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Tomorrow is the biggest fight of Joseph Benavidez's career. The Team Alpha Male bantamweight is not only fighting for the WEC's bantamweight title, he has the opportunity to avenge the only loss on his career - a three-round decision loss to Dominck Cruz (now the champion) in August of 2009.
On Sunday, I caught up with Benavidez on MMA Nation on 106.7 The Fan in Washington, DC. There is some skepticism about Cruz's chances, if for no other reason than physical body type differences accentuated by a persistent jab and good takedowns/takedown defense from Cruz. But Benavidez believes this time will be different. He's got five rounds to get the job done against a poor finisher in Cruz. He also believes his talent has matured and his athleticism more honed. His points to two finishes since that loss as evidence of his growth
Win or lose, he and his teammate Urijah Faber - who Benavidez believes is in fine spirits despite a loss to Aldo - are in good places in their careers. He's got financial managers, a gigantic and robust support system, friends and most importantly, a love for what he's doing.
In this interview (mp3 link here for listeners using mobile devices), we talk to Cruz about his growth, his love of the game, Faber's future and spirits, fighting teammates and much more.
ENTIRE INTERVIEW HERE:
How are you sir?
Doing awesome, just about to get a little workout in. Chillin' here in Vegas already.
135. Easy for you to make with the cut?
Yeah it's pretty easy, man. I mean, I eat all the way up until the fight. When I get here I'm pretty much my walking around weight, you know? Maybe a little thinner about 145 and then kind of lose all the weight then. I eat all the way up to the day of the weigh ins and the last day I probably lose 4 or 5 pounds.
And that's no problem? Your body is accustomed to that cut?
Yeah, it's pretty simple for me actually.
Let me ask you a sort of random question here. When you leave town and come to Vegas for this fight. How many guys come with you to help you cut weight, hit pads, how many guys?
Entourage. This fight, you know, it's great. We have a bunch of guys. It's the first time we actually have four guys from our gym fighting on this card. Me, Chad Mendez, Danny Castillo who go the fight on short notice and we have a guy Brian Carraway who moved down from Washington and made the perminent move.
That's the same Brian Caraway from Team Quest, or formerly of Team Quest?
Yup. Team Quest and I think he was at Team Victory with Dennis Hallman.
So wait, is that how Miesha Tate ended up at Team Alpha Male, or at least training at Team Alpha Male before this fight?
You're a smart man. It is.
Tell me about Team Alpha Male, I've interviewed Urijah. He couldn't be a nicer guy, really down to earth, really cool. Are there a lot of chicks there? what is the dynamic?
As far as chicks go, there aren't too many that actually fight. But we train out of the Ultimate Fitness gym which Urijah co-owns with Matt Fisher. And we have over 500 member so we have all kinds of different walks in there. I mean, we have the pro fighters training to fight every day and then you've got sixty year old men and women who are in there just to get in shape, you have younger kids in there all during the summer trying to do it and it's awesome. All the way from the ownership down to the members are great people and there's a great energy in the gym. The dynamic is just rare in the sport for anyone. We're all like brothers and we love eachother. Like you said Urijah, he's the head of the guys and he represents us and you couldn't find a nicer guy and that kind of just goes all the way down through the whole team.
I'll make an argument, just playing devil's advocate, not saying it's my position. You just tell me how you feel about it. The argument is that teammates should fight teammates and this is relevant now that Urijah dropped to your weight class. Teammates should fight teammates because if you accept the idea that what you're doing is sport, teammates should be able to compete in that activity without there being lingering issues. If this is just a sport then that's the beginning and end of it. How do you respond to that?
I don't think teammates should fight each other. As far as it being just a sport, we fight each other in there every day and we're teammates in that aspect. We punch each other in the face and it gets competitive in pracitce every day. But we're in there helping with an ultimate goal which is to go fight someone else, make a living and make a good career. We're helping these people in the gym by helping them and fighting them and shaking hands afterward like a sport. But we're not going to go in there and try to basically crush each other's dream and really crush each other because that's what we're helping do every day.
So you believe this impacts their ability to make a living?
Well, yeah. You're in there basically trying to, you know put a loss on their record. It takes money from them, you know.
But, let me make the counter argument to that. A big fight between two teammates may sell a lot of pay-per-view buys.
In that aspect, I've said it before. I don't want to fight Urijah, I mean, money and everything aside. Some teammates maybe could fight each other. If you're getting towards me and Urijah fighting, that's not going to happen. The guy is a mentor and he's been there with me from step one of my career. I have no desire to go in and fight him, that's not going to happen. I could see other teammates doing it.
Let's talk about your fight with Dominick Cruz. You have many wins in professional MMA, you've done very well. So well, in fact, that in 13 fights Dominick Cruz is your only loss. I will say, I did pick you in that fight and I was very surpirised that Dominick won that fight. He performed very ably in controlling takedowns and using the jab to keep you away. You are a shorter guy than him. That hasn't changed in the fight, you will still be the shorter guy...he will still be longer and lankier. What has changed since that fight?
Obviously me as a fighter has changed drastically. You see that loss I had against him and even my two fights before that I went to decision with Danny Martinez and Jeff Curran which are great fighters, but I went to three decisions and one loss. But since that one loss and being awakened and re-inspired I've finished two fights in a row. As a fighter I've changed totally. That says it all. Breaking it down even more, physically I've changed. Like we talked about earlier a lot of bantamweights are bigger than me so I had to actually put on some weight and get on a strength program. Other than that man, it's just the mentality. It really helps you to peak into some potential you might not have if you just kept winning. You just do what you have to do. But guys with a championship mentality, like myself, when you lose and you're going to dig deep to bring out the best in you. I've changed a lot of ways I prepare for a fight and it showed in the last two fights. You know, those two fights brought confidence and that is huge in a fight.
Kenny Florian told me after the loss to Sean Sherk he decided he had to be a little meaner. He had to fight more viciously. Your last opponent had to get facial surgery to repair the damage you caused. Would you say that happened to you after your loss to Dominick Cruz? Did you get meaner?
I would never say I had a problem being vicious and aggressive. I wouldn't say I got meaner. I just got better. It wasn't so much a meanness thing. I got hungrier. I always thought I was the best in the world and I was on that track to be the best in the world. So when I lose I have a lot to prove to myself and to prove to everyone else. So that hunger and determination is there ten times more than it was before. I always thought I was going to be the best in the world and was on that track and when I lost to Dominick Cruz it knocked me off. Now I'm back and got my two great wins. I couldn't have set it up any better than the actual title man and I think it's fate the way it happened.
Do you think Dominick Cruz has a shaky chin?
A shaky chin?
Is he more susceptable to being knocked out than others? How strong is his chin?
I'm not sure, you know? The guy moves his head so much you haven't seen him get super clean. I don't think his chin has really been tested, he moves around so much. I was getting him really good on the feet last time and that's another place I'm going to look to win the fight. And that's why he looked to take me down. At that point in my career I didn't respect the takedown enough I always just figured I'd get right up. And I was right, I did just get right up but that was the difference in the fight still. I'm just going to be aware of that and I'm looking to test his chin. Maybe I'll be able to answer that question next week.
(James) You just talked about how easy the cut to 135 is for you. There have been talks for a while about the WEC bringing in a 125 division. Do you think that would suit you more than bantamweight or would you prefer to stay at 135 since you're having success and fighting for a title?
Absolutely I'd love to stay at 135, I think I can be the best in the world at 135 and I can eat more. I wouldn't want to sacrifice eating. They call me the beefcake for a reason and that's because I eat pretty much what I want and I wouldn't want to diet too much. If the opportunity called for Urijah to be the champion at 135 and me and him could both be champions and we have our guy Chad Mendez at 145. If everything was right and the publicity and demand at 125 was right I would be the one to go down there. Yeah.
Let's say you win and become the new WEC bantamweight champion and defend the title and along comes Urijah with three wins in a row. To the point where the only fight is one with you and you decide not to take it. Would you abandon your title to avoid a fight with Urijah?
Well, I don't think it would come to that where they would make me relinquish the title not to fight him. So I guess we'd cross that bridge when we get there. The thing with Urijah is that he is going down to reinvent himself. It's a great weight for him where he should have been fighting all along. There are always going to be people who want to see Urijah fight anyone. Now he has a lot of new fights, he can go up, he can go down, they're always going to want to see it. That is the fight people are going to want to see but I don't think it'll come to that where I have to relinquish my title if I'm not going to fight him.
How did he handle the loss to Jose Aldo? How is he doing now?
He's great man. One thing about Urijah, that guy is one of the most positive guys ever. That's one thing I saw about him right off the bat I knew I could learn a lot from him. Of course, fighting is our life but there's so much more to it about being happy and he's just glad this is still his life and he has a great life. He's a practical guy, he went out there and got beat by a better guy that night and there's nothing you can do. You can't pout about it. He was making videos about his leg and talking to fans about it. I don't think it bothered him too much.
In your mind who can beat Jose Aldo?
Yikes. I think here in about a year we're prepping Chad Mendez to be able to beat him and he's a great prospect on the right.
But right now, in the next 3 months? Anyone out there that can give him a run?
No one comes right to mind. Gamburyan is up next. There's a guy who fights in Sengoku, Marlon Sandro, who has been killing people. And he's actually teammates with Jose Aldo. They wouldn't fight each other either. Make Aldo relinquish the belt.
We could always make more money. You've got 12 wins, only 1 loss. You're in a good place in terms of beating your peers. Are you where you want to be in terms of making money? I don't want to comment on WEC, it is what it is. But do you feel like you're starting to make the kind of money you want to make because we are seeing your face more in those Amped Energy ads.
Yeah, you know. Of course I'm happy. I'm so grateful that this is my life. I'm doing what I want to do every day. Every morning I have to wake up and go to the gym and train and that's what I want to do. I couldn't see my life any other way. If I had to live in a freakin shack and take the bus to work and this was all I had to do every day I would love it and I wouldn't have it any other way.
When you hear stories about Joe Stevenson having to go to Mexico to get his knee x-rayed does that scare you?
No, that doesn't scare me too much.
Do you have a financial planner? Is there financial planning involved with the team?
Definitely. We have all that stuff, retirement funds. Managers help me set up everything and I have a great team.
Do you have facebook or twitter?
I don't have a Facebook, but I did get a Twitter before my last fight so anyone that wants to follow me it's @JoeB135.