"It’s really all heart, and that’s one thing you can’t really teach. You’re either born with that or you’re not, and you can’t even train it." - Lance Benoist
After going a reported 14-0-1 as an amateur mixed martial artist and 6-0 as a professional, you could excuse Lance Benoist if he’s stumped when asked for the last time he’s lost at anything.
“I don’t know,” he muses. “Video games? I do lose in video games from time to time, that’s for sure.”
Benoist laughs, but getting his sixth pro MMA win was no laughing matter, as he was forced to pass the gut check that you hope all promising fighters have the intangibles to succeed in. For the St. Louis native, that not only meant going three hard rounds with Matt Riddle last September and still getting the “W,” but also doing it for much of the fight with a broken nose that sent blood flying around the Octagon at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center in New Orleans.
“It’s really all heart, and that’s one thing you can’t really teach,” said the 23-year old. “You’re either born with that or you’re not, and you can’t even train it. You never know how you’re gonna react in a fight with a broken nose when you’re bleeding all over the place. It gives me confidence to know that I can sustain an injury like that and push past it, but I’m lying if I didn’t say it affected me in some ways during the fight. It was a little harder to breathe of course, but needless to say I did what I had to do and I’m glad I came out on top with the W.”
The decision in Benoist’s favor was close, but unanimous, and he and Riddle also picked up a well-deserved Fight of the Night bonus to boot. It was the perfect way for Benoist to debut in the UFC, and as fans raved about him on message boards after the fight, the first one to fill him in with all the news was his twin brother Logan.
“I never paid too much attention to things on the internet, but he was always the first person to run to me and tell me ‘hey did you hear this or hear that?’” said Lance of his brother. “He always kept a close eye on what everyone was saying on the internet, and I think he was one of the first people to inform me that I got Fight of the Night.”
The joy of the victory was short-lived though. Benoist went through two surgeries to repair his broken nose (the second necessary after the first one still left him with less than optimum breathing ability), putting him on the shelf for the last eight-plus months. But the biggest blow came on Monday, April 23rd, when Logan was killed in an automobile accident in which he was a passenger in a car driven by his friend. The United States Marine Corps veteran, who had served in Iraq, was just 23.
Yet despite being just a little over a month removed from his brother’s death, Benoist will go on with his June 8th fight with Seth Baczynski in Florida.
“I know that he’d want me to fight and continue on, regardless of any circumstances, so I’m doing my best to put a smile on and carry on for him,” said Benoist, who called his long layoff “a blessing in disguise because it provided me some time with my brother.”
It is a tough ordeal to go through at any time, let alone just before a pivotal fight, but Benoist fights on, perhaps using his training and preparation to simply have something to occupy his mind and his time. But it’s not easy.
“It’s extremely hard,” he said. “The amount of hours you put into everything is trying enough, without trying to get through something like what I’m going through now. It’s been a nightmare, I’ve gotta be honest with you. Everyone tells me I’m doing a really good job handling it, although at times I feel like they’re just telling me what they think I want to hear. I think I’m a relatively strong person, both physically and mentally, and I gotta say I’m proud of myself and I think he would be too.”
This is what separates fighters from the rest of the world. When you get hit in the face, you tell yourself it doesn’t hurt, and when you’re hurting from life outside of the ring, you tell yourself you can still move forward and keep fighting. If you don’t know the kind of character Lance Benoist has, you saw a little last September and you’re seeing a lot now. But that’s something you don’t know you have in your heart until you’re tested.
“You’re always aware that these sorts of things can happen to you, and you just kinda put it in the back of your mind,” he said of overcoming adversity in the Octagon. “I feel like if you sat there and focused on it more or less, it could really limit your ability. You’re always consciously aware that things of that nature can happen to you, but you put it in the back of your mind and say ‘screw it,’ and go for it. Those things are inevitable. Sooner or later you’re gonna get your bell rung or you’re gonna get knocked down, but win or lose, there’s always something you can learn from the fight. So you prepare for it mentally, but you try to avoid those things at all costs.”
And right now, his focus is on getting in there with Seth Baczynski, putting everything else out of his mind, and getting another win. He knows it won’t be as easy or as cut and dried as that sounded.
“Seth is an extremely crafty, experienced guy,” said Benoist. “All around I like him; he seems like a nice guy and I’m a real fan of his ability and his fighting style. It’s a good opportunity for me, considering his record and what he’s done already in the organization, to really let people know who I am even further and make a statement. So I’m looking forward to the opportunity. I think he’s a dangerous guy, no doubt about it, but I believe everybody is at this level.”
If Benoist proved anything in the Riddle fight, it’s that he belongs at this level. Of course, that doesn’t mean he’s knocking on the door of the champion and top contenders just yet. He knows it as well, calling this “a journey, not a sprint.” But what he also knows that as his opponents keep taking shots at his unbeaten record, he’s only going to get better as he fights to keep that zero.
“I love the zero, and I don’t put any extra pressure on myself because of it,” he said. “Even the champions nowadays don’t have a zero on the end of the record, but I don’t see it (a loss) coming anytime soon and I’m obviously going to work my tail off to avoid it. I’m gonna fight for it.”
That’s just what Logan Benoist would have wanted to hear.