I want to preference first that I am in no way an expert in MMA/UFC. I am a casual fan of the sport, not an official member of the press. However, after the recent developments over the past week, I do want to give perspective in a more simplified breakdown from the perspective of fellow casual fans. To give a quick recap, the UFC plan to disband the Men’s Flyweight (125 lb. weight class) and release a majority of the fighters, while some will be asked to move to the Bantamweight (135 lb.) division.
Before I move on with my overall thoughts, I do want to say this sucks for most of these fighters. Losing your job abruptly is absolutely awful and with the struggles of some fighters trying to make a living in the sport, I hope most of the flyweights find homes elsewhere. Promotions like Bellator and ONE should scoop these guys up and give them a second chance, especially ONE who are way more supportive and give flyweights more respect than most promotions.
At the end of the day, this is a good move overall. BUT PEOPLE LOST THEIR JOBS AND MIGHT NOT EVER GET THE SAME LIMELIGHT AND PAY AS UFC, HOW COULD YOU SAY SUCH A THING??? First of all, stop yelling at me and my words. Second, you have to look at all the facts and potential future of the division if things remained the same. Since 2012 when the flyweight division was first conceived, the man who would be the work horse and biggest star amongst the pack is arguably the greatest UFC champion ever, Demetrious “Mighty Mouse” Johnson. 11 title defenses, 13 straight victories and went 6 years before his loss to Henry Cejudo, which would go on to be his last fight in the UFC. Johnson’s contract and rights would be later traded to ONE for fighter Ben Askren. From all accounts, Johnson wanted this because he felt he was not getting the proper star treatment and same PPV opportunities as other fighters, and UFC President Dana White was not giving it to him. I do agree with DJ here and as a champion and great fighter, he should have been featured more heavily in primetime fights on PPV cards, instead of being relegated to the undercard and UFC Fight Nights on Fox. However, the facts are the Flyweight division was not as talented or exciting as the other divisions in UFC. I think the writing was on the wall with this trade as UFC has lost interest in trying to get over Flyweights like they once did.
Mighty Mouse was the only known and marketable fighter in the flyweights for the duration of the Flyweights. Current champion Henry Cejudo would be second since he was the first to defeated Johnson sine he became champion. After that it looks real bleak and uninteresting from the eyes of this casual fan. Based on the rankings, Flyweight is pretty top heavy, but I see only a few exciting matchups or fighters besides Cejudo, Sergio Pettis and Joe Benavidez. Ray Borg has been hyped up, but has had the worst luck between injuries and personal matters prohibiting him to compete so I can’t include him. When you compare flyweight to the other divisions, most of the other ones have star caliber names, deep rosters, and some exciting rivalries. The Bantamweights for example have one of the best rivalries in Cody Garbrandt and champion TJ Dillashaw leading the pack with Dominick Cruz, Jimmie Rivera, and etc following the rear. On top, most of the Bantamweights have better name value and marketing than the flyweights do. Maybe that’s from the shit talking and self promoting nature of some of these fighters, which isn’t a common staple of the Flyweights, but nothing sells more than a good old insult match at a pre-fight press conference that goes viral.
The other problem that is flawed in the Flyweights in my opinion is what most of the other weights excel in is the finishing capabilities. From what I have seen from Flyweight fights, most of the time I see great grappling and submissions from fighters, but rarely saw a knockout or TKO. As a casual fan, and I’m sure I’m not alone in this, I watch for the chaos and the violent nature of MMA. Jon Jones head kicking Daniel Cormier into another universe, Conor McGregor starching Jose Aldo in 13 seconds, Brock Lesnar roid raging on Mark Hunt, and even recently the war between Tony Ferguson and Anthony Pettis. Those are the type of fights that get me interested and wanting to buy a fight for $60. Flyweight bouts were more of a bathroom break or opening warmup fight for my taste. While the technical skill these guys have are truly in another class of fighters, I can’t lie and say I enjoyed them for that. Hardcore fans of MMA probably love these type of matchups for sure, and I get it. But hardcore fans will buy anything MMA, the UFC needs to get the casual market to buy PPVs as well.
And don’t get me wrong, the UFC did no favor of their own to promote or market the Flyweights. Mighty Mouse was never headlining a major PPV card while he was on top of the division. He got over with the fans for his pure technical skill and being a respectful fighter, not by promotion or shit talking the other fighters. The other competitors were even worse, as there was little to no promotion for the division at all in 2018. I only know of Henry Cejudo from a highlight reel of his fight against Johnson, as well as him recently being a guest on the Joe Rogan podcast (great interview btw, check it out). Even when Demetrious Johnson was champion I didn’t see much promotion of his fights nor even know when most of them are. Maybe from self ignorance is why I didn’t see much, but from research Flyweights were relegated to UFC Fight Nights, which you need to have UFC Fight Pass to view now or turn to Fox in certain situations. I would be more inclined to get this service to see these fights if they were promoted and booked more frequently on big events, which not only helps fighters to get booked but get more money for Fight Pass (not that its doing poorly, I think its around 1 million active users).
I’m sure my mentality and thoughts on the Flyweights as a fan is one of the reasons why the UFC higher ups decided to axe the division, as well as trying to rectify their lack of promoting their fighters as well. I think this gives some of the released athletes a good chance to start over and try to find a home and company that will give them the respect and opportunities that were lacking in the UFC. ONE is known for having a great flyweight group, and they can try to conquer Mighty Mouse again. With the trade as well, more eyes will be on ONE to not only sign these guys, but how they book and promote DJ, which he more than well deserves. As for the UFC, from what I have read online some of the guys will go to Bantamweight, which is actually a good idea in trying to get over some of the smaller guys if they are going against Dillashaw, Garbrandt, Cruz, etc. Henry Cejudo is scheduled to defend his title for the first and last time against TJ Dillashaw as well, which is interesting that TJ will drop a weight class and try take the Flyweight title, instead of Henry adding some weight and going after TJ. Maybe Uncle Dana wants to just end this once and for all and make TJ a dual champion. TJ not only can fight at 125 lb., but he is a world class fighter and one of the more popular guys on the roster, which makes sense. Anyway, it’s sad to see lose their jobs and have to leave the biggest combat sports organization, but I think this is for the better for all parties involved.
P.S- if you want a more hardcore, full breakdown of this story and a true insider perspective, Robbie Fox from Barstool Sports put up a blog that’s fantastic and really insightful to the entire situation, read it here.