Maybe you'll understand what a UFC title fight means to a guy like Joseph Benavidez if I tell you that it wasn't so long ago that he was fighting in bars in his underwear. I mean that literally. Benavidez made his professional debut in a "kind of scary" New Mexico bar, and the trunks he wore in the fight were, if you want to get technical about it, a pair of briefs he bought at Target.
"I just thought they looked so good, no one would know," Benavidez told me when discussing his MMA debut last August.
He won that fight, by the way. He kept on with the Target underwear for years, only partly because he won every fight he ever wore them in. Now he's less than two weeks away from a historic bout against Demetrious Johnson at UFC 152, one that could make him the first ever UFC flyweight champion, but his mind never strays far from the underwear days of his MMA career.
"Every day I think about that," Benavidez said. "Not a day passes that I don't think about where I started and how far I've come."
For the lighter weight classes – and for fighters like Benavidez, who populate them – it's been a struggle to get a foothold in an MMA landscape dominated by the big men. For years, the 205-pounders and the heavyweights have been the main attraction, with the UFC slowly adding more and more divisions further down the scale. First it was the lightweights who longed for a permanent home. Then the featherweights and bantamweights finally got their own UFC divisions after the WEC merger.