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Benavidez aims to avenge lone loss in WEC 50

Instead of getting annoyed and agitated when his flight was canceled, Joseph Benavidez took advantage of the extra time he had to spend in Sacramento, Calif.

The extra day proved valuable, as Benavidez formed an alliance that has put him in position to achieve his dream.

In late 2006, Benavidez was an aspiring professional mixed martial artist with just two official fights on his record. He was in Sacramento visiting a friend and decided to try to meet with Urijah Faber, who had a new gym in town and was the biggest star in the World Extreme Cagefighting organization.

It didn’t work out, and Benavidez was ready to head back home to Las Cruces, N.M. His flight was canceled, however, giving Benavidez one more shot to cross paths with Faber.

They met and clicked, and two months later Benavidez had moved to Sacramento to train at Faber’s newly opened gym.

“My first impression was, ‘He’s too small,’ ” Faber said of that first meeting with the 5-foot-4-inch Benavidez. “But I’m not one to tell anybody no, so I said, ‘That’s great, man. This is the place to be.’ I rolled with him right away, and I said, ‘This kid’s tough.’ I could tell right away. I just gave him an invitation to come down and gave him a job at the gym.”

Benavidez took advantage of the opportunity to train at one of the nation’s elite MMA gyms, and tonight he will challenge Dominick Cruz for the bantamweight title at WEC 50 at the Palms.

Though Benavidez has compiled a 12-1 record, including four wins in five WEC appearances, the 26-year-old hasn’t coasted on his talent alone.

When Benavidez first arrived in California’s capital city, he spent his first day on the job at Ultimate Fitness passing out fliers. Soon he was opening the doors in the morning and cleaning up the place after everyone was done working out.

In between, Benavidez was sharpening his skills.

“Once he got there, I just realized that he had a work ethic and a mentality that’s 100 percent made for being a champion,” Faber said. “He was putting in overtime when he didn’t need to and putting in his time training, and I just knew he was going to be good.”

Faber’s evaluation could prove to be prophetic as his protege takes his first shot at a title against Cruz, who handed Benavidez the only loss of his career in a back-and-forth fight last August. The victory propelled Cruz to a title shot, which he took advantage of with a win over Brian Bowles in March.

“I’m so ready for this opportunity. I feel it’s the perfect (situation). It’s my only loss, and I get to avenge it for the world title,” Benavidez said. “The world title is such a motivator. It’s like a super power. It’s all I need to think about if I need to push through something.”

Benavidez said he has watched the loss to Cruz on tape “hundreds of times” and thinks the champion will employ the same strategy as he did in the first fight, while the challenger said he learned a great deal from the setback.

“I always thought I was going to go in there and just be more athletic and have better instincts than people,” he said. “When I ran into (Cruz), I realized he wasn’t just fighting. He had a plan. I changed my whole philosophy and the way I prepare for a fight.”

The change has showed, as Benavidez finished Rani Yahya and Miguel Torres since the loss to put himself back in line for the belt.

Las Vegan Shane Roller thought he did the same thing with a victory over Anthony Njokuani in April. Instead, the lightweight finds himself again fighting in what amounts to a No. 1 contender bout against Anthony Pettis.

“I don’t get caught up in that too much,” the three-time All-America wrestler at Oklahoma State said. “All I have to do is get in the cage and keep winning. It’s going to be four in a row that I have won. I think a title shot is coming.”

Chad Mendes, another member of Team Alpha Male with Faber and Benavidez, will meet Cub Swanson on the card. Also, Scott Jorgensen will fight Brad Pickett.

Njokuani, a Las Vegan, will try to rebound from his loss to Roller when he meets Maciej Jewtuszko on the undercard.

The first bout on the 10-fight card is scheduled for 3:30 p.m. at the Palms. The main card will air live on Versus (Cable 38) at 6.

Contact reporter Adam Hill at ahill@reviewjournal.com or 702-224-5509.

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