When we look at the list of mixed-martial-artists to never claim Octagon gold, a few staggering names come to the forefront. Alexander Gustafsson; a fantastic talent who unfortunately joined the light heavyweight ranks at a time of dominance for either Jon Jones or Daniel Cormier. Dan Henderson; a PRIDE FC all-time great, who’s blockade from middleweight gold, was none other than the iconic, Anderson Silva. Yoel Romero; he’ll get his fourth opportunity at a UFC title when he meets Israel Adesanya in early March – but weight issues and some questionable judging has prevented the Olympic wrestler from claiming champion status.
Then we’ve got consistent flyweight great, Joseph ‘Joey Two Times’ Benavidez. The Texan similarly to Gustafsson featured in a division solely run by Demetrious Johnson. This weekend in Virginia, the talented boxer and wrestler has the opportunity to put all that behind him, as he meets Deiveson Figueiredo for the vacant 125-pound title – in a third championship showing.
Time and time again, the veteran has risen from defeat to cement himself as division frontrunner. He’s dropped just five losses in his career. Two against the aforementioned Johnson, and bantamweight great Dominick Cruz, as well as a razor-thin defeat to now Bellator flyweight, Sergio Pettis. A long-overdue title calling would be the icing on a rather large, career cake. The 35-year-old has managed notable wins over Ian McCall, Miguel Torres, Dustin Ortiz (x2), Jussier Formiga (x2), Rani Yahya, Eddie Wineland, John Moraga, Ali Bagautinov, Tim Elliott, and Henry Cejudo to name a few.
A fantastic résumé is matched with a very technical, and similarly to Figueiredo, well-rounded tactical approach. The former Team Alpha MMA trainee has competed professionally for fourteen years – dropping five losses in that period, three of which were judged split decisions. It’s not a record to turn your nose up toward.
A knee injury in 2017 halted some momentum for Benavidez following his extremely close back-and-forth with former flyweight and current bantamweight best, Henry Cejudo – but he would return to blistering form once again after a loss to Pettis. Earning his third crack at championship gold, the San Antonio native stopped Alex Perez with strikes, before halting the three fight-rise of Dustin Ortiz. In a real standout performance, Benavidez rematched Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt, Jussier Formiga and finished the division’s dark horse with a head kick in the second round.
Benavidez’s wrestling is an often forgotten aspect of his overall game, and a huge factor ahead of his clash with Figueiredo. With twenty-four successful takedowns in his UFC stint – the Sacramento based southpaw poses a real threat of slowing down the offensive output from his Brazilian counterpart with offensive grappling of his own. Figueiredo is a hugely talented submission artist, particularly from his back with an almost patented guillotine. Activity from full guard is a necessity for Benavidez in this clash.
The 35-year-old has only ever been finished once in his career, via strikes in his rematch with the decorated ‘Mighty Mouse’ Johnson – but hasn’t faced a legitimate power-puncher like Figueiredo before on the other hand. Johnson is considered arguably the best technical mixed-martial-artist to walk the face of the earth – while Figueiredo is a stout flyweight with explosivity aplenty. As seen in his previous performances, namely his win over Marco Beltrán, Figueiredo can mix it up – utilising both wrestling and striking.