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Frank McEdgar asks: Is the fate of the 125 pound division on the shoulders of Henry Cejudo?
I hate to say it but not even a talent like Henry Cejudo can save the flyweight division. When the Ultimate Fighting Championship parted ways with the original king of the 125 pounders, Demetrious Johnson, the writing was on the wall. Sending “Mighty Mouse” to One Championship after a co-main event spot on successful pay-per-view card, when there was a clear demand for an immediate rematch, said exactly what the promotion thought about the usefulness of the flyweights. If that didn’t say enough, then look at the wave of flyweights that were suddenly dropped from the roster. Flyweight already had the smallest number of fighters of any men’s division. Making that number smaller certainly doesn’t help at all.
Still not convinced? Well let’s look at the packed schedule to ring in the ESPN era. As of this writing, there are 20 events on the UFC schedule right now. Out of those 20, eight have begun to take shape with confirmed locations and tentative bout orders. Only four individual fights are currently booked in the flyweight division. That includes this weekend’s main event. That is hardly enough to sustain a fully-functioning weight class with clear hierarchy.
If Cejudo gets his hand raised over T.J. Dillashaw and successfully defends his belt, it won’t keep the division alive. As he mentioned at the prefight press conference, he intends on taking the belt at bantamweight as well in a rematch. The new champ leaving the division, if he only intends for it to be temporary, is just another reason to shut it all down.
To make matters worse, Dana White stuck with his standard no-sell of what is obvious to everyone else. When questioned at the presser, his “we’ll see what happens” response came off like a not so subtle way to blow off the question. For whatever reason, it seems like the UFC has decided to abandon this weight class and thinks that no one will notice or inquire about it. This division has brought plenty of excitement. Unfortunately one of the greatest pound-for-pound fighters of all-time in “Mighty Mouse” wasn’t enough to keep it alive. Cejudo’s rapidly improving skillset, charisma, and appeal to a Latino audience won’t either. The execution date is rapidly approaching and the governor ain’t calling.
Europe1 asks: According to Tapology data, the USA's regional MMA scene has seen a staggering 40% decrease in events held since 2013! Numbers from Brazil from a similarly steep downwards trend. What is happening -- and should I start panicking right now!?
Relax Europe1, there is nothing to panic about if you love MMA. Yes, it looks like the number of regional events is sharply dropping. Yes, there are fewer options for fans to check out purely regional fights and developing talents before they go to the big stage. But they won’t just be left out in the cold with nowhere to go.
Have you seen how busy the MMA schedule is in general? With the UFC leading the charge, continuing to put on a dizzying amount of events year after year, Bellator MMA looking to expand, One Championship turning up the frequency of their shows, Professional Fighters League gearing up for a second season, and AXS TV offering a regular dosage of fights, somebody has to get in that cage. Oh, did I forget to mention Combate Americas, KSW, and King of the Cage? You get the idea.
Even if the overall amount of regional shows drops which also drops the number of overall shows, the fighters are far from displaced. If anything, the ramped schedule of high level fights means that these regional shows just get a more respected set of initials on their gloves. Just because the fights are ESPN+ won’t always mean that we’re seeing fully developed mixed martial artists as they forge a clear path to title contention. The more content that is necessary to fill out the numerous promotions with various obligations to television stations, pay per views, and streaming services, the more spots there will be to fill from the dwindling number of regional shows.
Ben Duffy interjects: Forgive me for barging in, but as the administrator of the Sherdog Fight Finder, I have some additional perspective here. I can tell you that the fights are still out there and the sport is still growing exponentially -- at least at a global level. It may just be time to look east instead of west. No question, the UFC and Bellator’s expansion is probably draining North American regional activity as different broadcast platforms allow the big promotions to become their own de facto minor leagues. However, Russia, Eastern Europe and China are positively exploding. Hell, before I took over the Fight Finder globally, one of my assigned territories was... Egypt. You’ve probably never stopped to think about Egyptian MMA -- I certainly never had -- yet it’s a country of almost 100 million people with a burgeoning fight scene, and Egypt was nearly enough to keep me busy all by itself!
The amount of MMA coming out of small, sparsely-populated countries -- Dagestan of course, but also Tajikstan, Uzbekistan and about a dozen other ‘stans, not to mention big places like Ukraine and Kazakhstan -- is staggering. And China is running so much MMA, yet is so disconnected from Western social media, that on a nearly weekly basis I find out about new (to us) promotions that have no presence in the Fight Finder yet, even though they’ve been around for three years, put on two dozen events and have hundreds of bouts to report. We’re only seeing the tip of the iceberg from that part of the world, and the North American fight databases, including us, are still catching up. Next step will be making more of those events available to people in the Western Hemisphere. Of course, that segues nicely into...
Producer Jei asks: ONE Championship will be putting on 12 taped re-airs in 2019 of some events on TNT, coupled with Countdown-like promo shows and possibly a reality show. The fight night tape delayed broadcasts will be one hour long. How does that pay off?
First off, salute to Jei who does a great job producing the Sherdog live chat show, The Trenches. In addition to lacing the man with compliments for his work, it’s only appropriate that he gets one of his own questions answered.
One Championship (which will forever remain One FC in my heart) will benefit mainly from visibility to the North American audience. If Turner Broadcasting has faith in the promotion and treats it with the same regard that Fox did the UFC, it can be a great thing. A large group of fight fans that didn’t order the pay-per-view streams or even take advantage of their free app to watch live fights at 3 a.m. won’t necessarily miss out. Airing an hour-long edit of the event, which eliminates the constant filler complaints that plagued the UFC on Fox, will be done away with. Fights that lack the action and thrills and slow down the pace of the card and the energy of the crowd can be excluded.
Positioning the programming near some of the sports properties that are already on TNT, which hosts the NBA, NCAA basketball, and MLB, can attract a few sports fans who are curious enough. Perhaps that leads to fans. That strategy worked for the UFC on Spike and Fox. It’s at least worth a try for One.