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UFC Norfolk preview: Will Joseph Benavidez ‘save’ the flyweight division?

The Ultimate Fighter Finale: Benavidez v Cejudo Photo by Brandon Magnus/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

For the past few months, Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) did not have enough flyweight contenders to fill up all 15 slots in the official 125-pound rankings. That’s a problem that also plagues the women’s featherweight division, one that exists in theory but not in practice.

So why bother having flyweights at all?

Probably because the promotion inherited a weight class that was forged under the rule of Demetrious Johnson, who was deposed by Henry Cejudo back in August 2018. Those who were grandfathered in expected “Triple C” to “save” the division.

Instead, he jumped ship, because cutting weight sucks.

With Cejudo defending his bantamweight belt against Jose Aldo this June in Brazil, Joseph Benavidez and Deiveson Figueiredo will collide for the vacant flyweight title in the UFC Fight Night 169 main event this Sat. (Feb. 29, 2020) inside Chartway Arena in Norfolk, Virginia.

Be worried.

The fight is two days away and this week’s top story is Paulo Costa bitching about Israel Adesanya, which should give you an idea of how many fans are seeking out coverage of UFC Norfolk. And while most ESPN+ fight cards are generally low in traffic, this is the same division that was on the verge of being eliminated back in 2018.

Six years after the boo birds first sang their bye-bye song.

A win for Figueiredo would be a disaster, at least in terms of the future of the flyweight class. 125-pound fighters are difficult to sell to the public — even with someone as skilled as Johnson — and an unknown Brazilian would practically kill the division.

Especially when he talks more about Jesus than he does his opponent.

“I was very happy and surprised when that announcement was made,” Figueiredo told MMA Junkie about landing the title fight. “This proves that God is great. Now is the time. I’ll capture the championship belt, in Jesus’ name. I’m very ready to fight Benavidez – body and mind.”

That’s not to suggest Benavidez is a marketable star. He’s a remarkable talent with years of experience and his name is instantly recognizable, but “Joe Jitsu” only makes headlines when he forgets about Dre.

Count me among the many fans disappointed he didn’t score a Cejudo rematch.

He may be goofy, but “Triple C” has the mouth to hype a fight, and they also have unfinished business from late 2016. That’s when Benavidez snuck out of “Sin City” with a decision win over the Olympian as part of their coaching stint on The Ultimate Fighter (TUF).

“This one, I’m grateful for the opportunity, and I’m excited but it’s a bonus for everything honestly,” Benavidez told MMA Fighting. “I never needed this. Every other one, I needed it. This one is incredible. It was almost an unexpected thing, even though I worked for it and earned it. You just never expect things like this.”

On that note, there is really no way to know what to expect from the promotion moving forward. Outside of the UFC Norfolk headliners, Jussier Formiga is ranked No. 2, while Alexandre Pantoja (No. 4) and Brandon Moreno (No. 5) round out the Top 5.

It’s kind of fitting that Benavidez once considered “Joe B-wan Kenobi” to be his official nickname, because he’s our only hope.

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