After Personal Struggles, Joseph Benavidez Was ‘Possessed to Succeed’ in MMA


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Joseph Benavidez will try to become the UFC’s first flyweight champion Sept. 22 when he takes on Demetrious Johnson at UFC 152.

Ahead of the matchup, he joined host Jack Encarnacao on the Sherdog Radio Network’s “Rewind” show to discuss his life, his fight career and more.

Benavidez on his personal struggles: “I had a terrible drinking problem, also drugs, in my one year of college. When I didn’t go to college, I really moved back to New Mexico and didn’t have much to live for. I was somewhat of just a lowlife, kind of drank and did my share of drugs and everything and experimented. Like I said, I was just going down the same road. My dad had done this. My brother’s in prison right now for it. ... [I thought] I’ve got to make a change here.

“It wasn’t until I hit rock bottom. Me and another buddy kind of hit rock bottom together and just kind of made the decision. Like, ‘Hey man, this is not what we want to do. Let’s switch it up, not go out as much, not do this.’ Me and my buddy now, it’s been eight years that we haven’t touched alcohol or drugs or anything, and the cool thing about that is my friend now is a doctor and I’m in my position, about to go for a world title. It worked out pretty good for us.”

On how he joined up with Urijah Faber: “I actually just went to visit a friend in Sacramento and I remembered ... that Faber guy that I’ve seen on King of the Cage before is from somewhere around here. I looked and called a bunch of gyms and kind of tried to see if he trained. At the time I couldn’t find him until I went into another gym and beat all the guys up and they told me he had a gym, but that wasn’t until the day I had to leave. I had to leave and the flight gets cancelled. ... My flight got cancelled, and that’s why I ended up meeting him.”

On his move to California to train with Faber: “I went back [to New Mexico] and worked for two months, saved up money. That way I kind of had enough to live off of until I got on my feet over there, and that’s how it went. I just started working at the gym. Basically going into the gym from seven in the morning until eight at night, opening the gym, taking out the trash, cleaning the mats when everything was done, teaching a few classes, answering phones, doing everything I had to do. I was just possessed when I got there, literally. … I was just possessed to succeed.”

On fighting: “For me it’s a way to express myself. It’s just an experience for me. I live a quiet, boring life, especially since I stopped drinking. I don’t have crazy experiences. I don’t do crazy things. I’m basically kind of like an old soul, I feel, at heart. I watch a lot of TV, enjoy my food and everything. The fight is just a time when I can go out and express myself and just kind of feel alive.”

On whether a dark side comes out in the cage: “There’s always a certain place and I guess gear you kind of got to kick into to go win a fight decisively like that, but it’s not a dark place for me. There’s not like a dark, kind of hatred place. Even when I work out and I’m thinking about beating up this guy or [getting] motivated, I’m listening to classic love songs and the Beatles, Elton John, Billy Joel. As I’m running on the treadmill and shadow boxing. That’s just what I do. I listen to old-school R&B as I’m doing that. It’s not a dark place. It’s just a place -- I don’t know, it’s just more of an intensity. For me it’s just knowing like, ‘Wow, I get to do this. I get to hit this person as hard as I want.’ It’s just kind of seeing what you’re made of, is kind of the place I go to. Like, am I capable of this? And wow, it always surprises me. I guess that I am.”

On the flyweight title: “It’s always the goal, to go for a belt. When you get in the UFC and you look at your goals, long-term goals, it’s to be the UFC champion. It’s one of those things, though, where of course you hope for it and you work for it, but when it actually happens, you can’t even explain it and you can’t really even believe it. … Just thinking about it gives me chills. I can’t imagine how the actual feeling is going to feel once it happens come September 22.”

Listen to the full interview (beginning at 56:22).

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