To many, the recent retirement of Joseph Benavidez marked the end of an era in the flyweight division the perennial contender helped establish in the UFC.
Tim Elliott, an opponent, friend, and training partner, doesn’t necessarily agree, because the way he sees it, the old guard at 125 pounds still has a pretty damn good rep in him.
“Joe B., he's done everything that he wants to do in the sport, and I'm one of those guys, I like to fight, so the UFC's gonna have to fire me,” said Elliott. “There's no retirement. They're gonna have to fire me again.”
That’s not a surprising statement coming from Elliott, whose first stint in the Octagon from 2012 to 2015 resulted in a 2-4 record and a subsequent release. But since winning The Ultimate Fighter in 2016 and starting a second UFC stay, the Missouri product has won four bouts, including two in a row over Ryan Benoit and Jordan Espinosa. It’s been enough to put him in the Top Ten and keep his dreams of a world title alive.
As for being one of the last veterans standing in a division full of young guns, Elliott is ready for the charge coming his way.
“I think a whole new wave is coming thanks to guys like him (Benavidez) and guys like me who stuck around,” he said. “The division was almost gone and I know I had people telling me, 'Hey, it's time to go up to '35,' and I felt like I could, for sure, compete at 135, but I didn't want to be one of the guys that just left the division because they were asking me to. I felt like the division was good enough, there were plenty of good guys, and Joe B., he paved the way for guys like me and even the younger guys. So us old heads are on our way out, but in the same sense, there's a whole new group of young guys that are savages right now.”
One of those young savages is 28-year-old Brazilian Matheus Nicolau, who made the most of his return to the UFC in March with a win over Manel Kape. It’s another tough test for the 34-year-old Elliott, but he’s embracing the challenge and keeping a step ahead of his competition, crediting his coach James Krause and his Glory MMA teammates for allowing him to stay relevant and evolving in an ever-changing sport.
“It's not been easy,” Elliott admits. “There's been lots of stagnant times that had me wondering, but it's James Krause and the team. I have a cutting-edge coach who's on top of the game and he's the smartest guy in MMA, and that's inspirational. I just hit pads with Jeff Molina on Tuesday - he's another flyweight who trains at our gym - and his striking is so good. I started hitting pads with him and it blew my mind. I have a whole new open level of striking and things are starting to come around again. We have a gym that has an open forum. It's James Krause running the show and then we got 15 guys in the UFC all sharing their knowledge, and it's been super easy for me to pick that up and transition as long as I'm learning new things and I'm being motivated by having my mind blown - and it happens daily with James Krause. If it doesn't happen in practice, it happens in the speech after practice. And it sounds weird, but I'm one of them dudes where I could have s**t not going right for me all day and then get my ass beat in practice, and then James will say some motivational shit and I'll be like, 'Dude, I'm a bad mother**ker.'”
Elliott laughs, the sound of a man who is happy with where he’s at in his career, but still hungry for more. And Saturday, he gets to punch somebody in the face and get paid for it, which is never a bad thing for someone who has been doing it since 2009.
“I'm enjoying the sport more now than I ever have,” Elliott said. “I used to just train so hard all the time that it was hard to get through the day. Now, it is the easiest time I've ever had fighting and it's the most fun I've ever had, and I'm not going anywhere anytime soon. I think this guy that I'm fighting is really good, but he's not the guy. I'm getting better again and I'm as good as I've ever been right now.”