The flyweights will be front and center once again for the UFC on Fox 8 card, as champion Demetrious Johnson will defend his title against John Moraga in the headlining slot on July 27.
Already, there has been talk about how this might be a mistake. After all, the fight to crown the king of the division (Johnson vs. Joseph Benavidez) put UFC president Dana White in direct confrontation with the majority of fans in attendance at UFC 152, who voiced their displeasure with the bout by booing loudly.
White took offense to said fans, and in the post-fight press conference, he called them morons.
But that was then, and this is now.
Johnson will be attempting to make his second title defense against a tough customer in Moraga, who has finished five of his last seven opponents.
But is it a question of quality or quantity that brings out the skeptic in MMA fans?
Is it because the flyweights seem too small to engage with the expected significance that fans have come to expect from other weight classes?
Or is the style of the fighters at fault? The division is still new and even newer on the championship level, so what we have seen thus far may not be the norm if we look back on these days two years from now.
Most fans can see that Johnson is an elusive counter-fighter who has fast hands and good takedown skills. He’s cut from the same cloth as boxer Pernell Whitaker, and it took awhile for fans to warm up to “Sweat Pea,” who was an Olympic gold medalist.
Given that this bout will be on Fox and not a pay-per-view, I don’t think that a flyweight main event is going to be a hard sell at all. On cards that are essentially free, compared to the cost of a PPV, the sport becomes transparent via accessibility.
No matter what, this is still a title bout in one of the most dynamic sports in the world.
Every fight is different, and if both men fight with the energy due the moment, people are going to see that the title means something in every division.
In a situation like this, it’s the fight that counts, and thus, we leave it up to Johnson and Moraga to prove there is more to the flyweights than meets the eye.
That is exactly how it should be.
In the end, combat sports have always been about the business of answering the question of “who is the best.” We shouldn’t worry that the primary virtue of the sport is in jeopardy just because the fighters are smaller.
If we can learn anything at all—and sometimes I doubt we can, given how short-sighted public opinion can be—from the sport of boxing, it’s that the smaller fighters are worth the time and investment.
When you look at most of the big PPV draws, in addition to most of the winners of the Fight of the Year in boxing during 2000 to 2009, most of them were from the lighter weights.
So put them on TV, big and proud and front and center, and let them decide things for themselves, with the entire world watching and judging.
They may not be heavyweights. They might not talk the trash of a Chael Sonnen or throw down like Nick Diaz or Johny Hendricks, but Johnson and Moraga are two professionals with the same goals: the highest honor in the sport and the respect that comes with it.
Moreover, they’re willing to fight for it, and that sells itself.