Friday, Aug. 7, 2009 | midnight
Joseph Benavidez is one victory away from proving that dreams really do come true.
Three years ago, armed with nothing more than high school wrestling experience and knowledge of mixed martial arts from watching television, Benavidez decided to commit his life to becoming a professional MMA fighter.
The then-22-year-old quit his job as a screen printer in Las Cruces, N.M., packed whatever could fit into his car and drove more than 20 hours to Sacramento to start training with World Extreme Cagefighting legend Urijah Faber.
"I just love the sport," sad Benavidez, who won a New Mexico state wrestling title in 2000. "This is all I do and I love it."
Now, after amassing a 10-0 record including WEC victories over Danny Martinez and Jeff Curran, Benavidez finds himself pitted against Dominick Cruz in the undercard Sunday in WEC 42 at the Joint inside the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, which will be televised on VERSUS.
The victor Sunday will almost certainly earn a shot at the Bantamweight title against the winner of that night's championship bout between Brian Bowles and reigning champion Miguel Torres.
"It isn't official, but most people agree that this is a No. 1 contender fight," Benavidez said at a media workout at the Hard Rock Hotel Thursday. "I think that's why they put (Cruz and me) together. It would make a lot of sense."
At 5-foot-8, Cruz definitely holds a height advantage over the 5-foot-4 Benavidez. Cruz is also a more experienced fighter with a 13-1 record, including WEC victories over Charlie Valencia, Ian McCall and Ivan Lopez.
Cruz's lone loss came at the hands of Faber, Benavidez's original trainer, at WEC 26 in 2007. Since then Cruz has dropped a weight class and plowed through four straight opponents.
The 24-year-old also moved to San Diego to train with UFC standout Brandon Vera.
"I'm going to be the champion," Cruz said. "Keep watching, I'm on the way up."
Cruz knows he will have to keep Benavidez standing if he wants to utilize his size advantage and avoid Benavidez's natural wrestling skills. Cruz specializes in knockout victories while Benavidez primarily wins via submission.
But Benavidez seems confident no matter how the fight plays out.
"My advantage is my mental game," Benavidez said. "I feel good. I see myself going in there and winning every time. I know I'm more powerful than him. My punches have a lot more power, while his I think are more to just score points. I'm going to land some devastating shots. My grappling is much better on the ground than his too. Standing up we are equal, but if I can get him on the ground I've got it."
Unless the WEC hands Takeya Mizugaki a second shot at the Bantamweight crown, either Benavidez or Cruz will earn the distinction as No. 1 contender Sunday.
Neither fighter seemed to scare Torres or Bowles.
"I'm going to win and I heard one of those guys will be facing me, but I'm ready no matter who it is," Bowles said. "I don't care who they throw at me, I'll be ready."
Arguably one the coolest joints in town, the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino houses some of Vegas' best entertainment, restaurants and nightlife.
At Hard Rock, it's all about the music. From the light fixtures made out of drum cymbals and guitar shaped door handles to stage costumes and tools of the trade of legendary musicians displayed on the walls, the hotel screams rock and roll. The Hard Rock's Joint has hosted some the biggest names in music — from The Who to Bob Dylan to hometown heroes, The Killers.Aside from the music venues, the pool at the Hard Rock is one of its biggest attractions. Spread out over 4.7 acres, the pool area features swim-up blackjack, a bar and grill, private cabanas, a bevy of secluded nooks, a waterfall and an extensive live music venue with a dance floor. During the summer, the pool transforms into the Rehab club on Sunday afternoons.
The resident nightclub Body English fuses European elegance with a rock star bachelor pad and it often a hot spot for visiting celebs and popular DJs. Vintage rock memorabilia lines the walls at Wasted Space, Hard Rock's anti-club.
Restaurants at Hard Rock are just as hip as the rest of the casino. Pink Taco serves up Mexican dishes, as well as a Central American and Caribbean menu. Nobu, one of five worldwide Japanese-specialty restaurants from famed Nobu Matsuhisa, satisfies a different taste. For round-the-clock cuisine, Mr. Lucky's 24/7, is sure to ease your appetite even after a Vegas-all-nighter.
Steve Silver can be reached at 948-7822 or firstname.lastname@example.org.