Gabriel Benitez (20-6) turned heads last time out against Jason Knight. The TUF Latin America veteran dominated the previously surging Knight en route to a unanimous decision on the undercard of UFC Fight Night: Swanson vs. Ortega.
“In my last fight, I feel like I stuck to my plan and I did the things I needed to do right,” said Benitez. “I feel fine with my performance, but I just want to get better. I want to be fighting better in every fight.”
The native of Baja, California, Mexico — who trains at AKA — will get the chance to improve this Saturday when he faces Humberto Bandenay (14-4) at UFC Fight Night: Maia vs. Usman in Santiago, Chile.
Benitez has now been in the UFC for four years, having debuted at UFC 188 in 2014. There he beat Humberto Brown via submission. Since then he has picked up wins versus Clay Collard and Sam Sicilia, but also lost to Andre Fili and Enrique Barzola.
Over that time, Benitez said he has improved in all dimensions of his game. He gave his team at AKA the credit for this, but singled out training partners Thomas Diagne and Josh Thomson for special praise.
“I have good teammates and I feel like I am getting better everyday and I think I have improved a lot over the past four years, but I need more,” said Benitez. “In my mind, I know I need more development and I want more. I know I gave a good performance in my last fight, but I know I can do more and better.”
Benitez said he was happy with his striking and take down defense versus Knight in December and that wrestling has remained a special focus of his on the mats at AKA. That’s something he’s eager to show against the strike-first Bandenay whom he meets on Saturday.
The Peruvian Bandenay made his UFC debut last August (at UFC Fight Night: Pettis vs. Moreno). He faced Martin Bravo (who is from the same state as Benitez) and won via headkick KO in just 26 seconds. The stoppage earned the debutante a Performance of the Night bonus.
Benitez, who stopped short of calling the kick a fluke, isn’t particularly impressed by that win.
“You know what, in a fight anything can happen, right?” he said. “Martin tried to drop for a take down in that fight, and this guy threw a kick, but he caught him with the knee. And it’s MMA, this kind of thing can happen. One punch can end a fight and that can end a fight.”
‘Moggly’s overall assessment of Bandenay is a little more flattering.
“I think he’s a good fighter. Because if he’s not a good fighter, he’s not in the UFC, right? He has the skills and the weapons to be here, but I have the same thing. We both have two arms and two legs, but my skills are getting better everyday. He’s a good fighter and that’s it.”
When asked if he saw this fight as an opportunity to avenge his fellow Baja Californian, Benitez rubbished the idea. “This is my fight and this is my Octagon. This is for me, not for everyone. Not for other people.”
Benitez also shook off the notion that he has grounds to be disappointed at being matched with a UFC sophomore after just upsetting a ranked featherweight.
“I don’t care if I’m fighting a guy who has only one fight in the UFC.
“In my last fight I fought a guy in the top 15, this guy only has one fight, but who cares? I came to this company to fight! For me, I don’t want to be the number nine in my division and not have a fight. I’m here to fight and it doesn’t matter with who.”
Benitez added that his sole focus is Bandenay heading into UFC Chile; even if the top of the featherweight division is especially interesting at the moment.
“My division is good. It’s more competitive and it’s exciting. I’m waiting for fights with the top guys, but I need to win this fight first. I can’t think about the top guys in my division. I think about Humberto and this fight and I do the best for me.”
Humberto Bandenay vs. Gabriel Benitez takes place this Saturday on the FS2 Prelims. That portion of the card begins at 8PM ET and is headlined by Zak Cummings vs. Michel Prazeres.