Whether he likes it or not, Joseph Benavidez has been here before.
Considered one of the best flyweights on the UFC roster since the inception of the division, the four-time title contender has come impossibly close to capturing gold but still never reached that pinnacle in his career.
The most recent instance came this past July when Benavidez took on Deiveson Figueiredo for a second time after their first fight ended in controversial fashion following an accidental head butt not to mention the Brazilian failing to make weight, which made him ineligible to actually win the championship.
The second meeting left no doubt, however, as Figueiredo dominated Benavidez before finishing the fight with a rear-naked choke prior to the end of the first round. It was obviously not the outcome Benavidez wanted but he also understands that’s a possibility each and every time he sets foot in the octagon to do battle with another man.
“It’s the cruelest of sports and everything but the way I look at it is we know the sacrifices going in,” Benavidez explained when speaking to MMA Fighting. “We know the risks going in and we have the opportunity and the chance to chase greatness but we know the risks of that.
“At the end of the day when you lose, it’s devastating. You put so much into it and you’re so close to these things and it is devastating but at the end of the day we know what fighting consists of. We know it’s a cruel b*tch. We know the risks being involved and we have a choice to chase greatness and that is an amazing choice that a lot of people don’t have. Some people don’t have a choice.”
As difficult as it was to come up short in his latest bid to become champion, Benavidez had to eventually accept the defeat in order to move forward with his career.
“When it works out, it’s incredible. When it doesn’t, it’s like hey, we knew the choice,” Benavidez said. “We knew what we were getting into. We’ve all felt it before.
“Some are definitely harder than others and it never really gets easier but it’s the nature of the beast. You’ve got to look at it like this is what I chose. You’ve got to be responsible for it.”
In the wake of those two losses to Figueiredo, many questioned if Benavidez might be coming to the end of his career, especially after clearly stating that he was only interested in facing the best of the best because becoming just another name on the roster was the last thing he wanted.
“This guy looks like a future contender, future champion and that’s the kind of guys I want to fight,” Benavidez said. “I fought in July and I’m fighting in March. I took that time off but I was offered fights a few months before the year [was over] but they weren’t the fights that intrigued me. Because like I’ve said, I just want to fight the best. The belt is the belt but there’s guys who are the best and they’re at the top.
“Obviously, I wanted to take some time to rest just in general but once I even started feeling good, it’s like why would I want to fight this one? I didn’t have a why and when Askar came along I said that’s why. That’s why it took so long. Once I locked in a good date and an opponent, that’s what excited me.”
With a perfect 12-0-1 record, Askrov has made a quick rise up the ranks at 125 pounds including wins over Alexandre Pantoja and Tim Elliott as well as razor-close split draw against Brandon Moreno, who is the No. 1 contender right now at flyweight.
A win over that kind of opponent keeps Benavidez at the top of the division and goes a long way to prove he’s still an elite competitor rather than just a gatekeeper to the flyweight championship.
“What I’ve done my whole career is go after this title and be so close to it, I’ve said many times that’s my goal,” Benavidez said. “Once I know I can’t be the best there’s not really a point for me to fight.
“Some people do it for this, some people do it for that but I don’t do it to be the 15th best in the world. I can still prove I’m one of the best after even these last two fights where I’m not going to be ‘the best’ and I can still go fight at the top with the best and that’s what I want to do.”