It’s only been about a week since Joseph Benavidez earned his fourth consecutive victory as a flyweight in the UFC. It’s been a little under two years since we last saw Benavidez dip his head down as Bruce Buffer read his way through a fight result that didn’t declare him the winner.
Ranked atop the crop of contenders at 125 pounds, no fighter — not John Dodson, Jussier Formiga, Ian McCall nor Henry Cejudo — has looked quite as impressive as the Team Alpha Male standout. For all intents and purposes, he’s the best flyweight fighter on the planet not named Demetrious Johnson.
Despite being the perpetual runner-up, Benavidez is nowhere near as talented as Johnson. It’s not even close.
We certainly thought he stood a chance when he was on the wrong end of his first try for the UFC’s flyweight title. Just 1-1-1 in his last three fights, Johnson hadn’t quite reached the heights (figurative ones; he’s 5-foot-3) we know him to soar at today. Dropping a split decision to “Mighty Mouse” at UFC 152 in 2012, Benavidez looked to have all the parts of a future champion.
In other words, Johnson looked beatable, and Benavidez appeared capable of being the first to hand him a loss at 125 pounds.
Fifteen months, three fights and one punch later and we realized how wrong we were. So painfully wrong.
Benavidez has taken out Tim Elliot, Dustin Ortiz and a pair of former title contenders in John Moraga and Ali Bagautinov to keep his name afloat. Despite looking head and shoulders above the rest of the title-less competition, Benavidez still hasn’t showcased the necessary skills to reign atop all the 125-pound fighters on the planet.
Coincidentally enough, Benavidez isn’t alone in his dilemma as the perennial silver medalist. He wasn’t, at least, until the division’s most recent title contender decided to make a return to 135 pounds. Undersized or not, John Dodson has his sights set on the bantamweight division. This, after failing to usurp Johnson as the division’s best on two different occasions, most recently at UFC 191 in September.
But Dodson’s making a return to a division where his first stint was short-lived. He only ever committed to competing at 135 pounds to join and eventually win the 14th season of The Ultimate Fighter. And, sure, he found quite a bit of success that season, dominating just about every fighter in his wake — including current UFC bantamweight champion T.J. Dillashaw.
Only that taking out four inexperienced fighters — three of whom are no longer signed to the promotion and one who was nowhere near his potential at the time — doesn’t necessarily qualify you as a contender in any given division.
And that’s where Benavidez finds his edge over making a potential move back to 135. Prior to playing a pivotal role in opening the UFC’s flyweight division, Benavidez was a relatively successful bantamweight. In fact, like his three-year stretch at 125 pounds, Benavidez only ever lost to the best fighter in the history of the division as a 135-pound fighter. Twice he stepped into the cage with Dominick Cruz, once as an undefeated contender in 2009 and once more as a viable title challenger looking to exact revenge in 2010. Both times he walked away empty handed, dropping a unanimous and split decision, respectively.
He’s shown the world he’s not capable of outgrappling “Mighty Mouse.” Nor is he capable of outstriking the fleet-footed champion. Being No. 1 for so long is only admirable if there’s a belt around your waist. Twiddling your thumbs as the No. 2 contender destined to remain as such is no way to utilize your talents as one of the best fighters on the planet.
Because, you know, a fight against former training partner T.J. Dillashaw for the promotion’s bantamweight title surely wouldn’t hurt his stock in the mainstream eye.
Even if he’s incapable of fulfilling his lofty goals of becoming a UFC champion at 135 pounds, it’ll be a decent change of pace for a fighter who’s been stuck for about two years with no end of a rut in sight.