Joseph Benavidez relishing his fourth — and likely last — shot at a title

Kevin Iole
Combat columnist
UFC flyweight Joseph Benavidez interacts with fans during the UFC Fan Experience at the Downtown Las Vegas Events Center on July 6, 2019 in Las Vegas. (Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

Megan Olivi’s broadcasting career has taken off because of how hard she works at it and her ability to focus on even the tiniest details. It doesn’t get much bigger for a reporter than working the sidelines for an NFL game.

Olivi made her name for herself working for the UFC, and she is taking on an increasingly larger role for the company on its ESPN broadcasts. 

During the UFC’s first show on ESPN at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn on Jan. 19, 2019, her professionalism was severely tested.

Olivi was backstage doing interviews with Paige VanZant, who had submitted Rachael Ostovich, and Donald Cerrone, who had knocked out Alexander Hernandez.

As she was doing the interviews, a fight was going on in the cage. She’d hear the crowd roar, and it was impossible for her to not react. Her husband, UFC flyweight Joseph Benavidez, was fighting Dustin Ortiz in a critical bout in his career as she was doing those interviews.

“I could hear the crowd and I didn’t know what was going on,” Olivi said. “At one point, the crowd went nuts, and I’m not going to lie to you: My heart kind of jumped in my chest. I was still trying to focus on the task in front of me. But I kind of looked to the side and I got a big thumbs up from everyone around me.”

Benavidez would go on to win that fight, and it helped position him for his shot at the vacant flyweight title on Saturday (8 p.m. ET, ESPN+) at Chartway Arena in Norfolk, Virginia, against Deiveson Figueiredo.

He’s probably the best fighter in the UFC to never have held a championship, though he lost title fights in excruciating fashion three times. He lost twice to Dominick Cruz at bantamweight, the second time for the World Extreme Cagefighting title, only a few months before the WEC was folded into the UFC.

When the UFC created the flyweight division, he was one of those in the original tournament. He lost a pair of title fights to Demetrious Johnson, the first of which he felt he’d done enough to win.

Benavidez said it was frustrating, particularly after he lost to Johnson by knockout the second time and had to wait for him to lose in order to reasonably hope to get another chance at the belt. When Henry Cejudo beat Johnson in 2018, Benavidez was optimistic, because he’d just beaten Cejudo. But he didn’t get the title shot until Cejudo vacated the belt to concentrate on defending the bantamweight title.

“I think everything that has gone on, how close I’ve gotten, is just going to make it all that much sweeter when I finally do [win the title],” Benavidez said. “The journey is what makes it all worthwhile. When I was young, I wanted to get in and I wanted to sprint to the finish line. I felt I was the best back then.

“But with experience, you look at things differently. Who knows what might have happened if I would have won the first time, or the second time, I fought for the title? I don’t know how the heck my life or my journey would be. Those fights I lose, they’re what got me to this opportunity, so the way it worked out, it’s going to make me value this so much more.”

Olivi supportive as Benavidez remains confident

Working in the same business gives Olivi a knowledge of her husband’s job that most spouses don’t have. But she said she never tries to advise him or point him in a certain direction.

Her role as his wife is to be supportive, she said, and Benavidez could barely contain himself as he spoke of how supportive she’s been to him since they met in 2009 in the lobby of the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas.

Her job could be made more difficult because of who her husband is, but he’s so universally well-liked that it’s never been a problem for her, even when she’s interviewed her husband’s potential or past opponents.

“Demetrious couldn’t not have been kinder to me when I have interviewed him,” she said. “I’ve interviewed Henry dozens of times and it could have been weird when they fought because of the intense rivalry from ‘The Ultimate Fighter,’ but I’m fortunate. I married a man who is so well respected and so well-liked that nobody is ever angry at him. People will tell me how much they love him.

“After Jorge Masvidal knocked out Ben Askren to set a record, we started to do our interview and he said, ‘Your man looked amazing.’ I was there to talk about him setting this record and he’s talking about Joseph, because that’s the kind of respect Joseph gets from [his peers].”

He doesn’t want to be known, though, as the guy who always came up short in his biggest fights. And he’s confident that he’ll finally get over the top in his fourth crack at the belt.

He’s certain he’s going to have the belt around his waist on Saturday. What he’s not certain of is how he’ll react. He loves to cry, he said, and expects the tears to flow.

“I love crying,” he said, chuckling. “I pick movies to go see with the intention of crying. I’ll say, ‘Is this movie going to make me cry? Yeah? OK, let’s go.’ If I’m not going to cry, I don’t want to watch it. So I’ll probably cry, but that will be good, right? It will mean I’ve fulfilled this goal I’ve had for so long and that I can tell myself that forever and ever, at one point in time, I was the best in the the world at what I did.”

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