Sherdog Prospect Watch: Joseph Benavidez

Finding Faber

By Jason Probst Mar 13, 2009
With the uptick in mixed martial arts talent of late, the process of fighters passing on knowledge, nurturing talent and shaping the next generation has become one of the game’s overlooked phenomena. Unlike boxing -- where the knowledge base is largely propagated through trainers of a different generation and active fighters rarely involve themselves in training others, much less meddle on other levels -- today’s MMA athletes often emerge as a result of hands-on shaping from active fighters.

That knowledge base and constant refinement may not directly mimic Moore’s law -- that correctly predicated computing speed would, in the future, double every 18 months -- but today’s fighters are a better crop with each passing month. Many of them are at nascent phases of careers that could only belong to today’s gladiators. And with the first generation of MMA legends pretty much in the rear view mirror and active fighters mentoring more than ever, tomorrow’s stars are often the product of the people with whom they surround themselves.

Team Alpha Male, Urijah Faber’s Sacramento, Calif.-based outfit, is best known, for now, as the former World Extreme Cagefighting featherweight champion’s crew. But here, as almost everywhere else in the fight game, there’s a lot more to the eye if one knows where to look.

Much like when Team Punishment seemingly existed of Tito Ortiz and a bunch of tough-looking dudes wearing branded sweatshirts, the Team Alpha Male could be one of those next big teams. With Faber leading the charge, the team, comprised of 16 guys -- roster in slight flux, of course -- train together, with many living in a Sacramento cluster of five homes owned by Faber and other team members.

There’s Joseph Benavidez, set to battle Jeff Curran on the April 5 WEC card in Chicago that features bantamweight king Miguel Torres defending against Takeya Mizugaki. If Benavidez wins, he may be next in line for a shot at the belt. There’s 2-0 lightweight Chad Mendes, who was a top NCAA wrestler; he gives Faber head-banging battles in the gym. And a host of others in the mix provide elements of the larger equation.

The first potential breakout product has been Benavidez.

After dominating his Nov. 10 WEC debut with a decision win over Danny Martinez, Benavidez, now 9-0, emerged as a new face in the 135-pound division. Utilizing agility, unorthodox striking and a spry ground game, Benavidez’s debut was the kind of big-stage opener manager’s dream of but rarely get. He executed with precision, while performing a few-eye popping moves on the feet and the mat.

“That’s first time I haven’t finished my opponent, but it only makes me hungrier,” Benavidez said.

He met Faber in January 2007. Finding him, however, proved tougher than any of his fights thus far.

“I was fighting in some really small shows; they’re not even on my record on Sherdog, but I got paid for them. Fighting in a few of those, just training and doing my thing, I’d get my training at a boxing gym and jiu-jitsu gym and keep wrestling. And I was spending a lot of time doing MMA, but I had a regular job,” said Benavidez, who was working as a screen printer. “I knew it was possible to make a living. That was what I wanted to do, and then I ended up actually coming out to California to visit a friend, and as I was out here. I’d never been to California, but I knew it was the spot to make connections. I had a little bit of relocating on my mind, but I didn’t quite know I wanted to make it a career. So I just came out here with an open mind to meet people. [Faber’s gym] Ultimate Fitness was just opening. I was on a search to find him. I was calling martial arts gyms if they did MMA, [to see] if they knew Urijah. I would ask people on the streets if they knew where he was.”

Photo by Sherdog.com

Urijah Faber has been
instrumental in
Benavidez's growth in MMA.
Finding Urijah

That gym opening came at the same time Faber had begun a four-fight tear in the WEC, stopping four opponents as the sport exploded on television and everywhere else. At the time, Benavidez could not find The Man, so he put word out the best way he knew how.

“I ended up finding a regular MMA gym and just went in there and ended up kicking these guys’ butts, including the instructor’s,” he said. “They were like, ‘You need to see Faber.’ They told me about his gym. It wasn’t in the phone book. That was on a Saturday night, and I had to fly out on Monday morning, so I had no chance of meeting him. I had finally found him, and it was at the end of my vacation. I went to airport and my friends dropped me off; [I] was ready to go back to New Mexico and my regular life. My flight got canceled.”

Fate had intervened.

“It was right when I first opened the gym, and he kind of stumbled in,” Faber said of their first in-person meeting. “You get it all the time -- guys who say they want to fight. He’d gone down to a gym in Roseville and basically beat the crap out of everyone. They said you need to find Urijah. His flight got cancelled, and he said, ‘I’m thinking of coming down.’ He kept text messaging me. I’d rolled with him and realized he was really legit. I said, ‘If you come down, I’ll give you job at the front desk.’”

Benavidez met the team and was hooked. He went back to New Mexico for two months, jammed everything into his car and took the dive, heading to California.

“We got along right away,” Benavidez said. “He’s just a really personable guy. Then he’s like, ‘Yeah man, that’d be really cool.’ The way Faber is, someone comes in, if they’re nice or jerks, he’ll just straight grapple with him and test them. And I’ll do it, too. I’ll be working the front desk or mopping the floor. When I got to grapple with him, it was a pretty good battle. Right away, I loved his style.”

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