
“It’s awesome when you work hard for something and I feel you never really deserve anything, especially in this sport but then then the way it came about it was really like the right thing happened,” Benavidez told MMA Fighting on Monday. “It was hard at first to accept like really?
“Cause I didn’t know what to expect with everything that’s happening with “Triple C” and this and that. I was willing to wait for him but it all came together really quick. I’m super happy about it. I’ve been waiting forever.”
According to Benavidez, the move to make the fight with Figueiredo came together rather quickly after UFC 245 ended and Cejudo starting calling out former featherweight champion Jose Aldo, who made his 135-pound debut on the card.
Despite losing his first bantamweight fight by split decision, Aldo still ended up trading trash talk with Cejudo in a series of social media exchanges and it appeared that fight might actually go from fantasy to reality in 2020. That left Benavidez as the odd man out as he was anticipating a flyweight title fight sooner rather than later.
“They already had the date and the event planned. So [the UFC] said ‘hey we’re going to make a title fight for that day and we’re going to tell Henry he can be a part of it or not,” Benavidez revealed.
“The next thing they did, literally the day after, they said it’s you and Figueiredo for the vacant [title]. So it was a quick, good process.”
While he can’t climb inside Cejudo’s head, Benavidez doesn’t buy that he ever intended on returning to flyweight after defending his title against T.J. Dillashaw back in January.
Instead, Benavidez saw Cejudo enjoy a marketing push where he branded himself “Triple C” as he touted his two UFC championships along with the gold medal he won in freestyle wrestling in the 2008 Olympics.
“I don’t think he ever did,” Benavidez responded when asked if he believed Cejudo ever planned to return to flyweight. “I think we could have got him down for a crazy amount of money but that’s not the fight to make for a ton of money and you have to earn that, too, from his perspective.
“So I don’t really think he ever did [intend on coming back to flyweight]. For one, he would never say it publicly but also anyone that I knew personally that talked to him said ‘honestly, he’s not interested in going down again.’ I honestly never think he wanted to do it.”
As much as it might sting for some contenders to win a vacant title versus taking the belt off a reigning champion, Benavidez doesn’t contend with that kind of remorse because he already holds a win over Cejudo from their previous meeting in 2016.
It was because of that first meeting that Benavidez held out some small hope that perhaps Cejudo would want to come back to flyweight just to avenge that loss but it never happened.
“It’s fine with me,” Benavidez said. “I already hold the win over him. It’s up to him to come and avenge it. Just give up the belt without a fight. Move onto the next one.”
More than anything, Benavidez just wanted the chance to become flyweight champion and Cejudo just happened to be the obstacle in his way.
“I don’t need your fight. The title’s the goal, not to beat Henry Cejudo,” Benavidez said. “Because I already accomplished that goal. It was never really about that for me. I think anyone in the public that’s what they see. It was his loss that he had to come avenge and not for me. It’s onto the next one. It’s different if it was [Demetrious Johnson] moving on and I never get to fight him again.
“With this one, it was literally I don’t care what you do, I already beat you but just stop wasting everybody’s time. That was the big emphasis on me trying to get a fight. It didn’t matter if it was him. I was just tired of having my time wasted and doing that to the whole division.”