UFC flyweight champion Demetrious "Mighty Mouse" Johnson
The UFC flyweight and bantamweight divisions deliver some of the sport's most entertaining bouts, yet fans maintain this idea that no matter how deep the talent pool is, and no matter how many Fight of The Year candidates they deliver, they just cannot strike a chord with MMA fans the way the heavier weight classes can.
While interest does exist in the ever-growing lightweight and featherweight divisions, the lack of depth in the bantamweight and flyweight divisions, as well as the relative infancy of the flyweight division, factor into the fans' executive decision to not buy into them as major headliner at this point in time.
There is always a way to change that, as is evidenced by what the promotion has done with their lightweight division, and of course it will take time before the same critics of the lighter weight classes find themselves converted into supporters of the divisions. However, the key takeaway from this matter is that it will take some time for people to warm up to the divisions.
So, how can they do it? I will propose five suggestions, if you have an open mind to consider them.
Season 14 of The Ultimate Fighter featured arguably the most satisfying action in the series' history, a fact only enhanced by the showcasing of featherweights and bantamweights for the first time in TUF history.
Bantamweights have yet to return to the season, but featherweights returned to TUF when The Ultimate Fighter introduced its first all-Brazil season. Additionally, The Ultimate Fighter: Live's Sam Sicilia drops to featherweight to fight TUF Brazil featherweight winner Rony "Jason" Mariano Bezerra at UFC 153.
The featherweight and bantamweight classes delivered a memorable season of TUF the last time they were featured on the show, so as B/R Featured Columnist Nathan McCarter points out, in introducing the flyweights to the masses and featuring the bantamweights for another go-round, a season of TUF for the bantamweights and flyweights delivers a home run for all involved.
Dana White gets the exciting fighters he loves to see fight in and fight out, casual fans get a glimpse of what the lighter division brings to the table, hardcore fans get a slew of new faces to enjoy watching more regularly, bantamweights get their chance to shine on the TUF stages, and flyweights get exposure among fight fans who want fantastic action regardless of the weight.
Does it says something when Fuel TV cards turn in better rating than pay-per-views in 2012?
I suppose it depends on who headlined said card, but when flyweights and bantamweights get added to an event lineup, it doesn't truly showcase the division to hide their fight somewhere on the preliminaries, nor does it give fans any incentive to buy into the division by sticking the fight on the main card while hoping for fans to realize on their own that other great fights exist on the main card of the fights.
So what do you do when you want fans to care about the lighter divisions?
Continue the trend of success that the UFC has already seen on Fuel TV by featuring the bantamweights and flyweights.
The ratings may not appear to say it, but the action that the Fuel cards have delivered fireworks all throughout (sans a few fights), and the UFC's willingness to use the Fuel TV platform to showcase the talents of the young prospects proves effective in helping newcomers and prospects cement their name in the sport.
Now, imagine if the bantamweights and the flyweights found a home on Fuel TV cards. Is it not possible that the two divisions in some capacity would deliver such dramatic thrillers on those cards that it would create a higher demand for more of the divisions on more "major" cards?
As you can tell, Japan fell predominantly on the brain when this suggestion ran through my mental circuits, but consider the other international cards for a moment.
We've previously mentioned the job the Fuel TV cards have done in featuring the young prospects of the sport, but we can't forget the job that the international cards have done in introducing new fans to the world's most promising and prominent fighters.
UFC on Fuel TV 2 displayed Scandinavia's best (sans Martin Kampmann and Joachim Hansen), UFC 144 showed the absolute best of "The Land of The Rising Sun", the UFC always features some of Canada's finest when they make the trip up North and the UK cards always wind up delivering some serious heat, even if the faces change.
Anyways, let's also not forget that while UFC-only fans got their first taste of featherweight and bantamweight action in early 2011, the UFC flyweight division got its introduction in Australia.
Perhaps it's time for the flyweight fireballs to burn it up outside the States once more. It seems clear that the international crowds dig it, and it seems even more clear that the UFC will need more than the names it currently possesses in order to strike gold in its attempts to really cement the flyweights and bantamweights as must-see weight classes.
Besides, doesn't Japan hold the best talent at 125-and-under anyway?
This leads me to my next point...
I don't think this one needs a long, drawn-out explanation, but then again, I don't want to write a long explanation as to why this would prove effective in marketing the divisions, especially the flyweight division.
We know the UFC flyweight division is so thin that it hardly qualifies as a "division," and we know that the UFC has a good bantamweight division, but with Dominick Cruz's reign of dominance in the division, only interim bantamweight champion Renan Barao and Michael McDonald stand out from the pack.
It doesn't help that a title unification bout between Cruz and Barao sits on the shelf, nor does it help that McDonald sits out right now with a hand injury.
For the flyweights, loading up the division should become step one on the way to marketing the division, because...well, you know why. As for the bantamweights, the division they have right now is good, but they can benefit from signing fresh blood. Obviously, the action at the lighter weight classes sells itself, but the action alone cannot sell the fights.
For fans to see that the flyweights and bantamweights turn heads and turn on crowds, the UFC must start scouting ASAP.
That, and some featherweights may want to consider opening their minds to the possibility of a drop to 135.
Ian McCall (left), arguably one of the UFC's most marketable flyweights right now.
Like we've said before, the action that flyweights bring to the Octagon clearly does not do enough to sell fights to fans, even though some fans do enjoy flyweight action. Some prefer the lighter weight classes to the heavier divisions, while others watch the lighter weight classes simply because they enjoyed what the bantamweights and flyweights did outside the UFC.
Sometimes, however, you do need a fighter who can sell a fight on his own while delivering a showstopper when it comes time to knuckle up. It's hard to know for sure if we can call Dominick Cruz that man for the bantamweights, but the flyweights have John Dodson and Ian McCall. Neither man outdoes Tito Ortiz or Chael Sonnen in terms of sound bytes, but both can sell a fight (from a personality standpoint) and deliver a thriller simultaneously.
We can talk about a potential Dodson-McCall fight once we know McCall's about a win or two away from a title crack, but for now, the UFC should capitalize on the personalities that exist at bantamweight and at flyweight. Hardcore fans already have an opinion because they've seen how they act and how they fight. At the end of the day, most hardcore MMA fans hope for a good performance from one fighter or from both fighters, and they therefore don't pay attention to the contrived hype of sound bytes and the like.
With the casual fans, it's different. The majority of them need a reason to care about the talent that exists, and nine times out of 10, the fighting style only delivers part of that equation. The fighters that exist in the lower weight classes can give them a reason to care without going over the top because, to most "hardcore" fans, their natural personalities already come off as far-out and over the top.
Might as well strike the iron while it's hot with the lighter-weights. After all, how many times has it worked with the heavier divisions?
If the UFC capitalizes on that with the lighter-weights, it can work for them too without people accusing these fighters of coming off as gimmicky.