Joe Jistu Master Joseph Benavidez. Photo via WEC.
Team Alpha Male's Joseph Benavidez is one of the very best bantamweights in the entire world. But he's much more than a fighter. In an exclusive interview, Benavidez explains his new manifesto The Complete Complex Living, Breathing Guide To Joe-Jitsu, how he met Urijah Faber, and why his future may be at 125 pounds.
Jonathan Snowden: So, for those that haven't seen it, tell me about Joe Jitsu. It's right up there with Joe Son Do, SAFTA, and Pit Fighting among my favorite martial arts in all of MMA.
Joseph Benavidez: Well, Joe Jitsu really started with me beating jiu jitsu black belts relentlessly. Mercilessly. That was always the top martial artist - the Brazilian jiu jitsu black belt. Once I started beating them, I knew I had what it takes to form a new martial art. That's when I came up with Joe Jitsu, my namesake, so my legacy lives forever through the martial arts. It's truly the most devastating discipline in all of MMA.
Jonathan Snowden: Here's what I liked - with most things, when you get really good you can declare yourself "awesome." That's kind of the pinnacle of achievement. With Joe Jitsu, it's just a jumping off point.
Joseph Benavidez: Yeah. People taking up tha art who are just awesome, we call them "normies." Just regular, everyday people who aren't in Joe Jitsu. I feel for most people, awesome is the end all, be all. The pinnacle. The best compliment you can give something is to call it awesome. In Joe Jitsu we're on another level. That's just a starting point. The pinnacle for "Normies" is just the start for Joe Jitsu. Then we move into ranks so great that the words were indefinable before Joe Jitsu. The ranks are Terocious, Sexcellent, Scrumtralecent being the highest.
The Snakeskin Belt belonging to anyone reaching the rank of "Sexellent" via heavy.com
Jonathan Snowden: When you talk to fighters you always hear things like "I roll with that guy, he's as good as a black belt." Are there guys out their not practicing Joe Jitsu who would immediately be ready for the Tie Dye Belt that goes with being Scrumtralecent?
Joseph Benavidez: There are definitely guys out there that are ready for it. I was one of those guys. I was a top fighter, but I didn't have a belt rank. Of course, in Joe Jitsu it is about a lot more than fighting. It depends on their style, their confidence, the way that their hair falls in the morning, the way that their clothes look. It's more state of mind. I've seen Plaid Belts tap out Tie Dye Belts. But the Tie Dye Belt might have more life skills, that's why he has the rank. That's why he's where he is. It's about becoming a well rounded individual.
Jonathan Snowden: Your system is more than just belts. You've got patches people can earn too, including the Bowling Patch, Mile High Patch, and Good Housekeeping Patch. Have you personally earned all the patches in the system or are some of them aspirational? Stuff you're looking to achieve.
Joseph Benavidez: I've mastered all the patches. And if you don't have your Sewing Patch, I can sew them on for you. I've got them all, that's how I knew to put them out there. With a lot of people I think fighting and jiu jitsu kind of consumes their lives. They have a hard time doing anything else outside of that. It's cool that you're a fighter and a black belt. What else can you do? That's what I'm asking.
Yeah, it's impressive to be a jiu jitsu master. It's more impressive if you are a jiu jitsu master that can bowl a 156. I know you're saying 'That's not that hard, a 156.' But we really just expect mediocrity in other areas of life. If you bowl a 156, people will say 'Wow, that guy's a decent bowler.' That's all we really need. You have to be decent in other things.
Jonathan Snowden: Your signature submission hold throughout your career has been the guillotine. Do you have a different name for it in Joe Jitsu?
Joseph Benavidez: You know what? I haven't gotten to that. I just call it a guillotine. What I do have is a glossary of terms just for Joe Jitsu. Like for example, the most desired quality to have in Joe Jitsu, the tell tale sign of a Joe Jitsu master, is "prettyhardtoholdontoness." You're not so worried about strength or submission ability. Not speed. Prettyhardtoholdontoness -can't be held down. You're pretty hard to hold on to. If you get the Snake Belt and everything that comes with it: the python grip, the cobra like reflexes, the most important thing is still the hardtoholdontoness.
Jonathan Snowden: I've seen you fight a bunch of times in the WEC..
Joseph Benavidez: And no one could hold on to me right?
Jonathan Snowden: It's true, no one could. But they didn't let me know you were a funny guy. Is this part of your life something you are going to try to put out there more to share with the fans. So fans can know a little bit more about your personality? Because Joe Jitsu is a good start.
Joseph Benavidez: I'm actually a pretty quiet guy when it comes to fighting. I'm pretty serious. When I go out to fight people I'm not a big talker. I'm not going to bag on people and make funny jokes about my opponent. I just respect every opponent I go in against. They've done the same kind of preparation as me. If I'm talking a bunch of smack and lose, I'm the one that looks like a jackass. You're already fighting the person and are going to go out and try to punch them in the face. Why do you want to call them a name or make fun of their hair or something?
Jonathan Snowden: You're already going to try to hurt the guy. Why hurt his feelings?
Joseph Benavidez: Exactly. I'm one of those guys who never want to bring attention to myself. I want them to overlook me, right up until I kick his ass. But if you talk, then even if you win a close fight it doesn't look good. I just like to keep quiet and let my fighting do the talking. People that know me know that I have a unique sense of humor. I think I'm showing that a little bit with my Complex, Living, Breathing, Guide to Joe Jitsu. It's a trip into my mind and my sense of humor. I worked hard on it. It was like being back in school, writing, brainstorming. I think it's important to put that part of yourself out there. Everyone turns on TV and sees you as a fighter, but it's great for people to be able to relate to you outside of that. They know that your a funny guy and not just a great fighter. They have more invested in your fights and are with you win or lose.
More with Joseph Benavidez including the possibility of a drop to 125 and meeting Urijah Faber after the jump.
Jonathan Snowden: It seems like your entire team, Team Alpha Male, has the same philosophy. I can't remember any of you guys ever talking a bunch of trash. Are there a bunch of similar personalities to yours in the gym?
Joseph Benavidez: Yeah, that's kind of our motto. Real alpha males don't flex much. Top guys in MMA or anything else in life don't have to talk about it. You don't have to flex much. It's a soft spoken confidence. There's a difference between that and a cocky arrogance.
Jonathan Snowden: Getting hooked up with Team Alpha Male seems to have been a turning point in your life. And yet, it almost didn't happen. You almost flew home without ever meeting Urijah. How did that go down?
Joseph Benavidez: Me being out here with the group I'm with, like you just said, and all of us being like-minded individuals, I think all of that was fate. I couldn't see my life any other way than being with the people and friends that I'm with right now. It was all fate. I came out to California to visit a good friend from New Mexico which is where I'm from. He had lived here and was my best friend. I just came out to visit.
I already had five fights, fights that aren't on my record so I am actually 18-2. They were pro fights, I was getting paid, but I guess they just weren't sanctioned so they aren't on my record. Anyway, while I'm out here, I was already thinking about taking my fighting to the next level and what place better than California? I was looking for gyms to train at and I knew Urijah trained in the area. At the time the gym, Ultimate Fitness, had just opened so it wasn't in the phone book.
I ended up training with another small gym and I ended up beating up everybody in there.In the end, I asked the trainer there 'Hey man, can you guys help me out? I'm from New Mexico and I really want to take this to another level.' They told me, 'We don't really have any connections and you've beat up everyone in here. We can't really do anything for you. You would be better suited to go hit up Urijah Faber.' Finally! That was what I was looking for the whole time.
The problem was I was supposed to fly out the very next day. I'd been looking the whole time, so I was a little depressed. Being from New Mexico I thought 'Well, maybe I'll just roll up to Alberquerque and train with Greg Jackson who also has a great gym.' But that's where fate comes in. My flight got canceled and I got to stay in Sacramento for two more days. That's when I went into the gym and met Urijah. I told him about my aspirations to become a professional fighter and do it for a living. Urijah, being the guy he is was like 'Cool. You want to grapple? Let's see what you've got.'
So we ended up having a nice little grappling session. He told me I was incredibly talented and we got along from day one. We were already laughing and cracking jokes. He's a cool dude. He said I could come down and work at the gym. So I did. I went to New Mexico for two months and saved as much money as I could, drove up in my 1986 Lincoln Continental. Twenty something hours. When I got here I was basically the janitor at the gym. I cleaned, opened it up, mopped, swept the mats at the end of the night. Did what I had to do, worked hard, and slowly got fights and started building my name. Here I am now.
Jonathan Snowden: Here you are. And it's an interesting place. Where do you see yourself in this division? Because you've beaten Miguel Torres, and Fabiano, top guys. Is it hard for Sean Shelby to make matches for you? You're on a level above almost everyone else, but you've already fought the champion (Dominick Cruz) twice.
Joseph Benavidez: I know it. I'm in such a weird position. It seems like only I could ever be in such a position. That's just my life. I lost to Cruz already, was almost on top but didn't quite get there, I am in weird position. I think the matchmakers would agree that I'm on the level where I should be fighting a contender, a top ten or top five guy every single fight. Which I have for my last six fights, I've fought guys in the top ten. But I can't fight for a title, I can't fight Cruz again anytime soon, until we both wipe out everyone else in the division. And I won't fight Faber either.
But they know if they put me against another top guy who they want to challenge for the title afterwards, that I'll beat them. So they'll lose a contender. They can't do a number one contender fight with me because if I win, I can't fight Cruz. And they'd lose the other guy's legitimacy by me beating him. It's a weird position. They're going to have to find someone with enough balls to take a big step up. I'm young in the sport though. I think I'm going to be doing this for a long time. So it will work out.
Jonathan Snowden: It kind of reminds me of where Jon Fitch sits in the welterweight division. He's lost to GSP, but he would likely wipe the mats with their other contenders.
Joseph Benavidez: He might beat the other guys who they want to challenge, right. I can definitely see me in that spot. I have such a long time to fight though, and I'm improving. My two fights with Cruz, there was just a year between them and I improved a ton. It was a matter of inches separating me from being the world champ right now. That's something a lot of people forget.
Some people have me ranked down at four or five in the world. It's like 'Did you see how well I did against Cruz compared to Jorgenson?' People forget. When I moved down here four years ago, Dominick Cruz and Urijah were fighting for the world title. Dominick Cruz was fighting for the world championship and I had barely started fighting professionally yet.
Jonathan Snowden: You feel like you haven't even reached your peak yet?
Joseph Benavidez:Yeah, I'm still improving. They talk about a 125 pound weight class. I think I'd be well suited for that. That said, I think I'm the best fighter in the world at 135. A few things didn't go my way, but I think I can beat anyone in the division on a given day.
Jonathan Snowden: I know you wrestled in high school at barely over 100 pounds. You feel good about making 125?
Joseph Benavidez: It would definitely be a problem. The problem would be I have to diet. Which I hate doing. That's why they call me the beefcake, because I eat a lot. There was a span of time there where I actually started lifting and eating to gain weight and I actually gained 10 pounds super fast. That was after my first loss to Cruz. The reason I lost is partly because the guy was way bigger than me. I could feel it in there. I needed to gain some weight, so I did.
At that point it would have been easy to make 125. I was walking around at 140. But I gained 10 pounds with a strenght and conditioning program and a lot of eating. Since then, I've been walking around at a steady 150. But Faber cuts to 135 and he weighs 160. I know a lot of the guys, even Dominick Cruz, get up into the 60's. That would be just like me cutting to 125.
Basically I would have to do what everybody else in MMA does. Which is diet. I would do it. It would be worth it, something I'd have to at least try. It'd be hard. It wouldn't be fun. But I'm used to sacrifice.
Jonathan Snowden: There are some great fighters in that weight class, like John Dodson from your home state of New Mexico, who are amazing. I think you'd be great there.
Joseph Benavidez: I actually wrestled John Dodson a few times. I know he's a great 125 pounder. Super exciting. I actually wrestled him in high school. We were both state champions in different divisions and we wrestled. I beat him by the way.
Jonathan Snowden: (Laughs) Well it would be cool to see you renew that rivalry. But whether it's 125 or 135, I look forward to seeing your next fight. I'm totally a normie right now, but as soon as I'm awesome, I'll be looking into Joe Jitsu.
Joseph Benavidez: I think you're cutting yourself short dude. I think you're awesome and probably knocking on the door of Terocious.
Jonathan Snowden: Well, next time we see each other, I'll have you sew on some patches.
Joseph Benavidez: Excellent.
Check out Joe's The Complete Complex Living, Breathing Guide To Joe-Jitsu at Heavy.com. After this interview was conducted it was announced Joe would fight Ian Loveland at UFC 128. Follow him on Twitter and tell him Bloody Elbow sent you.