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Jussier Formiga not convinced UFC will shut down the flyweight division

Brazilian flyweight Jussier Formiga is on a four-fight winning streak.
Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

No one really knows what’s at stake for Jussier Formiga and Joseph Benavidez when they rematch at Saturday night’s UFC Minneapolis, but the Brazilian refuses to imagine a future without flyweights in the Octagon.

The company has slowly released one flyweight after another in the past several months, and even though UFC president Dana White went on record recently saying that “it is confirmed” that the weight class will not be dissolved, having only 13 flyweights on the roster makes it hard to believe.

With flyweight kingpin Henry Cejudo also holding the 135-pound championship now, raising questions about whether or not he will cut all the way down to flyweight again to defend one of his thrones in the future, Formiga trusts White’s words.

“I think our division continues to move,” Formiga told MMA Fighting. “I’m fighting Benavidez now, Alexandre Pantoja has a fight booked now [against Deiveson Figueiredo]. I think we’re showing how good this division is, how tough it is. The top 10 is full of tough fighters. It’s impossible to imagine that this division will end.”

Formiga, Benavidez, Pantoja and Figueiredo definitely are high-level fighters, but so many talented athletes have been released this year that you see situations where Rogerio Bontorin, with one win in the UFC is ranked at No. 6. while Jordan Espinoza and Raulian Paiva, who each have a single Octagon appearance, currently sit at No. 8 and No. 11 respectively.

If you go ahead and following Formiga’s line of thinking and believe that flyweights will stick around in the UFC, it’s hard to dispute that the winner of his bout with Benavidez should get the next crack at the 125-pound gold.

Benavidez, who beat the Brazilian by first-round knockout to earn his first shot at the belt back in 2013, is coming off wins over Alex Perez and Dustin Ortiz. Formiga, on the other hand, is riding a four-fight winning streak against Ulka Sasaki, Ben Nguyen, Sergio Pettis and Deiveson Figueiredo.

“A title shot. No doubt about it,” Formiga said when asked what’s next with a win Saturday. “Dana has made it clear after my fight with Deiveson that he wanted me to fight Benavidez, and I said, ‘okay, cool, let’s fight Benavidez’. After I win Saturday, I’ll ask them if I need to fight the No. 0 in the division to fight for the belt. That’s basically it. Who else do I have to fight? If I win Saturday, that’s five in a row. There’s nothing else I can do. It’s No. 1 against No. 2. What else?”

Formiga doesn’t really know what to expect from Cejudo, though. The champ-champ is currently recovering from a shoulder surgery that will likely keep him away from the Octagon for the rest of the year, but Formiga wants his shot.

“Even if he doesn’t return to flyweight, I want to fight,” Formiga said. “If it’s not him, make it for an interim (title) against whoever. I deserve my chance.”

The Brazilian veteran knows what he will do if victorious on Saturday, and vows to get it done in devastating fashion inside the cage. Almost six years after his quick defeat in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, the American Top Team product believe he has evolved more than Benavidez.

“I’ve changed a lot over the last six years, right?” Formiga said. “I had just entered the UFC, it was my third fight, against someone I’ve been a fan of — I still am, but Saturday we’ll keep that aside [laughs]. It’s a new era now, new times. A lot has changed. I changed teams, moved to another country.”

“Everything changed in my life. I don’t see this fight as a rematch, but as a new fight,” he continued. “I see Benavidez as the same athlete for six years ago, just a bit better. Benavidez switched teams, he lives in Vegas now and trains at UFC’s Performance Institute. I think a lot has changed for him as well. Not underestimating him, but I think I’ve evolved more.”

Looking to avenge a defeat to someone who has only been stopped once as a professional MMA fighter, Formiga don’t plan on wasting any time inside the cage.

“The fastest way possible,” Formiga said when asked how he beats Benavidez. “It’s a three-round fight, but if I can catch him, I will, make no mistake about it. I’m super motivated for this fight. I want to beat him and I will beat him, no doubt.”

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