UFC on Fox 8: Will the Flyweights Ever Draw in the Big Man's World of the UFC?
In the landscape of mixed martial arts, there is no secret strategy on how to turn a fighter into a star or attract viewers to a particular weight class.
Traditionally, MMA fans have flocked to the bigger weight classes from heavyweight down to welterweight, except for a flash in time when B.J. Penn ruled the lightweight division with an iron fist.
Outside of that, the fights that have typically pulled the biggest numbers in terms of ratings, attendance and attraction involve fighters who weigh 170 pounds or more.
The featherweight division, for instance, boasts a champion in Jose Aldo who is universally ranked in the top five in the mythical pound-for-pound rankings, but still hasn't been able to break 350,000 buys for any pay-per-view he's headlined.
The same can be said for the bantamweights whose biggest showing on pay-per-view was in 2011 when Dominick Cruz beat Urijah Faber in the main event of UFC 132 that drew approximately 320,000 buys.
So it's going to be a daunting task for the newest division to catch hold with fans when the fighters involved come in at 125 pounds, and typically fall shorter than the referee, the ring announcer and the UFC commentator sent in to interview them when the fight is over.
UFC flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson has been a part of the division since day one of its inception, and he's keeping a positive attitude about the growth of the weight class despite some obvious pessimism from critics on whether or not the 125-pound division can ever draw a big crowd.
"I think the flyweights are doing pretty well so far. I mean yeah a lot of people still don't know about us, but it's just going to take time," Johnson told MMA's Great Debate Radio. "It's only been since March of this year that it's been one year since introducing the flyweight division. I think the roster's still growing. I think we're still getting known to the public."
The current roster of flyweights stands at 16 with a total of 18 bouts taking place thus far at 125 pounds. The flyweights have barely had any high profile fights thrust upon fans, and while Johnson is moving into his second main event for a UFC on Fox card they have yet to be featured in the main event on a major pay-per-view.
The division is still quite shallow when comparing it to other more established weight classes like the welterweights, where the UFC currently has 77 fighters under contract (according to UFC.com).
Even the contenders are starting to run a little thin even though the division is only a year old.
Johnson's next opponent, while certainly worthy in terms of performance, has opened the show in both of his UFC fights that appeared only on Facebook. John Moraga might be the best flyweight in the world after Saturday night, but the truth is some people could be hearing his name for the very first time when they tune into UFC on Fox 8.
"A lot of guys don't even know who John Moraga is," Johnson stated. "People who even work in the UFC ask me, 'Demetrious who are you fighting next dog?' and I'm like John Moraga and they're like 'who the hell is that?'. I tell them he's a tough guy, he's fought twice in the UFC on the undercard the very first fight.
"They're like 'oh I've never heard of him'. There are so many guys on the UFC roster and they have to get all those guys fights. Sean Shelby and Joe Silva (UFC matchmakers) do a fantastic job of putting those guys where they need to be on the lineup on the card."
Johnson's positive spin could be the attitude the entire division needs to tread water while they try to find a place in the UFC hierarchy. Then again, an angry, outspoken division all clamoring for respect seems to be the way that women not only got a chance to compete in the UFC, but are now regularly featured in main card bouts and at least co-headlining major shows.
Johnson says everybody has to start somewhere, just like he did when he came to the UFC.
"I started out fighting on the Facebook prelims against Kid Yamamoto UFC 126, so you've got to start somewhere," Johson stated. "We're slowly moving up."
Will the flyweight division ever attract a major audience like a fight featuring Georges St-Pierre or Jon Jones? If judging by the current criteria of the lighter weight classes, the answer is an emphatic no, but sometimes it just takes the right moment or the right fight to help turn the corner with fans.
Johnson and Moraga have a chance to do that on Saturday night, and they'd both do well with performances that leave everyone asking for more when the fight is finally over.
Damon Martin is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report and all quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.
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