For many years, UFC flyweight Joseph Benavidez kept an old 4-inch-by-6-inch photograph of a UFC championship belt on his mantel. Keeping the spot warm until the real belt could take its place.
But a few years ago, Benavidez and his wife moved to a new home in Las Vegas, and the photograph didn’t make the trip. It found its way, unceremoniously, to the trash.
Early in his career, a major championship meant everything to Benavidez. He challenged then-WEC bantamweight champ Dominick Cruz in 2010 and came up short. (It was his second loss to Cruz, after a No. 1 contender fight in 2009.) He fought Demetrious Johnson for the UFC flyweight title in 2012 and 2013, and failed again. Two of the three title fight losses were by narrow split decision.
This weekend, Benavidez (28-5), a candidate for the dubious honor of “Greatest Fighter to Never Win a Major Title,” will get his fourth chance when he meets Deiveson Figueiredo (17-1) at UFC Fight Night in Norfolk, Virginia. And while nothing is ever for sure, there’s a good chance this is Benavidez’s final shot.
It’s a set of circumstances you’d think would come with enormous pressure. Benavidez has spent his entire 14-year career working to become a champion, and it’s all come down to this one night against a nearly undefeated Brazilian. But as the discarded photograph suggests, Benavidez isn’t putting that pressure on himself.
The goal, undeniably, is to win a UFC title on Saturday, but Benavidez told ESPN he doesn’t place as much emphasis on the title as he once did. Time, maturity and having to go the last six years without a title shot, despite a 9-1 record, has taught him that.
So, while a UFC championship would be nice, it isn’t the end-all, be-all it used to be for Benavidez. But … yes, it would be nice. It would be damn nice.
By the numbers
3:03:30: Octagon time for Benavidez, most among active male UFC flyweights (and second-most all time, behind Demetrious Johnson‘s 4 hours, 39 minutes, 12 seconds). Figueiredo sneaks onto the end of the top-10 list with his 1:15:50.
14-2: Benavidez’s UFC record when he has been a betting favorite, as he is this week (-130). Figueiredo (+100) is 2-0 as an underdog.
52.7: Percentage of significant strike attempts that land for Figueiredo, the best among active male UFC flyweights and third all time.
714: Significant strikes landed by Benavidez, by far the most among active male UFC flyweights (and second-most all time behind that “Mighty Mouse” fellow).
0-8: Record of Brazilian men in title fights since Jose Aldo lost the featherweight belt in June 2017. Figueiredo is seeking to end that skid.
Sources: ESPN Stats & Information and UFC Stats
A look back
Five vs. five
Joseph Benavidez’s most recent results
Win: Jussier Formiga (TKO2, June 29, 2019; Watch on ESPN+)
Win: Dustin Ortiz (UD, Jan. 19, 2019; Watch on ESPN+)
Win: Alex Perez (TKO1, Nov. 30, 2018)
Loss: Sergio Pettis (SD, June 9, 2018)
Win: Henry Cejudo (SD, Dec. 3, 2016)
Deiveson Figueiredo’s most recent results
Win: Tim Elliott (SUB1, Oct. 12, 2019; Watch on ESPN+)
Win: Alexandre Pantoja (UD, July 27, 2019; Watch on ESPN+)
Loss: Jussier Formiga (UD, March 23, 2019; Watch on ESPN+)
Win: John Moraga (TKO2, Aug. 25, 2018)
Win: Joseph Morales (TKO2, Feb. 3, 2018)
“He’s your typical scary little Brazilian man that’s intimidating and aggressive and looks like … [he’s] fighting for his life, [trying] to kill you. I’ve always liked that about him.” –Benavidez, speaking to ESPN about Figueiredo
Brett Okamoto’s prediction
Benavidez getting one more crack at this belt, after six years of title shot purgatory, and the UFC nearly abolishing the entire division, is an incredible story, in my opinion — and I’m predicting a happy ending. Figueiredo is very good and, like Benavidez, is quick to jump on a finish. But Benavidez’s ability to blend technique together and experience against tougher competition is the difference. Benavidez via decision.
What else to look for … beyond the main event
The rest of the card, co-main event on down:
ESPN+, 8 p.m. ET
Felicia Spencer vs. Zarah Fairn | Women’s featherweight
Ion Cutelaba vs. Magomed Ankalaev | Light heavyweight
Megan Anderson vs. Norma Dumont | Women’s featherweight
Grant Dawson vs. Darrick Minner | Men’s featherweight
ESPN+, 5 p.m. ET
Luis Peña vs. Steve Garcia | Lightweight
Gabriel Silva vs. Kyler Phillips | Men’s bantamweight
Brendan Allen vs. Tom Breese | Middleweight
Marcin Tybura vs. Serghei Spivac | Heavyweight
Jordan Griffin vs. TJ Brown | Men’s featherweight
Aalon Cruz vs. Spike Carlyle | Men’s featherweight
Ismail Naurdiev vs. Sean Brady | Welterweight
Two women’s bouts at 145 pounds? Knock us over with a feather
The UFC women’s featherweight division has been all but invisible. Its champion, Amanda Nunes, also reigns at bantamweight and is clearly more focused on her 135-pound belt. She has put that one on the line twice since becoming a double champ in December 2018, and has not yet defended at 145, with nothing even on the horizon.
This is not so surprising when you consider the sparse roster Nunes has to work with. The UFC’s website lists more than two dozen women on its bantamweight roster and just nine at featherweight — and two of them, Cris Cyborg and Cat Zingano, have actually moved on to Bellator. What are we supposed to make of the UFC women’s featherweight division?
Maybe we’ll know better after the weekend.
This card is only the second in UFC history to feature two women’s featherweight matches. There’s the co-main event between Felicia Spencer and Zarah Fairn, and earlier on the main card Megan Anderson will face Norma Dumont. These aren’t exactly household names.
Spencer (7-1), a former Invicta FC champion, will be trying to bounce back from her first career defeat, a gritty loss to Cyborg last July. She is the biggest favorite on the card, at -850. Fairn (6-3), the oldest fighter on the card at age 36, is chasing her first UFC win.
Anderson (10-4) is also a former Invicta 145-pound champ. Her opponent, Dumont, is undefeated (4-0) going into her UFC debut.
If Spencer and Anderson both win, as expected, would they face off? Actually, they already have:
Nickname of the night
Well, looking down the list of fights, there’s … oh, wait, Luis Peña is fighting? Sorry, everyone, it’s “Violent Bob Ross” all day. The poll is closed.
The rest of the nickname lineup does, however, raise a few questions:
1. Deiveson Figueiredo is known as “Deus da Guerra,” which even those of us with rudimentary Portuguese can figure out means “God of War.” But things aren’t so straightforward with the other side of the main event. Joseph Benavidez used to be known as “Joe Jitsu”; that’s even his Twitter handle. But on MMA record-keeping site Tapology he’s “The Beefcake,” and his Wikipedia page lists both of those nicknames as well as two others. “Joey Two Times”? “Joe-B-Wan-Kenobi”? Really, Joe? What the heck is going on here?
3. TJ Brown has the same nickname as old Seattle SuperSonics sharpshooter “Downtown” Freddie Brown. What’s the MMA equivalent of swishing a trey?
4. Spike Carlyle goes by “The Alpha Ginger,” which isn’t bad. But does a fighter named Spike even need a nickname?
Odds ‘n’ ends
Some undercard tidbits from ESPN Stats & Information:
Ankalaev’s opponent, Ion “The Hulk” Cutelaba, has three wins by KO/TKO since 2017, tied for most in the division in that time. Cutelaba has won 12 of his 15 career fights by KO/TKO. If he wins by elbow strikes, Cutabela would tie Curtis Blaydes and Paul Felder for the most KO/TKOs in UFC history by that method, with three.
Ismael Naurdiev is the youngest fighter on the card, at 23 years old, but he has already amassed 22 professional fights with a 19-3 record. He is 2-1 since joining the UFC in 2019. He faces 11-0 Sean Brady.
The betting lines for the preliminary card are all relatively close, with no fighter listed as greater than a 2-1 favorite. Aalon Cruz (-180) is the most significant favorite, and his opponent, Spike Carlyle, is the biggest underdog (+150).