It has been over six months since the Zuffa folded the WEC into the UFC and officially introduced the bantamweights and featherweights into the octagon. Yet despite a great amount of talent at these new weights, the promotion is still treating them as second-class divisions that are beneath its traditional weight classes.
On August 10 the UFC will be airing a live broadcast on cable television for hundreds of thousands of viewers. On the card will be Joseph Benavidez vs Eddie Wineland. The two fighters are both former world champions and Benavidez is ranked second or third in the world on most top-10 lists. While Brian Bowles vs Urijah Faber is going to determine the next challenger to the bantamweight title, this match puts the winner right in line behind them.
Those hundreds of thousands of viewers? Not a single one is going to see this fight. It isn't being shown.
A fight essentially equivalent to Rashad Evans vs Tito Ortiz, which headlined the last UFC pay-per-view, has been deemed not good enough for a TV broadcast spot, an honor often given to reality show quarterfinalist washouts on Ultimate Fighter finales. In fact the fight isn't even the final preliminary, but rather the second to last, as if to add insult to injury.
It isn't just contenders matches that get snubbed; the UFC considers even championship bouts in their bantamweight and featherweight divisions to only be supporting fights. When Jose Aldo defended his UFC featherweight championship for the first time, it was as a lead-in to the welterweight championship fight. This wasn't just a one-time thing: his next defense will be playing second fiddle on the UFC 136 card to the main event lightweight championship fight.
It is true that bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz defended his UFC title for the first time as the main event of UFC 132. Yet this was because of the star power of the challenger, Urijah Faber, not out of respect for the weight class. Cruz's next defense? It will be the main event...of a card on television.
Would Georges St-Pierre, Anderson Silva or Jon Jones ever defend their title on a free card? Of course not. Their championship titles have too much prestige for that. Yet the lighter weight classes are considered to be second-rate compared to these more important divisions.
There doesn't seem to be a good reason for this. Three possibilities come to mind: the divisions aren't well known, the main fighters aren't popular, or the talent isn't good enough.
The argument that casual fans of the UFC aren't acquainted well enough with these new weight classes would help explain why Cruz's next defense needs to be seen on television for free. This seems dubious as Cruz already scored Fight of the Night while beating superstar Faber on a main event of a pay-per-view, but is possible.
Yet that doesn't explain why future contender's match Benavidez vs Wineland wouldn't be on the Versus card this weekend, despite being veterans of numerous WEC broadcasts on the exact same channel. If the UFC is worried about people not knowing who the new fighters are, reducing their air time isn't exactly a brilliant strategy.
As for the fighters being known but simply not popular, it has already been pointed out that Cruz surely gained a ton of momentum in his last event. What about now perennial co-main event fighter Jose Aldo?
Last year at the World MMA Awards Jose Aldo was voted by fans to be Fighter of the Year over Brock Lesnar, Mauricio Rua, Anderson Silva and Frankie Edgar, the latter being the one who will get to be the main event on Aldo's next card. If constantly-unable-to-finish Georges St-Pierre and hit-or-miss-performance Anderson Silva can get guaranteed main event status every time, there is no reason why Cruz and Aldo shouldn't be able to get the same.
The only remaining answer is that the talent isn't that good, and this doesn't hold up. The bantamweight and featherweight fighters haven't had trouble winning their fair share of post-fight bonuses, and indeed the champions both got Fight of the Night in their last performance.
Most pound-for-pound rankings list Jose Aldo as third in the world, behind only St-Pierre and Anderson Silva, while Cruz ranks not far behind in the top 10. And looking at rankings by weight, any top-10 list of bantamweights or featherweights will show just as many are UFC fighters as the rankings for any other weight class.
The bantamweight and featherweight divisions may be new to the UFC compared to the traditional weight classes, but over the past few months have more than proved that they are just as talented and exciting. It is time for Zuffa to stop treating its lighter weights as second-class divisions and give them the notoriety and prestige they deserve.