As of this past weekend's UFC 156, the UFC flyweight division finally began to earn the respect it deserved from its inception.
Now, at no time should a Joseph Benavidez fight ever subject itself to ridicule. The people who followed his WEC and early UFC career will quickly remember a stellar thrill-ride of a run, including two action-packed bouts with reigning UFC bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz.
However, even the division recently received criticism for a number of issues, most notably the supposed lack of finishing ability in the division and the lack of willingness to actually fight. This isn't to say they do not throw, but some accuse the flyweights of bouncing around more than actually throwing down, despite their status as arguably the most technical division in the league.
More often than not, however, fight fans can exhibit short memory spans in doses, so forgive them for forgetting how Benavidez finished consistently world-ranked Yasuhiro Urushitani at UFC on FX 2, despite Urushitani's natural fight weight falling at 115 pounds.
At the same event, Ian "Uncle Creepy" McCall nearly finished now-champion Demetrious Johnson. Johnson would controversially take the decision before UFC president Dana White revealed a scoring error in the bout. Last summer, the two headlined the UFC's third outing on FX, with Johnson taking the clear decision in the rematch.
Needless to say, both men needed to right their ship at the event in hopes of a rematch with Johnson, and in three intense rounds they both competed with those intentions on full display. Although McCall landed a higher percentage of significant strikes, Benavidez proved more effective with his output landed.
The judges in attendance marked down scoring totals of 29-28 in a unanimous sweep for Benavidez, but the action proved the bout as a much closer affair than the verdict suggested. If anything, the action continued to enforce the same positives of the division that displayed themselves in full when Johnson defended his title successfully against John Dodson on Fox.
Simply put, the flyweights demonstrate much of what MMA fans enjoy about their sport. What the fighters may lack in a willingness to brawl, they make up for in their technical brilliance. In other words, they focus on doing everything right offensively and defensively.
Almost one year after the division came to the UFC, the flyweight remains the thinnest of the nine UFC divisions. As growth and roster depth remain inevitable, however, the significance of earning respect and proactively working to build the division also remain. We know the UFC can do this, because these questions existed before the lightweight division of today's generation.
Still, how much more patience must we demonstrate before the UFC does continue to build the division?