When Benavidez (18-3 MMA, 5-1 UFC) meets the Brazilian flyweight standout in the center of the cage at Mineirinho Arena in Belo Horizonte, Minas Gerais, Brazil, he'll be executing strategies devised several weeks prior by Team Alpha Male head coach Duane Ludwig, who took the job at the Sacramento, Calif., gym this past December.
Ludwig's plans will have been informed by years of experience as a professional muay Thai and MMA fighter, countless hours of footage watched on Formiga (15-2 MMA, 1-1 UFC), and, in all likelihood, a few puffs of marijuana.
Ludwig's admission earlier this year that he uses the recreational drug to help Team Alpha fighters to devise game plans seemed to come out of nowhere. It certainly took Benavidez by surprise. He had no idea that his coach smoked pot, and the job didn't exactly come with a job application and a urine test.
But then, as with now, Ludwig's recreation doesn't worry him.
"It came out of left field, but you hear people talk about it," Benavidez told MMAjunkie.com (www.mmajunkie.com
) while chatting backstage at Seattle's KeyArena during UFC on FOX 8. "Especially in California, I don't know if it's different, but you hear people talking about it, like the most random person ... 'Oh, I just got some weed.' You don't really think about it. You just expect people do.
"For me, I don't smoke, (and) I don't drink. I live a clean lifestyle. But I just feel that you've got to expect nowadays that this guy and this guy and everyone you see kind of smokes weed."
Benavidez admits he had his own period of experimentation while growing up in Las Cruces, N.M. At one point, he estimated he was being a little bit too adventurous with what he chose to put in his body. Eventually, he decided that he wanted to better himself and make his name outside his hometown bubble, so he quit doing everything.
Just walking around in his day-to-day life, however, he often notices he's in the minority when it comes to marijuana.
"The more I realize, I'm just out of the loop," said Benavidez. "I don't do it, but it's just like, 'Oh, he does? What?' So it never really surprises me, and it doesn't really matter to me."
And why would it? Under Ludwig, the team has notched a series of big wins. At UFC on FOX 7, no less than three Team Alpha Male fighters TKOd their opponents (after which they lobbied for a group bonus).
Before the veteran fighter showed up, team patriarch Urijah Faber admitted there wasn't really a head coach to guide the team. So with the inevitable ups and downs of a talented group of MMA fighters, there was little in the way of a rudder to keep course.
"It's the job that [Ludwig] is doing that matters, and he's doing a great job, obviously," Benavidez said. "So if that helps him ... some people want to drink coffee and go to work. He says it helps him. Maybe it wouldn't help me. Maybe it wouldn't help you. But if that's what helps him break down footage and be [obsessive-compulsive] and be obsessed about it and helps him and helps us, that's fine for me. It doesn't bother me."