For Joseph Benavidez, the ride is officially over. Benavidez announced his retirement on Wednesday after a fifteen-year career, nearly all of which took place at the highest level against the best competition in the world. As a pioneer of the lighter-weight classes, Benavidez challenged for World Championships on five different occasions in the WEC and UFC.
Though he never managed to take home the gold, his ability to constantly stay in the championship conversation for nearly a decade is impressive and a testament to his continually evolving skill set. His career was not without bumps in the road, but he has etched his place in history with his longevity and fighting style, which allowed him to compete in some of the most memorable flyweight and bantamweight matchups in MMA history.
These are some of his career-defining moments…
Benavidez vs. Torres
It’s hard to explain just how highly respected Miguel “Angel” Torres was back in the summer of 2010. Though he was several months removed from losing his WEC Bantamweight Championship, Torres was still ranked among the top fighters in his division. Before losing the belt, Torres was victorious in thirty-seven of his thirty-eight career fights, and it was not absurd to think he could earn a championship rematch with just a win or two.
Joseph Benavidez was younger, just twelve fights into his career, but a blooming contender, and when the two met at WEC 47, he proved too much for Torres to handle. Despite giving up five inches in height and eleven inches in reach, Benavidez trudged through Torres’ formidable muay Thai attack to dominate the fight both on the feet and on the ground.
When Benavidez submitted a beaten and bloodied Torres in the second round, it was clear that the blooming contender was ready to challenge for the bantamweight crown.
Benavidez vs. Cruz II
Before the Torres fight, the first time that Joseph Benavidez and Dominick Cruz shared a cage was WEC 42. Cruz won that fight bout, but both fighters earned fight of the night honors for their efforts. Benavidez vs. Cruz II would take place almost exactly one year later. By this time, Cruz had captured the WEC Bantamweight Championship, and he would be looking to make his first defense against his familiar foe.
Scheduled for WEC 50, Benavidez vs. Cruz was the second to last Bantamweight title fight before the division was absorbed into the UFC. It would also serve as the first in a series of frustrating title fights lasting throughout Joseph Benavidez’s entire career. The fight was competitive and actually went to a split decision, but Cruz appeared to be the better man throughout most of the encounter.
Benavidez would soon find his home as a flyweight, but not before showing that he could just as easily compete among the best bantamweights in the world.
UFC Flyweight Tournament
Joseph Benavidez spent the early years of his UFC run stringing together wins in the bantamweight division. But when the UFC announced the addition of a flyweight division, Benavidez, always an undersized bantamweight, was announced as a participant in the division’s inaugural championship crowning tournament. The tournament consisted of four fighters, Benavidez, Demetrious Johnson, Shooto veteran Yasuhiro Urushitani and then number one ranked flyweight, Ian McCall. Benavidez defeated an overmatched Urushitani in the opening round, allowing him to challenge Demetrious Johnson for the inaugural UFC Flyweight Championship.
It would be Benavidez’s first crack at UFC gold, but far from his last. The fight was closely contested, with Johnson ultimately emerging as the victor. Despite losing, Benavidez put forth a solid enough effort that some major MMA media sites scored the fight in his favor. Though that likely meant little to Benavidez, his performance was impressive enough that it stuck in fans’ minds. When Johnson began tearing through opponents at a frantic pace, they remembered how close Benavidez was to defeating Johnson in the first place. As Johnson defended his belt and Benavidez thrashed contender after contender, the script for the rematch wrote itself.
Benavidez vs. Johnson II
Inbetween Benavidez vs. Johnson I and II, Benavidez earned several key victories over fighters that had been mainstays of the flyweight division before the UFC brought them in. First a unanimous decision victory over Ian McCall, and then a decisive stoppage victory over Jussier Formiga. The calls for a rematch grew until finally it was set for a UFC on Fox event roughly fourteen months after the two first met.
Johnson vs. Benavidez served at the first great rivalry in UFC flyweight history, and the first fight was evidence that Benavidez was neck and neck with the best flyweight in the world. But the second fight was something else entirely, as Johnson became the first man to stop Benavidez, doing so with a thunderous punch in the first round.
The punch was jarring, if only because it is so rare to see such knockouts in the flyweight division, but Joe Benavidez would fight again.
The continued quest for gold…
The following years allowed Joseph Benavidez to prove that he truly was a generational talent. Despite failing in his championship appearances, he continued to roll through almost any other flyweight on the roster not named Demetrious Johnson.
From 2014-2019 Benavidez would compile a record of 9-1, defeating five future or former title challengers, including Henry Cejudo. But the image of the KO loss to Johnson lingered, and it would not be until 2020, once Demetrious Johnson had lost his UFC Championship and left the UFC, that Benavidez would finally earn another crack at the World Championship.
Benavidez vs. Figueiredo I & II
Deiveson Figueiredo represented the new breed in the UFC flyweight division. A skilled grappler with power in his hands, he shared a common goal with Joseph Benavidez to capture the flyweight championship vacated by the recently retired Henry Cejudo. Benavidez was, by this time, nearly a twenty-five-fight veteran of the UFC/WEC conglomerate and held a 13-3 record in the flyweight division. By the time that Figueiredo made his UFC debut, Benavidez had already competed in the UFC for over half a decade. It was the old guard against the new.
The first fight took place in February of 2020; Figueiredo missed weight, meaning he was no longer eligible to win the championship, but Benavidez, ever the professional, made weight and still was. Throughout much of his career, Joseph Benavidez was just a hair away from victory anytime he tasted defeat. Three of his five losses up to that point came via split decision, and it always felt like just a tweak here or an adjustment there would be enough to allow him to breakthrough finally.
But Figueiredo was quicker and more powerful. He never allowed Benavidez to gain any sort of rhythm before he eventually stopped him with punches in the second round. Due to Figueiredo’s weight issues, the title remained vacant, and a rematch was booked for later in 2020. Benavidez acknowledged pre-fight that this would almost certainly be his final crack at gold, and he would ultimately be proven right. Figueredo defeated him a second time, ending the fight via submission in the first round.
With it ended one of the longest quests for championship gold in MMA history.
Joseph Benavidez competed one final time, a decision loss to Askar Askarov, before announcing his retirement on September 15, 2021. Reading this, it will seem that many of his most significant moments resulted in losses. Still, ultimately Joseph Benavidez walks away with one of the best resumes’ of any fighter to never win a championship. He will go down as one of the greatest lighter-weight fighters in UFC history, as he found success as both a bantamweight and a flyweight. He managed a 20-8 record competing in the WEC and UFC and found fame as one of the faces of what is still one of the most successful gyms in MMA today, Team Alpha Male.
Along with former rival Demetrious Johnson, Benavidez holds the record for most wins in flyweight division history, and alone, he has the records for appearances and knockouts as a flyweight. He holds notable victories over Miguel Torres, Eddie Wineland, Ian McCall, Henry Cejudo, and many other fighters that populated the flyweight top ten over the last six or seven years.
At only thirty-seven years of age, Benavidez has plenty of time to carve out a second career as a coach or analyst, so perhaps we haven’t seen the last of the flyweight great. Whatever he chooses to do next, we at The Scrap wish him all the best and thank him for years of memorable moments.