Let’s get something important out of the way: the UFC’s No. 1 flyweight contender Joseph Benavidez is the “best pound-for-pound tweeter in MMA.” He quickly informed the MMA Corner of this when the topic was brought up in an exclusive interview.

Benavidez is a genuinely talented guy in a multifaceted sense, whether it comes to being one of the world’s elite professional mixed martial artists or to his flights of fancy that become cultural hits, like the annual JOBE Twitter awards, which poke fun at the sport’s unrecognized accomplishments. He can go in so many different directions and do so at such a high level that the hard part for him is actually holding back.

“For me, it’s not that hard. I’m pretty good at being myself and people accept it,” the Mexican-American said. “I’m not shy, or I don’t feel vulnerable about talking about emotions or about my small dog or anything weird like that. So that stuff isn’t hard for me to be myself about, but I am a pretty sick guy sometimes. So it is hard for me sometimes to not put my true, disgusting, like, vulgar things on there. So I can be vulgar sometimes as well and nice and sweet as I can be—I can do that too. That’s really the hardest part, is knowing like, ‘alright, this is not politically correct, this is going to offend people.’

“So it’s not that hard, but sometimes I do have to ask my girlfriend to proofread my tweets and tell me, is this wrong? And she’ll be like, ‘Yes, this is terrible. You’ll get in trouble and people will hate you.’”

That’s the funny thing about Benavidez. He can walk the line of what’s appropriate in terms of taste and then turn around, put on a nice suit and do commentary work for the UFC as he has done on Fuel TV. His “work” on Twitter won him a $5,000 Twitter bonus for creative social media use from the UFC in 2011, which is proof enough of his talent for creativity. You might see him humorously giving out an award for the best erection at weigh-ins for his online JOBE awards (scroll down article to the tweets), and then flip on your TV to see him in a commentating role that you could have on in the background at Sunday school.

Hence the term multifaceted. But to him, it’s all just taking on the pursuit of opportunities to fulfill a lifelong desire to be creative.

“Right now, fighting is my primary focus and career, but anytime I get to do anything like that, it’s fun,” Benavidez admitted about his television commentary work. “I have a good time with it. I get to wear a suit and talk about what I’d be doing anyway on the couch with my buddies. I’d be sitting there eating a hamburger and talking about the fight with them anyways.

“Even when I was a kid…I always knew it would be [doing] a creative, artistic, physical kind of thing, so it all kind of blends in.”

Benavidez (R) drops a right hand (Esther Lin/MMA Fighting)

Having a relatable personality that can be used for television work or can help a fighter connect with fans is definitely a leg up in the fight game, but we’ve got to remember that the California resident is one of the best flyweights in the world too.

Benavidez spent the first three quarters of his career at bantamweight before there ever was a viable flyweight division on the larger MMA landscape. He found himself a multiple title challenger in the WEC with wins over names like Jeff Curran and Miguel Torres, but was twice kept on the wrong end of split decisions against a noticeably larger fighter in Dominick Cruz. If you wanted to credit the losses, you could say they were close battles against one of the world’s consensus best outside of Benavidez’s natural weight class.

That’s why when the UFC announced the inclusion of a 125-pound division to its roster, to be kicked off with a four-man tournament, Benavidez was a strong candidate to make an impact with his debut. And he made his mark on the scene with a TKO of Yasuhiro Urushitani, the first-ever knockout in the newly minted UFC division. However, Benavidez was set back in the finals in a similar scenario, losing a close decision against a dominant fighter who would go on to become a reigning champion, the currently red-hot Demetrious Johnson.

The Team Alpha Male representative admits that the pressure of the historic opportunity got to him.

“I feel like so much of my energy mentally went into thinking about it and I had such a long time—Demetrious and McCall got to rematch—and the whole build up of the first flyweight title ever, it was just wasted energy,” he said about spending too much time looking ahead. “The best way I fight—except for that fight—is when it’s just another day for me. Just going out there having fun; it’s a hard sparring session, a chance for me to get better. That’s really how I’ve approached every fight except for that one. It was so colossal to me and I ended up [feeling] like, amongst other things, it worked against me.”

That’s why so many fighters choose to dismiss pesky questions of where they are in regards to a title shot or what is the current algorithm of guys that they need to beat. Because if they have someone in front of them, then that’s all they should be worried about when it comes to the future. For Benavidez, it’s a main-card challenge against Jussier “Formiga” da Silva at UFC Fight Night 28 on Sept. 4.

Benavidez is hoping to test himself and have fun as if he is being allowed to let loose as hard as he wants on a sparring partner. However, he also knows that his next move with a win will likely be a rematch with the champion, Johnson.

“It’s not something I’ve really thought about,” Benavidez clarified. “But looking at the landscape of the division, you have to know I can be the next one up with a win over [Formiga]. This will be the third win since I lost to Demetrious for a split decision. So it does look like I’d be the next one in line, and I probably could have asked for it after both of my previous wins. But like I’ve said, it’s not something I’ve obsessed over. I’m just trying to get better as a fighter every day. I feel like I’m still improving. Around the time I beat McCall, we had just got our new coach in—Duane Ludwig—and I just wanted time to improve and let the division build and let me grow as a fighter as well.

“Now, after three wins, that’s probably what it’s looking like,” he continued. “But I’m just looking at the fight in front of me first because if I don’t get through this one, the next one doesn’t matter. After this fight, we’ll see what they want to do.”

What if you lose? It might be a crazy question to ask a fighter. Since they’re the types that direct their focus into positivity and confidence, it’s easier for them to see the question from the perspective of their opponent winning a fight as a way to better gauge their own position.

“He can definitely make a case for it by beating me,” Benavidez answered of Formiga getting a title shot with a win. “I would feel, if I was in his shoes, the same way. If I was in his shoes and beat the No. 1 guy in the division, I would sure as hell think that I deserved a title shot.”

Formiga has made similar statements to those of Benavidez, which has both guys admitting the fight’s status as a likely title eliminator. However, back in the perspective of seeing it from Benavidez’s own two feet, he’s not lacking confidence about his opponent’s slim chances at competing against his punching power, among other things.

“There’s a lot of things I feel like he’s not going to be able to handle,” Benavidez said. “He has pretty much one advantage in the fight that he can get to, and that’s with him on top of me. That’s going to be his only real advantage in the fight. Other than that, I think that every other position is going to be great, and that’s going to be the hardest place to get me as well.

“He got knocked out by Dodson, who is definitely a hard hitter—perhaps the hardest hitter in the division [and] can stop a fight at any time with one punch. But I don’t think he’s going to be able to handle my volume of punches and just my pace. And I think I hit pretty hard as well. So I’d love to touch him and get him there.

“Everyone looks at him as this great grappler, but I feel that I have the grappling edge as long as I’m on top of it. If I’m on bottom, yeah, he might be in a better position than me grappling-wise., but if I’m on top, I think I’m going to be the superior grappler as well.

“I’ve had great match-ups and fights with guys of his style and jiu-jitsu black belts who also have decent stand-up and decent takedowns, but I think there’s a ton of things besides my punching power that he’s going to worry about,” Benavidez concluded.

The California resident mentioned Dodson’s name in regards to his opponent, but agreed that a fight with Dodson is something that has been brought up enough to where he realizes that fans are interested in seeing it. Benavidez agreed that the time might come for them to meet if the two flyweight bruisers can hover around the top of the division for long enough. However, he’s got a rematch with Johnson occupying the small bit of allotted space in the back of his brain for the time being.

Benavidez (L) delivers a kick (Esther Lin/MMA Fighting)

“Oh yeah, I’ve heard a lot of people say that,” he said about fighting Dodson. “The thing about the division being so small and us being at the top [is] neither of us are going anywhere. I look at the whole division and think, ‘Well, I’m going to fight pretty much everyone in there at some point.’ We’ve been doing this a long time, and I expect to be at the top level for a long time. As long as whoever is up there is still there, we’re going to end up fighting. So I think it’s just a matter of time before I fight a lot of the guys in the division.”

Benavidez believes that most of the guys in the division will end up meeting in the Octagon sooner or later, but that doesn’t mean that he would agree that the UFC’s flyweight division is shallow per se.

“The fans [may] look at is as shallow, but it’s not as much shallow as it is just new,” Benavidez defended. “The thing is, it’s just new. [The fans] don’t know the guys. Skill-wise, it’s not shallow. It’s just shallow as far as names, because it’s only a year old.

“If a 205-pound division in the UFC was a year old and [fans] just got introduced to it a year ago, they wouldn’t know anyone either. So it’s just a matter of time before they get on board, and the UFC is doing the right thing putting us on main events on Fox, and champion Demetrious Johnson is doing a good job. And every fighter in the division goes out there and puts on great fights. Like I said, the only reason it is shallow is because the knowledge and exposure is only a year old.”

Also according to him, the future of the division is moving “in a great direction.”

But there’s no reason for Benavidez to be sore about anything. He and his team have been doing great for themselves, with the likes of Urijah Faber, Chad Mendes and T.J. Dillashaw all notching key victories and setting themselves up for big fights in the UFC. As most fans that watch MMA closely have probably heard, the addition of a new coach in former UFC fighter Duane Ludwig has played an integral part of the already strong team’s new air of progression.

You’ve got to assume that the bi-product of all that hard work paying off is spilling out a clean atmosphere of good vibes at Team Alpha Male. A lot of it is thanks to the leadership that Ludwig brings in, according to the flyweight contender.

“The vibe is great, man,” he echoed. “The whole team feels kind of reborn since we got Duane Ludwig in at the beginning of the year. I think we’re 11-0 in the UFC with him right now.

“It was just that time where we needed someone to come in and take control and add structure to the team. Honestly, anyone to come in and coach and do the simple things coaches do, like add structure to the team, would have been great. And really, Duane, with his knowledge, passion and leadership, has just gone above and beyond. It’s made it that much better, and you can’t help but feel such a positive energy with the team winning and getting the finishes. And Duane’s energy is so contagious in there. It’s great to have a coach that works as hard as the fighters do.

“Him being a stand-up guy and most of us being grapplers—yeah, we all could hold our own in stand-up and I thought I could hold my own up in stand-up with anybody—but him coming in as a striking coach primarily and running MMA practice really helped us as grapplers,” Benavidez continued when asked about what he has learned from his newest coach. “We’re some of the best grapplers, wrestlers, submission guys in the world, but to have him come in and lead our striking—he comes in and cleans stuff up.

“He knows we’re top-level guys already and what we’re good at, and he just builds from there. We’re all different fighters and he’s taken us as individual fighters and just making us better at the things we already do good. Before we even had Duane in there, we were going for world titles. We were right there as top guys in the world, and we’re all improving from there. So the only way to go is up from there. It’s hard to take a top-level guy and make him that much better, because he’s already right there at the top, and Duane’s been doing that with just his knowledge and leadership.”

It’s an awe-inspiring thought to know that an already top-level team is being further sharpened to greater levels of efficiency. That’s why fans are liable to see Benavidez and his team camped out at the top of their respective divisions for some time to come.

So it’s reassuring to know that Benavidez has put a premium on finding new ways to entertain spectators whether it’s time to work or time to relax and play. According to the way he looks at a lot of things, the two can blend as one in different forms of expression. From the pleasures of visceral violence as a simple test of skills to his vulgar humor that might reach out and hit you in the gut for a laugh, humor and pain can be eerily connected, and just as equally satisfying.

His career is one that up-and-coming flyweights can make note of in how to simultaneously excel on multiple planes of this sport. Benavidez concluded the interview by giving advice, when asked, on how those prospective fighters might better connect with an audience.

“I would just say it’s really good to be yourself and let the fans know who you are so they can relate to you and know that you are just a regular person,” Benavidez shared. “I think the more fans on social media can relate to you, like, ‘Oh, I watched that movie,’ or, ‘Oh, I do that too,’ you realize that this person is just like you and can relate to you and can build a relationship with you on that level instead of just ‘going for the title, doing this doing that, thanks to all my fans.’ You know what I mean? It’s just really good to have them relate to you and build that relationship with you.

“The more obviously you can talk back to the fans and respond to them and let them know, ‘Hey, I’m just a real person and I appreciate you supporting me just as much as you appreciate what I do.’ That’s what I always try to do with my fans through social media. Without them, this really isn’t possible.”

Joe would like to thank the fans, his team, coaches, managers and sponsors. Follow Joe on Twitter: @JoeJitsu

Top Photo: Joseph Benavidez (Esther Lin/MMA Fighting)

About The Author

David Massey
Staff Writer

David Massey studied Humanities and Art History at the University of Central Oklahoma. He first found interest in MMA from the first TUF show and has been hooked ever since. He began posting on mmajunkie then submitting Sunday Junkie entries and that began his interest in writing about MMA. Through twitter David found other MMA enthusiasts and began contributing articles to marqueemma.com. He looks forward to growing as a writer and being a part of the sport he loves.