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UFC Norfolk, The Morning After: Admiring Joseph Benavidez, a personal hero

Here’s what you may have missed from last night!

Joseph Benavidez is my favorite fighter.

Fair warning now, this post contains lots of personal stuff and zero analysis about last night’s title fight. Supposedly, media members are not allowed to like one fighter more than another, a nonsense idea that holds no weight in the actual world of living, breathing human beings who exist behind the impersonal keyboards and microphones. Fact of the matter is everyone covering the sport has one or a few fighters they love, and — bonus fact! — I know that a great deal of those covering this sport who share my admiration for the longtime WEC and UFC veteran.

Why? Well, to expand upon my opening sentence, Benavidez is also one of my favorite people in general. Again, I’m not alone in this thought: Benavidez is remarkably well-liked by most everyone he meets. “Beefcake” has an instantly recognizable kindness and genuine nature to him that stands out even in a sport largely filled with personable and honest people. He’s a man exploding with creative energy, one who somehow has the energy post-training to create art, promote the fashion of his fellow fighters via Dapper Scrappers, and endlessly discuss the virtues of Taxi Driver and Pet Sounds.

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Gotta give your heart ... #artist

A post shared by Joseph Benavidez (@joejitsu) on

I am incredibly lucky to have three separate relationships with Benavidez: as a friend, a (mostly former) team mate, and as a writer. The final one is hardly worth-mentioning as I’ve never interviewed him directly or written anything beyond usual coverage until today, but it’s actually a small piece of Mania history.

Flashback to 2012, when I was 16 years old and wanted to write a bit about my favorite fighter, who was to be awarded a shot at the first-ever UFC Flyweight belt. I ventured to the Fanpost section and wrote a breakdown of Benavidez’s skills titled “Recognizing Greatness.”

In truth, it was not a particularly amazing write-up. It summed things up well-enough but relied heavily on GIFs to do the heavy lifting. Nevertheless, it was enough that Mania’s higher ups took notice, and I was brought on the staff as a writer to publish a couple articles each week.

2500 articles later, my role has grown a bit, but it all began there.

As for the team mate and friendship aspects, let’s move a couple years forward to September of 2014. Three months after high school graduation and one month after my first amateur fight, I moved to Sacramento, California to train full-time at Team Alpha Male (TAM). Benavidez was not far removed from strangling Tim Elliott and was preparing to face Dustin Ortiz for the first time, cheerful while faced with the daunting task of somehow securing a third Flyweight title shot.

Before long, I could count Benavidez as a friend. I was still too skinny and not particularly good at much outside of jiu-jitsu, but Joe was happy to roll with me and offer advice. When I was told to gain some muscle, Benavidez introduced me to his separate strength and conditioning coach, Amadeo Novella of Capital Strength and Performance — the gym where we film the technique highlight videos each week.

After practice, we’d discuss the finer points of OutKast’s Aquemini or various Paul Thomas Anderson movies. Less than a month after my relocation to TAM, Joe offered me a spot on a boys trip to the Life Is Beautiful music festival in Las Vegas — headlined by OutKast and Kanye West — after a team mate dropped out last-minute.

Joe invited me after morning practice on Monday, and I had my plane ticket booked about an hour later to leave on Friday. As a result of the impromptu nature of the whole thing, I earned the moniker “Roaddog,” which remains my fight name to this day.

That weekend pretty much sealed it: I’ll always love the three dudes pictured below. There was no incentive for Joe to invite some young dork to Las Vegas with his real friends, to give him a free festival ticket (acquired by Megan Olivi, another incredible person) or let him crash on his couch. I couldn’t get into any bars or clubs due to my age, and frankly, I was just as annoying as the average teenager.

Looking back, I still can’t come up with his reasoning beyond the shared musical interests — but I’m forever grateful for the invite.

At some point in 2016, the training partner aspect largely came to an end. Joe moved to Las Vegas full time, and most of our interactions are now via text, though the subject matters of pop culture, travel, and art remain unchanged. Still, Joe taught me a great deal about MMA that continues to influence my thought process, and there are at least a couple lessons I feel are worth sharing.

First and foremost, my favorite Benavidez quote, one that encapsulates his fighting style: “Sometimes, the key to getting up is to try really hard.” Simple and seemingly obvious, sure, but a lesson the vast majority of UFC fighters still fail to internalize. Each time an athlete is taken down and doesn’t instantly freak out like a cat dropped in a pool, they have missed the point.

In over a decade of training all over the world, Benavidez is the best scrambler I’ve ever encountered, and the key seems to be trying really hard.

The second lesson is a bit more abstract. Regarding his two bouts against Demetrious Johnson, Joe once told me something along the lines of, “You can have the worst camp of your life, have everything go wrong, and then lose to the champion in a close split-decision. But you can also feel better and more confident than you’ve ever felt, then get knocked out in two minutes.”

I don’t know how Joe felt in the lead up to fight week or on the walk to the cage last night. I don’t know where he goes from here or what’s next for him. While the opportunity still exists, however, I wanted to publicly show my respect for Joseph Benavidez.


blood and sweat, sometimes tears
battered hands, countless fears
highest highs lowest lows
shattered dreams, the hurt just grows
your smile shields the pain you hide
all the while you’re dead inside
your faith is absent, your will gives out
now clear your mind, erase the doubt
everything you have you gave
to feel self worth, that’s all you crave
the world’s a stage, this is your role
you break your heart, you sell your soul
stay the course, endure the pain
you were born to entertain

– Joseph Benavidez, 2012

For complete UFC Fight Night 169: “Benavidez vs. Figueiredo” results and play-by-play, click HERE!

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