Joseph Benavidez knew his rematch with Deiveson Figueiredo was do-or-die if he ever wanted to become UFC champion.
After coming up short in three previous attempts to win the title, the 35-year-old veteran understood that a fourth opportunity was already a surprising turn of events in a sport where most fighters never get close to a championship once in their careers. Sadly, Benavidez came up short yet again after suffering a first-round submission loss in the UFC Fight Island 2 main event on Saturday night.
As he battled back the tears, an obviously heartbroken Benavidez attempted to verbalize the emotions running through his head just minutes after the fight was finished.
“It’s weird,” Benavidez said at the post-fight press conference. “I’ve died freaking 100 times, what’s another death? It’s different because I know I did everything right in preparation. I didn’t take any shortcuts.
“I felt good in there. I felt focused and present, even with no crowd. Fights go fast but I could see just little movements, felt focused. That’s the hard part. The last time was devastating because I couldn’t control it. It was out of my control. Going into this fight, I just want a fair fight. I wanted the guy to freaking make weight and I don’t want anything weird to happen. He went out there and proved he was the better guy. It’s hard. You can’t sit here and feel sorry for yourself.”
An accidental clash of heads precipitated Figueiredo’s knockout over Benavidez when they meet back in February but because the Brazilian failed to make weight, he wasn’t eligible to become flyweight champion.
The rematch was booked almost immediately afterwards and this time Figueiredo left no questions. He hit the mark on the scale on Friday and then came after Benavidez like a buzzsaw on Saturday until he secured the submission in round one to finally claim the 125-pound title.
“I sit here humbled. Impressed by him,” Benavidez said about Figueiredo. “Grateful I got the opportunity to go out there and display what I prepared for. It’s crazy. I’m walking around, it’s light outside, getting stitches in a van like life comes at you fast.
“I’m in an empty arena in Abu Dhabi at two in the morning in one hotel, being shipped over here and now it’s six in the morning and I just got the sh*t beat out of me. It’s crazy.”
After 35 professional fights and five attempts at become champion between the UFC and World Extreme Cagefighting, Benavidez has seen a lot during his career, which is why it’s so difficult for him to address where he goes from here.
In his mind, he knows there will never be another title shot but Benavidez refuses to retire from the sport knowing that a loss to Figueiredo will be the last notation on his record.
“My goal in this sport is to be the best, be the champion,” Benavidez said. “I knew last fight was my last title attempt. It wasn’t ‘cause of circumstances but this one certainly was. I wasn’t fighting in this sport from the beginning for any other reason than to be the best. I’ve been close. I’ve been lucky. I’ve been in that top-two, -three for 11 years at two weight classes. It’s been a crazy journey. It’s been awesome.
“I’m not going out like that. Nothing’s guaranteed in this sport for sure. But I’m not going to get another title shot and I don’t want to go out on that. I just want to go out with another fight. After that, there’s nothing else for me to do. I’m not going to beat 10 guys again. I know that was my last title shot but like I just said, I don’t want to go out on that.”
Benavidez says his plan if he became champion was to fight and defend the title as much as possible but even if he lost the belt, he would come back to win one more before retirement. It appears even without the title, that will be his plan moving forward.
“If I lose, fight again until I win,” Benavidez said. “So that’s kind of where I’m at.”