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Benavidez pulling for (but not betting on) Cariaso

9/18/2014

Joseph Benavidez would love to believe 9-1 betting underdog Chris Cariaso has a chance to dethrone Demetrious Johnson at UFC 178 next weekend.

Oh man, would he love to believe that.

Benavidez (20-4) is in one of the more unfortunate spots in mixed martial arts. He is arguably the No. 2 fighter of his division, but he’s lost twice to the man (Johnson) ahead of him -- in September 2012 and last December.

To get back to a UFC title opportunity, Benavidez needs one of two things to happen: A long, impressive win streak (his guess is it would need to reach four in a row) or a Johnson loss. He’s operating under the assumption it will have to be the first option.

"It's funny," Benavidez told ESPN.com. "I’m not really wishing for [Johnson] to lose and I don’t necessarily get excited when he fights because as of late, honestly, I know he’s going to win. They get announced and I go, 'Oh. Another title defense.'

"I guess I just don't see another threat out there besides me and [John] Dodson and I had my chance to beat him. Every time he has a fight, I'm usually just, like, 'Damn. I messed this up. That should be my title defense.'"

Unfortunately for Benavidez, this is actually the second time in his career he has been in this position. Prior to the UFC's addition of a 125-pound weight class, he fought former bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz twice in the now-defunct WEC.

Like Johnson, Cruz defeated Benavidez both times and went on to hold the title until the UFC stripped him of it earlier this year due to injury. After losing to Cruz the second time in August 2011, Benavidez sort of wandered at bantamweight. He fought just three times in the next 19 months with no real rhyme or reason to the matchmaking.

The flyweight division finally debuted in early 2012.

A little more than two years later and Benavidez is in a similar spot. No fights seem to make sense. He hasn't fought since he submitted Tim Elliott at UFC 172 in April, even though he has been healthy and asked for a fight.

A UFC pay-per-view event came and went in Benavidez's hometown of Sacramento in August, but he didn't make the card. The UFC couldn't find the right opponent.

“I know I’m in an odd position,” Benavidez said. “I think I'm the next best guy in the division after Demetrious, but I can't fight him. And on the other side, we're short on flyweight contenders and the UFC doesn't want me knocking off the few we have.”

Benavidez might be forced into waiting for fights longer than usual, but the UFC actually has booked him two meaningful ones since the loss to Johnson in December.

Elliott (10-5-1) was on the fringe of a top-10 ranking when Benavidez tapped him in the first-round and anyone who follows the sport knows his next assignment, Dustin Ortiz on Nov. 22, is a legitimate test as well.

Ortiz (14-3) is 3-1 in the UFC and arguably should have been declared the winner of a split-decision loss to John Moraga in January.

“It's awesome that hard-core fans know how tough [Ortiz] is,” Benavidez said. “I have to beat him in a way that makes a statement. We've seen him fight top-level guys, so I think there's something to gain in this fight.

“See the competition he's fought and how those fights went -- and now compare that to how my fight will go with him. There is pressure on me to beat him worse than anyone else has.”

Ortiz, in fact, has never been finished in his professional career. If Benavidez can be the first to do so, he will have helped his cause in regards to a third UFC title shot. If he had to guess, no one else is going to help him with it.