After competing for the inaugural 125-pound belt in 2012, Benavidez earned a rematch with then champion Demetrious Johnson but ultimately suffered a first-round knockout almost exactly 14 months after their first meeting.
For the next five years, Benavidez was still considered an elite flyweight but with Johnson cemented as champion, it appeared he was going to be stuck on the outside looking in when it came to title contention.
Johnson eventually lost the title to Henry Cejudo before leaving the UFC. Cejudo then vacated the belt as he turned his full attention to the bantamweight division. That’s when Benavidez got another opportunity to fight for the vacant title against Figueiredo.
In a bizarre twist, Figueiredo missed weight, which made him ineligible to win the title, and he ended up finishing Benavidez by second-round knockout. Thanks to an accidental clash of heads just before the finish combined with Figueiredo’s weight gaffe, the UFC moved quickly to rebook the fight with Benavidez.
Now just days away from that rematch, Benavidez is looking at this title fight with much the same attitude as he did his first meeting with the Brazilian — if he ever wants to become UFC champion, this is a do-or-die moment in his career.
“It’s kind of weird because I thought I was going to win the title but I thought if I lose, this is definitely my last title shot,” Benavidez told MMA Fighting. “Circumstances made it otherwise. It’s really the same going into the last one. I don’t think it’s as romantic as the last one was because everything was kind of perfect in the last one.
“It was romantic, third time’s the charm, coming off my knee surgery, I was on a really, really good streak of knockouts going into that fight. I think it was just perfect. But the belt would have still felt the same to me.”
Benavidez has spoken openly about his past obsession with becoming champion and how he eventually changed his mindset after it appeared the flyweight title was just going to be out of reach for him.
In recent years, Benavidez has started looking at the title as a token of accomplishment to prove he was the best in the world but he refused to let it define his career.
Never winning the title won’t erase all the great wins Benavidez has amassed over the years but he can’t deny after all this time what it would mean to finally become UFC champion.
“It’s obviously important,” Benavidez said. “It’s all that you want when you fight but the title itself is still an object. It’s all the other stuff. It’s me accomplishing a goal. It’s a big one. I feel like if I was to win it, I’d be like finally, I was supposed to do this last time or I was supposed to do this eight years ago.
“It’s going to feel just as good when you get it because that’s something you dream about when you start fighting.”
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