You’ll have to forgive Joseph Benavidez if he sounds like he’s experiencing deja vu.
For a second time, Benavidez found himself staring at Jussier Formiga across the cage, and for a second time, the encounter ended with Benavidez’s hand being raised after finishing Formiga with strikes. It took more than a round this time, but the result was the same: Benavidez victorious and on the cusp of a UFC title shot.
Saturday’s UFC Minneapolis co-main event further cemented Benavidez’s claim to the front of the dwindling flyweight contender’s line, a spot that should earn him a bout with dual-division champion Henry Cejudo. Like Formiga, Cejudo has a loss at the hands of Benavidez, a split decision affair from December 2016.
It’s just another case of doubling that Benavidez and his team have noticed recently, which has spawned a nickname that Benavidez introduced in his post-fight speech after defeating Formiga again: “Joey Two Times.”
At the evening’s post-fight press conference, Benavidez was asked if the new nickname was an attempt to catch Cejudo’s attention. He explained that it was simply a matter of noticing a trend and hopefully riding it all the way to a championship opportunity.
“The ‘Joey Two Times’ wasn’t necessarily that,” Benavidez said. “This started a while back when I fought Alex Perez, just my coaches were calling me Joey Two Times because they had that weird stoppage where I had to stop him twice in the night, remember the ref jumped in. So they’re like, ‘Joey Two Times they call you.’ And my wife’s Italian so she loved it and started calling me that.
“The next fight I fought Dustin Ortiz and I was like, ‘I already beat him once.’ And my coach was like, ‘That’s because you’re Two Times, you’ve got to beat him again.’ ‘Oh yeah, that’s true.’ Then Formiga came on and I was like, ‘Oh my God. And If I fight him, then I have to…’ It’s like a prophecy, in the future then I have to fight Cejudo. So it wasn’t necessarily to get the Cejudo thing, but we’re just trying to be goofy and creative like that. It made sense, prophecy-WISe, I guess, now it does too. It made for a fun callout, but the performances I think do the job themselves. I’m not a guy with a schtick or hey, I’m gonna say this and compromise my whole character to be somebody else, it’s just a fun thing. The performances I think speak for themselves as far as getting a shot. The fact is the guy’s on top of the world, I beat him, why wouldn’t he want to come and avenge a loss?”
Benavidez is one of only two mean to bet Cejudo in MMA competition, the other being longtime champion Demetrious Johnson, who now competes for Singapore’s ONE Championship organization. Johnson has faced both Benavidez and Cejudo twice, and while Benavidez fell short in his two bids to defeat “Mighty Mouse,” Cejudo won a split decision over Johnson in their rematch last August.
Since dethroning Johnson, Cejudo has won high-profile bouts against T.J. Dillashaw and Marlon Moraes, the latter earning him a vacant UFC bantamweight title. Shoulder surgery will keep Cejudo out of action until 2020 and when he returns, it’s unclear whether he will defend the flyweight title or the bantamweight title or possibly even chase a third title at 145 pounds.
The logistics are enough to make one’s head spin, which is why Benavidez isn’t overly concerned with Cejudo’s plans.
“It’s crazy. I don’t even think of that stuff,” Benavidez said. “You can’t control any of that. I’m doing my job, I can’t control what he says. So what if he does, I think people will be like, ‘What are you talking about?’ But you can’t stop what somebody else is gonna do and I realized that, long enough in this sport, I’ve realized I can’t control what the hell everyone else is gonna do.
“People are crazy, people want whatever, different things, they think there’s some imaginary fight and title or something, so I don’t know what the heck he’s gonna do, but I know his last callouts didn’t make sense and I’m the only one that does make sense.”
Benavidez couldn’t speak on what he might do if he has to wait more than six months for Cejudo or if Cejudo declines to defend the flyweight title against Benavidez at all. Though Benavidez stopped short of saying that Cejudo was ducking him, he expressed confusion over why the champion hasn’t propped up Benavidez as a potential opponent.
The way Benavidez sees it, he’s won nine of his last 10 fights, he holds a win over Cejudo, and now that Cejudo has built up his athletic accolades to the point that he is now one of the UFC’s budding stars, a rematch could draw far more attention than their first fight.
The potential level of publicity is what Benavidez expects to be different a second time around. Because as far as the matchup goes, he knows Cejudo has only become better and there weren’t many holes in his game to begin with.
“There’s not a ton,” Benavidez said. “Even in that fight—he’s improved crazy since then and even in that fight, I was like this guy is an incredible athlete. When he says he’s one of the best combat athletes that’s ever done it, he’s proven it. There wasn’t a ton of weaknesses, I just had to believe in my game against his game. I knew I could be more active than him, I knew I could be a little more creative, I thought I’d be faster as well. It’s the same thing.
“When you’re fighting the best, best guys in the world, there’s no glaring weaknesses. There’s X-factors and there’s small openings that you have to prepare for better and that’s really it.”