When 11-time defending flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson was traded away to ONE Championship in Oct. 2018, it felt like the UFC was sending a clear message about the future of the 125 pound weight class.
Johnson’s exit fueled speculation that the UFC was planning to cut the flyweight division from its roster. When the promotion released the majority of fighters competing in the weight class, that didn’t help to dispel rumors.
It was around that time that Henry Cejudo promised he was going to rescue the weight class by beating bantamweight champion T.J. Dillashaw, who was coming down to 125 pounds in an attempt to win a second world title. Cejudo followed through by demolishing Dillashaw less than one minute, and since that time, the Grim Reaper that appeared to be stalking the flyweight division seemingly disappeared.
And yet, top-ranked contender Joseph Benavidez couldn’t escape the questions about the future of the flyweights.
“That used to be every interview, every person I ran into,” Benavidez told MMA Fighting.
Rather than allowing the rumor to fester and infect his training, Benavidez kept his eyes on the ultimate prize, which was the flyweight title wrapped around Cejudo’s waist.
In recent months, UFC president Dana White has abandoned his vagueness about the flyweight division. He now insists that Cejudo’s next fight will come against Benavidez with the title on the line.
That’s welcome news for Benavidez, who no longer gets bombarded with the doom-and-gloom questions about what’s happening at 125 pounds. Now, there’s an entirely new topic he’s happy to address.
“Now it’s, “When are you fighting Cejudo, (and) when is he going to be back?’” he said. “So it’s where it’s supposed to be. Dana going out and saying exactly what is supposed to happen is the right thing.”
While the flyweight division appears to be saved, Benavidez is just waiting on the contract to face Cejudo for the title when the champ recovers from a recent shoulder surgery.
Cejudo is expected to sit out until the start of 2020, and as much as Benavidez would like to believe he’s going to welcome the flyweight champion back to the Octagon, he knows nothing in this sport is guaranteed.
“Dana has been going out and saying (I’m next), and that’s still not a sure thing,” Benavidez said. “Cejudo still has to come back from his injury, and (he) still (has to) want to cut down to 125 (pounds). But the fact that he knows, and the pressure is on for that to be the only fight to defend his title and avenge his loss, I think we’re finally in a pretty good spot.”
With a 9-1 record over his past 10 fights, Benavidez knows he’s done more than enough to earn a title shot, but he’s also smart enough to know how the politics can work in the UFC.
Still, he can’t help but feel confident that the title shot is coming once Cejudo is ready to fight again.
“It’s hard in this sport,” Benavidez said. “Every time I see someone say they’ve earned or deserve something, even if you do, you can’t really think like that, and that’s the approach I try to take because you never know.
“Getting respect from your superiors and your peers supporting you, even when Aljamain (Sterling) came out and said if I get passed up by Benavidez, that’s fine. I was like, that’s super cool. That makes it all worth it.”