For the pedigree and the particulars, there is this to say about John Beneduce: he holds a black belt in jiujitsu under Matt Serra and a few BJJ tournament titles, he trains at Longo and Weidman MMA and Maxum BJJ, and he’ll next fight at Bellator 185 on Friday night at Mohegan Sun in Connecticut.
In this sense, Brooklyn’s Beneduce is no different from any other MMA fighter, save for the specifics of who they train with and where and when they fight.
But, here’s the line item that separates Beneduce from his opponent — lightweight Dean Hancock — and just about every other mixed martial artist on a promotion’s active roster: He hasn’t fought in more than 10 years. Yes, 10-plus years. That’s 3,696 days, to be precise, but who’s counting?
“There’s something that makes me want to get in there,” Beneduce, 36, said. “There’s just something about putting it on the line, in that cage, when it counts, at that moment.”
Beneduce has three career pro fights, two in 2003 for Reality Fighting and the third in 2007 with Ring of Combat. He’s 2-1 in a career which began and ended before Bellator ever held its first event. Injuries played a part in the gap between 2003 and 2007. Life did the rest.
Thoughts of a comeback started ruminating around the beginning of 2017, just a few months after Beneduce closed his CrossFit Gym in Bayside.
“Why not do something? Why be in shape for nothing?” said Beneduce, who weighed more than 260 pounds before discovering jiujitsu in college. “I may as well see where it’s at. I kind of miss the feeling of being in there, too. And I’m not getting any younger.”
One night last winter, “The Manimal” walked into his Brooklyn home with a black eye. His wife noticed and asked if he started sparring again.
“I won’t do what I’m thinking unless I have 100 percent support from you,” Beneduce recalled telling his wife that night. “If you say no, it’s no. I’ll turn the page.”
That book remains open. The story is being written, with little victories along the way. Sparring. Making it through a 12-week camp. Making the 156-pound weight limit for the lightweight division.
“The second I step back in the cage, what an accomplishment,” Beneduce said.
How that story ends depends on what happens in that cage, what Beneduce does, what he doesn’t do, what Hancock (2-1) can do.
Beneduce knows what he’d like to do, however.
“I’m a jiujitsu guy. The submission, to me, is beautiful,” he said. “When you get a guy in a submission, you know you planned it. You knock a guy out, great. Boom, hands up, amazing. But, there is some room for error there. Anyone can get caught. But no one is like, ‘Oh yeah, I accidentally choked him. I accidentally caught that beautiful guillotine, I accidentally caught him in that kimura.’”
In his corner to help guide him through his first fight in more than a decade will be Ray Longo. Longo has trained MMA fighters for decades, from amateur kickboxers to a pair of former UFC champions in Serra and Chris Weidman.
“I think he’s got it in perspective,” Longo said. “He’s a tough kid. He fought a long time ago. There’s no illusions of grandeur. I think what he’s doing is pretty cool.”
Beneduce has no fight plan yet beyond Friday. He’s in wait-and-see mode. He’s not thinking about chasing titles, “making a run,” being “in the mix” or any of those other post-fight clichés fans have grown accustomed to hearing.
Beneduce recalled what Serra, the former UFC welterweight champion under whom he has trained for more than a decade, told him recently.
“Matt gave me the best advice: ‘Fight like you got nothing to lose,’” Beneduce said. “And I really feel like I don’t.”