Now-healthy Benavidez sees UFC title shot next with win

LAS VEGAS -- It's a weekday afternoon at the UFC's Performance Institute. The gym's speakers are pumping in the smooth sounds of George Michael, and the second best flyweight in the world is darting in out and out of combinations, occasionally dancing in between.

Joseph Benavidez is nearly all the way back.

After losing all of 2017 to a torn ACL, Benavidez (25-4) is in the early stage of a fight camp. He faces Sergio Pettis (16-3) at UFC 225 on June 9 in Chicago. By that time, the 33-year-old will have gone 18 months between bouts.

Despite the time off, Benavidez remains the No. 2 ranked flyweight -- and he's not convinced fans will even remember the layoff once it's officially over.

"This sport is crazy, it moves along and we all have a short memory," Benavidez told ESPN. "No one realizes when fighters are out. They just remember their last fight and how they look now. That's what I was looking forward to this whole time of recovery. 'No one will remember this. They'll just remember my fight.'"

Benavidez has worn that label of "second best" since 2012, when he lost to Demetrious Johnson in a UFC championship fight. He lost to him again in 2013, and has been in a state of title shot purgatory since, despite a pristine 6-0 record. Johnson has gone on to defend the title 11 straight times.

With the first major injury of his career behind him, and a highly-ranked Pettis ahead, Benavidez believes he's finally close to securing a third UFC title shot, even if that means setting up a third bout against a champion who's defeated him twice.

"For anyone who says I shouldn't [get a shot] or that I've fought him twice or whatever -- I realize when there is money to be made, maybe you'll pick the No. 8 guy in the division because it will sell more," Benavidez said. "But with our division, there's not a star. Demetrious is the best fighter ever, and he's not a star.

"So what do we really have? All we have is our talent. That's what's great about the division, you can see things that 125-pound guys can do that some other guys can't. All we have is our skill. So if we don't have a big fight, why wouldn't you have the best fighters fight?"

The UFC has expressed interest in a super fight between Johnson and bantamweight champion T.J. Dillashaw, but those discussions have cooled in recent months.

If that were to come together, Benavidez understands its the special type of circumstance that would take precedence over his rank. But if it doesn't, there is no high profile flyweight title fight to sell to the masses.

So for the first time since 2013, let's see No. 1 face the legitimate No. 2.

"I think we could fight 10 times and it would be just as exciting as him fighting anyone else," Benavidez said. "I don't think there's such a thing as a big or small way of asking for this. What am I gonna do? Get an airplane and write it in the sky? The UFC knows I want it. They know I'm the next best guy.

"I think right now, there's a valid point for me to not get a title fight, because of the injury. But if I win seven in a row, I don't think there's an argument against it anymore."