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Benavidez changes approach with sight still set on title

As one of the more stylish fighters on the UFC roster, Joseph Benavidez’ closet is full of pieces that fit just right and showcase his fashion sense.

Whether we’re talking shirts, pants, jackets or shoes, the recently married flyweight is almost always on point when it comes to his sartorial selections and a main tenet of his – and anyone’s wardrobe – is finding and wearing clothing you feel comfortable in.

Inside the Octagon, however, the top-ranked flyweight has been feeling too comfortable for his liking, so he opted to spend the last four weeks on a quest to find something different.

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Prior to stepping into the cage on Saturday against Zach Makovsky with an eye on extending his winning streak to five, Benavidez departed his usual training grounds in Sacramento for stops at the Jackson-Winkeljohn Academy in Albuquerque, New Mexico and the MusclePharm facility in Denver, where his friend and former teammate, TJ Dillashaw, has now taken up residence.

“I feel the last three fights, I’ve been a good enough fighter to beat the people that were in front of me, but I wasn’t controlling how good I could be,” Benavidez said of his wins over Ali Bagautinov, John Moraga and Dustin Ortiz. “Because I’m a good fighter, I was good enough to beat Bagautinov; I was good enough to beat Moraga; I was good enough to beat Ortiz. But was I as good as I could be? I honestly asked myself that and I don’t think I was.

“I knew in my heart that I wasn’t fighting and preparing up to my capabilities, so maybe I needed something different at this juncture of my career. In this sport, that is so monotonous day in and day out, it’s nice to get these fresh ideas and get out of your comfort zone, which I haven’t had to do in years. But that’s what this camp brought me.”

That kind of frank assessment and willingness to break from a routine that is working isn’t something you normally see from an athlete that is experiencing tremendous success at the top level like Benavidez.

A winner of four straight and cemented as the clear No. 2 man in the 125-pound division behind reigning champion Demetrious Johnson, the top contender could have continued going through the motions and probably would have remained successful, as he’s only ever lost to two people – Johnson and bantamweight champ Dominick Cruz – both of whom have gotten the better of him twice.

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But rather than rest on his laurels, the 31-year-old standout went in search of something uncomfortable – new techniques and training partners, new coaches with fresh ideas and inputs, and something that would renew his excitement for the sport he’s been competing in at the highest level for the last decade.

“For me, I wasn’t satisfied and didn’t want to just sit there and sit on the success of ‘Oh I won, so everything must be good,’” he said of his trio of decision wins. “Those were solid wins and it’s a good day any time you can beat any one of those guys because all three are tough, but I wasn’t as good as I could be.”

After the “refreshing” experience working with the likes of Greg Jackson, Brandon Gibson and Duane Ludwig over the last four weeks, Benavidez enters the Octagon Saturday night in Las Vegas against the veteran Makovsky with his eye on a fifth straight victory and another chance to challenge for the flyweight title.

The Philadelphia-based fighter is just 3-2 since arriving in the UFC, and he is coming off a loss, but that setback came against top contender John Dodson, who went on to challenge for the title following the bout, and his prior loss came to another Top 5 talent, Brazilian Jussier Formiga.

“Zach is a consummate professional, inside and outside of the cage; I have nothing but respect for him,” Benavidez offered in regards to Makovsky. “Because he’s so fundamental and there is nothing flashy, I don’t think people realize how tough he is. Watch his fight with Dodson and you’ll see how skilled he is; watch any of his fights, really.

“Dodson got the last title shot and look at who he beat before he got the title shot – Zach Makovsky in a really close fight. If I go out there, do my thing and have a good win against the guy that Dodson fought to get a title shot, yeah, (fighting for the title again) makes a lot of sense.”
 


Acutely aware of his past performance against Johnson, Benavidez has remained quiet when it comes to calling out opponents and lobbying for a title shot in the two years since their last meeting, preferring instead to step into the cage, handle his business and let the chips fall where they may.

But with Johnson dispatching challenger left, right and center and Benavidez doing the same thing atop the list of contenders, it’s getting to the point where a third meeting between the two might be the only option that remains for either man.

“I never put a big emphasis on it because people should know that I’m willing to fight for the title any time, but I’m also ready to do whatever it takes to get there. Now it’s getting to that point where we’re kind of wiping out everybody and that has been the plan from the beginning.

“I was never going to go out there and say, ‘I need this and I need that’ after I’ve had two (title shots); the plan has been to wipe out everybody, but it’s getting to that point where I have and so has he, so it’s going to be inevitable.”

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