Is the flyweight division a welcome addition to the UFC lineup? Tell us below. | Al Bello/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images
Over the past couple years, few people have been tougher on Demetrious Johnson and Joseph Benavidez than Dominick Cruz.
By going a combined 3-0 against the two fighters, the UFC bantamweight champion made it abundantly clear that Johnson and Benavidez were ultimately better off testing their mettle in the promotion’s recently established flyweight division. However, while Cruz granted his rivals no quarter in the cage, his view was quite different from the Fuel TV analyst’s chair, where he watched “Mighty Mouse” become the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s first-ever flyweight titleholder with a five-round verdict over Benavidez at UFC 152 on Saturday in Toronto.
Like everyone else, Cruz heard the boos coming from the Air Canada Centre as the action between Johnson and Benavidez unfolded and, like most serious fight aficionados, he did not understand the reaction.
“This fight was unreal. The way the fans were giving it a tough time was unfair,” Cruz said during the post-fight show on Fuel TV. “These guys threw down; they were non-stop.”
Of course, most people are not like Cruz, a finely tuned mixed martial artist at the peak of his profession. Nor are they like the diehards who have been watching talented 125-pounders compete on the regional circuits and overseas for years now. No, most people are like the faux comedians on Twitter who compare flyweights to jockeys or suggest that some of the sport’s most diminutive athletes would be wise to consider buying a pituitary gland.
Some of those are the same people who believe that Roy Nelson lobbing overhand rights is the pinnacle of competition and begin discussing other weekend endeavors the second a fighter smaller than 170 pounds hits the TV screen. You know who I am referring to because you probably have watched fights with some of these characters, guys who think that a few -- OK, more than a few -- extra ticks to the right on a Wal-Mart scale makes them the odds-on favorite against Ian McCall in an impromptu bar fight.
UFC President Dana White has a Twitter account, as well, and he was none too pleased with the lack of appreciation for the UFC 152 co-main event.
“If you didn’t like that flyweight fight, please, I’m begging you, don’t ever buy another UFC pay-per-view again,” White said. “I don’t want your money. You’re a moron. You don’t like fighting and you don’t appreciate great talent or heart if you didn’t like that flyweight fight.”
White’s passion is admirable, but he is obviously fibbing a little bit here. Whether you are a fan of the flyweights or not, White does want your money. If that were not so, then why not wait until a worthy light heavyweight challenger was available to face Jon Jones instead of offering up a converted middleweight with a recognizable name as a sacrifice to the altar of “Bones”? Why continue to pay lip service to the idea that “Chael Sonnen: No. 1 light heavyweight contender” is even a legitimate possibility? The answer is simple: those fights sell.
Before the UFC 151 debacle occurred, Johnson-Benavidez was supposed to be the headliner in Toronto.
It was a significant leap for the new division considering all three of its tournament contests had aired for free on FX. When Jones-Vitor Belfort came to snatch top billing, Johnson and Benavidez grudgingly acknowledged that sharing a card with such a marquee pairing could only improve their exposure.
As it stands now, it appears those extra eyes did not do much good. Despite the fact that Belfort was competitive for all of about 10 seconds against Jones, the 205-pound feature did not receive any boos. Like many well-matched 125-pound affairs, Johnson-Benavidez was fast-paced, action-packed and sometimes hard to follow with the naked eye. However, it did get plenty of boos, both of the literal and digital variety.
“You can never please everybody in the world. When you’ve got the No. 1 guy in the world going against the No. 2 guy in the world, there’s no room for error,” Johnson said.
Added Benavidez: “We’re fighting our hearts out, so for anyone to boo, I feel, is just wrong. We went out and put on a great fight.”
I tend to agree, but you cannot force feed the casual fan. While White was clearly upset that the flyweight title bout was not recognized for what it truly was -- an entertaining, competitive fight -- you had better believe he was taking mental notes.
It takes time for a weight class to establish a secure foothold in the minds of the masses. Bantamweights have been in the UFC for a couple of years, but outside of Urijah Faber, no one in the division has emerged as a mainstream star. Of the four entrants in the aforementioned flyweight tournament, McCall -- thanks to a unique look and personality -- was probably the most marketable competitor. John Dodson, who faces fellow world-ranked flyweight Jussier da Silva on Oct. 5, has a certain flair that could draw interest should he remain in the title picture. None of them, the newly crowned Johnson included, is Faber -- at least not yet. For now, flyweight MMA remains an acquired taste at best.
That brings us back to the issue of money. White clearly wants the flyweights to succeed, but Johnson’s next big fight might very well be relegated to a Fuel TV or FX card. If it is on pay-per-view, it will likely be in a supporting role. The lukewarm response to the company’s inaugural 125-pound coronation has assured us of that.