Las Vegas’ Joseph Benavidez energized by UFC flyweight shakeup

Updated August 20, 2018 - 6:22 pm

Las Vegan Joseph Benavidez always wanted to be the one to end UFC flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson’s run as the longest-reigning champion in the organization’s history.

Benavidez isn’t wasting any time lamenting the fact Henry Cejudo beat him to it when he took the belt from Johnson in Los Angeles this month.

Instead, Benavidez is excited about the future.

“I think it’s so great for the division,” Benavidez told the Review-Journal during the first half of Saturday night’s LV Lights FC game where he was a featured guest. “We’ve obviously been in somewhat of a stalemate just because DJ was such an amazing champion and everyone else failed to beat him. We just weren’t gaining any momentum with him dominating the division so it was awesome for Cejudo to go out and win. It was big for the division as it continues to evolve. It’s still new. There’s only been one champion until now.”

It’s also a major opportunity for Benavidez, who spent nearly Johnson’s entire reign as the top contender only to drop two fights to the champion. As long as Johnson held the belt, it was going to be tough for Benavidez to get a shot. But Benavidez actually has a win over Cejudo, which puts him in prime position to fight the new champion.

Benavidez plans on calling for a title shot should he defeat Ray Borg on Nov. 10 in Denver.

“It’s a whole new world (in the flyweight division),” Benavidez said. “That’s what is so motivating to me. I have the only unavenged win over Cejudo. That’s the fight to make.”

He’ll have to beat Borg first, which is no easy task. Benavidez will also have to wait an extra month for the fight, which was originally scheduled for the UFC 229 card on Oct. 6 at T-Mobile Arena.

The bout was removed from the card when Conor McGregor was announced as the headliner in a lightweight title fight against Khabib Nurmagomedov. Borg was injured by shattered glass in the infamous bus attack in Brooklyn when McGregor threw a dolly through a window and the fighters were ordered to stay away from each other, prompting Benavidez and Borg to push their fight back.

“I feel like if I would have got the Denver date and not had the other thing waved in front of me, it would have been great,” Benavidez said. “I’m happy to fight anytime, but knowing what could have been is annoying. From what I understand, Borg never filed anything legally, it’s just the judge making a thing about them not being able to be together until everything is settled. So yeah, it was kind of frustrating obviously. I would like to fight on that card. I think everyone in the company would.”

UFC 229 shapes up as one of the biggest events in UFC history. All but a few of the most expensive tickets for the event sold out within three minutes of going on sale to the general public on Friday, and the gate is expected to be the second-largest in UFC history and the largest for an MMA event in Nevada history.

Melee ‘part of the storyline’

Minutes after McGregor attacked the bus in an apparent effort to get after Nurmagomedov, UFC president Dana White called the incident “the most disgusting thing in the organization’s history.”

Now the footage is being used to promote the fight.

White was asked by the BBC about using the incident he had so vehemently condemned to promote an event.

“It was definitely something bad that I didn’t expect from anybody,” he said. “(McGregor) got in trouble legally in New York. He had to go to court and hire lawyers and go through lawsuits and all kinds of stuff that goes along with something like that. Obviously, going into the fight, it’s definitely part of the storyline.”

Maynard added to card

Las Vegan Gray Maynard will return to lightweight and fight at home on the UFC 229 card.

Nik Lentz will be Maynard’s opponent, UFC officials confirmed to the Review-Journal on Monday.

Maynard, a former lightweight title challenger, won two of three fights at featherweight. He is coming off a one-sided unanimous decision over Teruto Ishihara in July 2017.

Lentz, who has lost two of three, dropped a decision to David Teymur in June.

By Adam Hill

Photo by Erik Verduzco