Four-time UFC title challenger Joseph Benavidez is retiring after 15 years as a professional.
Benavidez, 37, hangs up his gloves with a 28-8 MMA record that includes wins over a laundry list of top bantamweights and flyweights during his 13-year run in the now-defunct WEC and the UFC, where he established a reputation as a perennial contender at 125 pounds and beat back countless up-and-comers.
Benavidez confirmed the news with MMA Fighting on Wednesday.
According to the 36-fight veteran, the decision to retire was actually made some time ago but he just hadn’t made the formal announcement yet.
“I’ve known for a while,” Benavidez told MMA Fighting. “I’ve always fought to be the best and also because it was fun. I probably knew my last title shot was my last shot ever so that was kind of not going to happen for me.
“I still knew I could compete in the top five. I could beat guys in the top five, top 10 easy but one of the main things is a lot of these guys that are coming up that are killers or I see them, it’s their UFC debut and they take pictures with me in the back and say, ‘I’ve looked up to you for so long, I used to get off school and watch you in WEC with my dad, I look up to you’ — it’s like, I don’t want to fight these guys next, these killers. I don’t want to beat them up or have them beat me up. There was no more fights that were going to be fun.”
The way Benavidez saw it, he really didn’t have any truly compelling matchups left available that wouldn’t also involve some other kind of conflict of interest in his own mind.
“One half of the people, like the younger generation used to watch me on TV and tell me they look up to me,” Benavidez explained. “The other half of the generation, I had the connection with on The Ultimate Fighter. There’s just not fights there for me anymore that excite me to have fun. They’d only be for money or whatever. I’d never looked at it like a job I’m doing for money. It’s always been to have fun and to be the best.
“It’s not really fun to me to fight people that I coached on The Ultimate Fighter or people that looked up to me. It’s not really fun to not fight to be the best either. Taking those two things into account, it just wasn’t there anymore and it’s time to move on.”
Benavidez’s retirement was first reported by MMA Junkie, which reported he withdrew himself from the UFC drug testing program overseen by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency.
In March, Benavidez suffered his third straight loss, a decision setback against Askar Askarov at UFC 259, after a pair of stoppage losses in fights for the UFC flyweight title against Deiveson Figueiredo. The Brazilian knocked him out in the first meeting following an accidental headbutt, but was ineligible to win the title because he missed weight. In the rematch, Figueiredo submitted Benavidez in the second round to claim the title.
Benavidez owns victories over a bevy of champions and UFC title challengers: Alex Perez, Henry Cejudo, Ali Bagautinov, John Moraga, and Tim Elliott. As a bantamweight in the now-defunct WEC, he also defeated names such as Miguel Torres and Rani Yahya. But he struggled in title bouts, suffering back-to-back losses to WEC (and later UFC) bantamweight champ Dominick Cruz, and as a UFC flyweight against now-former Demetrious Johnson, who also beat him twice.
Benavidez is tied with Johnson for the most wins in the UFC flyweight division and holds the record for most fights (19) and most knockouts at flyweight (5). He has captured six post-fight bonuses in the WEC and UFC.
Before his loss to Askarov, Benavidez indicated he would soldier on in his effort to win a UFC title, but he also indicated he could hang up his gloves.
“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.”