Joseph Benavidez’s plan is quite simple.
The longtime UFC flyweight staple aims to defend his number one contender spot in the 125-pound rankings once again this Saturday in Minneapolis, and then fight a man he’s already defeated – two-division UFC champ (and Olympic gold medalist) Henry Cejudo.
Benavidez takes on Jussier Formiga in the co-headlining slot of UFC Minneapolis. The pivotal flyweight clash is a rematch that stems from 2013 where Benavidez came out the victor, stopping Formiga in his home country of Brazil.
But despite the decisive first-round win, Benavidez is in no way looking past the grappling standout. That said, he already knows what he wants next, even in the strange landscape of the UFC’s men’s flyweight division.
“The thing is that you have to play it by ear, you don’t have a choice,” Benavidez told MMA Fighting in a recent interview. “You can’t force a guy to do this or do that, but as far as the plan goes, I win this fight and fight Cejudo whenever he’s ready.
“That should be his next fight, that’s the biggest challenge for him right now, that’s his only loss. He fought at bantamweight and even though there’s contenders, no one has a win over him, no one has history. He should come avenge his loss, that’s the fight that makes the most sense in either of the divisions he’s champion. So that’s the plan: Win the this fight and fight him when he’s healthy, pretty simple.”
Cejudo is currently dealing with a shoulder injury that will require surgery and will keep him out of the game until 2020. Some have suggested the implementation of an interim title since Cejudo’s last flyweight defense was January, setting a year gap – maybe longer – between title defenses. Benavidez is not too fond of the idea.
“If anyone is going to fight for the interim [title] it would be me and Formiga right now, so I don’t see how they would justify it with anybody else after this fight,” Benavidez explained. So you know, I take the best fights and challenges for me, but that doesn’t really make sense for me.”
Since their first meeting at The Ultimate Fighter 24 Finale in December 2016, both Benavidez and Cejudo have continued to find success in their careers. But it’s undeniable Cejudo’s achievements have picked up more notice. The Mexican-American defeated flyweight king Demetrious Johnson to become champion, defended the belt against then bantamweight champion T.J Dillashaw – who was dropping down a weight class – and then moved up to bantamweight where he stopped dangerous striker Marlon Moraes to win the vacant 135-pound title, thus becoming the fourth champion to hold two belts simultaneously in UFC history.
Cejudo’s recent run is remarkable, but that hasn’t changed the way Benavidez looks at him.
“I beat him and that’s how I’m always looking at him,” Benavidez said. “I’m better than him, I beat him, I pushed a pace on him and landed clean this clean that. I look at that so it’s motivating to see him do everything he can because that’s what I know of him.
“Obviously he’s improved and his confidence has skyrocketed, and that’s a huge thing, so I’d be naive to think that he’s not different, that he hasn’t changed. But for me, he's still the guy that I coached against in The Ultimate Fighter and my team beat his, and I beat him in the finale, and that’s how I look at him right now. He just happens to be doing some others things too, which is great and motivating within itself, but me personally, as a competitor, that’s how I look at him, as somebody I already beat, but knowing and not being naive to his improvements and everything he's done.”