There's a certain cachet that comes from holding main event status on a UFC card, particularly one of the numbered pay-per-view shows. It's a great marketing opportunity, as one's face is plastered everywhere, from billboards in Times Square to the Las Vegas Strip.
When Joseph Benavidez lost that opportunity after UFC 151 was canceled and light heavyweight champion Jon Jones was switched to the main event of UFC 152 that once had featured Benavidez against Demetrious Johnson, many among his family and friends were outraged.
Benavidez, who is one of the fight game's best-kept secrets, was not among them.
Benavidez still hasn't crossed into stardom despite a brilliant record and a series of high-impact victories. As a result, having Jones defend his title atop the card will almost certainly guarantee more ticket sales, more pay-per-view sales and more attention from the media.
That's nothing but good news for Benavidez, whose primary goal all along has been to win a UFC belt. He'll get that opportunity on Sept. 22 at the Air
When he discovered on Aug. 23 that Jones would switch from UFC 151 to UFC 152 and claim the main event status that once belonged to him, Benavidez's phone blew up with texts, calls and emails from his supporters.
They were outraged that he'd lost top billing.
"All my fans on Twitter and my family, [they were upset]," Benavidez said, chuckling. "My Mom called me and said, 'Jon Jones is a jerk.' All the people on Twitter were like, '[Expletive] Jon Jones. You're the man. You're the main event.'
"That was great to see, but it's really a positive, when you look at it. I know [Jones] is more popular than me. I know [Michael] Bisping and whoever else is on the card is more popular than me. I feel it helps me. My main goal when I got in this was to be UFC champion. I wouldn't sit there and go, 'Oh, I need to be UFC main event.' My goal is to be UFC champion and I still get to do that. Now, I get to do it with that many more fans to gain and that many more fans watching."
Those who watch who may otherwise not have tuned in will see a guy who hasn't gotten nearly enough credit for his sterling record. He's 16-2 and has only lost to UFC bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz (both via decision in World Extreme Cagefighting).
He's compiled that brilliant record, which includes victories over ex-WEC bantamweight champions Miguel Torres and Eddie Wineland, mostly while fighting up in weight.
When the UFC created the flyweight division earlier this year, it was like it was made for Benavidez. He conceded that Cruz was bigger and faster, but to most of his opponents, he surrendered a fairly significant size advantage.
Now, as a flyweight, Benavidez will hold those edges over most opponents. Most of the time, he'll be the stronger guy. Most of the time, he'll be the faster guy (though not against the quick-as-a-gnat Johnson at UFC 152).
And now that he's on the main card and not the preliminaries, he won't continue to be Mr. Anonymous.
Prior to knocking out Yasuhiro Urushitani in the opening round of the flyweight tournament in February, Benavidez had been on the preliminary card in back-to-back fights.
It was hard to comprehend given his record and his high-energy style, but he isn't the type to complain. He didn't understand the decision, so he opted to force the UFC's hand by the way he performed.
"I want to leave a legacy and get the promotion it takes to make it in this sport," Benavidez said. "I was kind of annoyed [to be on the preliminary card]. It's not like I was a guy who was 2-2 in the UFC and I was saying, 'Hey, you put me on the undercard. What the heck?' I was a guy who was No. 2 in the world in my weight class and had only lost to the champion. I don't think I've ever been in a boring fight, either.
As good as he's been, he promises he'll be even better. Every fighter has flaws, but few have less than Benavidez, and the creation of the flyweight division will likely benefit him more than anyone else.
"I feel like a straight monster at this weight," he said. "I feel amazing. I kept all my same strength when I was bigger. … Now, I'm just faster and in better shape. I'm fighting guys who are faster, but they won't make me look slow or have a huge advantage. I think I'll have a big power advantage. I feel great and this is where I've always meant to be."
And while Jones, one of the UFC's biggest attractions, usurped his role on top of the upcoming show, if Benavidez fights the way he insists he will, he won't be taking a back seat to anyone much longer.
Pretty soon, it's going to be all Joe B, all the time.
- Joseph Benavidez
- Jon Jones