Almost a year ago, the 125-pound flyweight division introduced itself to the UFC. The division saw plenty of high-energy fighters and technical, skill-heavy bouts. Critics enjoyed the fast-paced bouts but along the line, they also grew aware of the durability of the fighters.
Unsurprisingly, the durability of the flyweights translated into a mere lack of finishing ability for some fans. At the center of the criticisms stood UFC flyweight champion Demetrious "Mighty Mouse" Johnson, who many considered the league's fastest fighter. Johnson possessed the speed in every aspect of his game, as he does at this very moment, and he also armed himself with a fast-acting submission arsenal to accompany his wrestling-heavy offense.
However, the lack of power always stood out for Johnson's critics, as well as the flyweight division's critics. With the lack of power and the lack of what others categorized as "finishes," more of the division's talents found themselves relegated to FX, Fuel TV and Facebook cards. Despite what they brought, the fans did not wish to throw down for them because the technical battles just didn't appear worth the value of a UFC pay-per-view.
Hopefully after understanding this, you may comprehend why tones changed when commercials aired for Johnson's first title defense against flyweight veteran and The Ultimate Fighter 14 bantamweight winner John "The Magician" Dodson, which comes tonight live from the United Center in Chicago, Ill.
If the strategic plan for global expansion centers around showcasing the best fighters in the sport, it doesn't help the division to grow if the commercials make no mention of the featured division.
Remember UFC on Fox 5 last month? It dispelled the myth that lightweights could not draw crowds, and just one month later, Henderson not only awaits a UFC on Fox 7 title defense against former Strikeforce lightweight champion Gilbert Melendez, but also, many feel Henderson's appearances on Fox will pay dividends to his rise in popularity and his worth as a pay-per-view draw.
Vocal supporters of the lighter weight classes agree to let them develop over time because of ideas like that of Johnson-Dodson headlining a Fox card. In the case of the lighter weight classes, speed and technical approaches come with the territory. However, as many pointed out once UFC on Fox 6 started getting promotional spots, no harm comes from promoting a division that honestly benefits from exposure.
Put the flyweights on Fox as the UFC will do with Johnson vs. Dodson, or put any of the lighter weight classes on Fox, for that matter, and it not only reaffirms the confidence in the lighter weights to deliver a great fight, but it also reasserts the intention behind putting the championship title fights on network TV, which just happens to fit in expertly with the UFC's strategic plans for global expansion.
To understand the long-term benefits of featuring lesser-known champions on free TV, think back to what it did for Henderson, as well as heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez and former champion Junior dos Santos, when they signed on to fight on Fox.
Take those same results, and then try to say it can't happen for Johnson or Dodson. The formula proves itself as simple, easy to implement as a marketing strategy and works wonders in expanding the product. Knowing that, the idea behind it helps explain why the UFC will benefit from featuring Johnson vs. Dodson on Fox before thinking about putting Johnson on pay-per-view.
For those still in need of help comprehending the idea, let us break it down to the basics.
Expose the reigning champion nobody knows about to the world, and the world will see what they can do. Let the world witness the fun that comes with seeing that specific champion in action, and with time, they will create a demand to put said champion on pay-per-view. Once they create demand, the UFC makes its money and continues to deliver on its promises to the fans of its product.
The company may struggle a bit in selling the lighter divisions, but then again, getting on network TV took a decade-long struggle, so the UFC can implement this strategy to help build the divisions and make money from its fights. As a vocal supporter of the divisions might say, nobody will ask "if" it will happen, because we know it will happen, and we will revel in our own excitement once the UFC officially confirms when it will happen.