Joseph Benavidez Moves Past Championship Dreams, Finds New Motivation to Compete

By Tristen Critchfield Mar 3, 2021

Joseph Benavidez did some soul searching after his loss to Deiveson Figueiredo in the UFC Fight Night 172 headliner this past July.

It was his fourth loss in a UFC flyweight title bout since 2012, and the division’s perpetual top contender had to make peace with the notion that his days of challenging for championship gold were over. It took some time, but Benavidez finally found the impetus he needed with a matchup against the unbeaten Askar Askarov at UFC 259 on Saturday.

“I think after my last title fight I came to the acceptance that was probably my last title fight,” Benavidez said during a virtual media day. “That’s kind of what I put in my mind. I had some fight offers earlier, and I wasn’t loving it.

“Then when I finally decided this was a good timeframe I want to fight in, and take a good break and fall back in love with training and the sport …. What’s the next best thing? I’m still wanting to fight the best in the world. That was the fight that motivated me for that reason. I’ve always been here, even in between title fights, fighting the best guys.

Askarov is currently 13-0-1 as a professional, with a split draw against Brandon Moreno the only blemish on his ledger. Since then, the 28-year-old Dagestani has earned back-to-back decision triumphs over Tim Elliott and Alexandre Pantoja. A win against Benavidez could potentially put him next in line for a 125-pound title shot.

Benavidez, meanwhile, isn’t allowing himself to think about the possibility of another championship fight, and as long as Deiveson Figueiredo is ruling the division, that’s probably the right philosphy to have.

“Nah, I don’t think about it,” he said. “If you guys do and anyone else does, that’s great. It took me just taking this fight to come to an acceptance. I’m not really going back on that and putting that whole emphasis that I’ve had my whole career…I’ve already had questions asked about it and that’s great, but in my mind I made the decison that was probably my last title fight.”

Despite the obvious disappointment that accompanied back-to-back losses against Figueiredo, Benavidez said that retirement wasn’t at the front of his mind even in the moment.

“Obviously, no matter what point you’re at in your career coming off a loss you want to fight again immediately. I knew I didn’t want my last fight to be my last fight. At the same time it took some time to motivate myself again,” Benavidez said. “It was more about, can I have fun and still enjoy this without the ghost of the title looming like it has been my whole career? Can I do that and be motivated and be happy and be acceptant of fighting just to challenge myself because I love it? I’ve done that and here comes the fight.”

At the moment, Benavidez doesn’t have a clear answer for how he’ll want to end his fighting career. Perhaps it’s a feeling he’ll only be able to understand when it arrives.

“The right way would obviously be something that makes ESPN Top 10…something like that,” he said. “That is the easy answer. You don’t really know, I think. Every fight is such a different adventure. I’ve lost fights and been proud of my performance and just known I didn’t win. And I’ve won fights and been disappointed that I felt like I didn’t perform and I was still disappointed even though I won.

“The reason I lasted so long is I always think my next fight’s gonna be good. There’s not really a perfect way to end it … it’ll have to be a feeling that I probably can’t explain. I can’t really put a worth or a value on how it should be.”

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