Lost in all the hoopla surrounding Jon Jones’ placement on UFC 152 and Michael Bisping’s trash talking is the fact that a new division champion will be crowned. The inaugural UFC flyweight champion will be determined after Joseph Benavidez and Demetrious Johnson collide in the Octagon.
Yet, many UFC fans have no clue about either man or the flyweight division as a whole. Both Benavidez and Johnson made their marks in the bantamweight division, but were always considered “the little guys” at 135 pounds. Both also failed to take out bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz in their contests.
For the guys in upper weight classes, the decision would be an easy one: move to a different weight class. That option wasn’t available to Benavidez and Johnson prior to 2011. With the introduction of a flyweight division in the UFC, however, both men finally found a place to call home.
Both made the most of their opportunities after entering into the UFC flyweight tournament. Benavidez made quick work of Yasuhiro Urushitani back in March, taking his opponent out just 11 seconds into the second round. On the same card, Johnson and Ian McCall fought an all-out war that initially was ruled a decision victory for Johnson, but was overturned to a draw. Johnson and McCall engaged in a rematch that was exciting as well, but saw Johnson emerge as the clear victor.
The Benavidez-Johnson match-up was originally scheduled to be the main event of UFC 152, but that seemed to matter little to UFC brass or fans. The title bout has received very little attention and is nothing more than something to put on paper in order to get more pay-per-view buys.
The degrading of the title bout began when Bisping stated that his bout with Brian Stann is the real main event.
“In my opinion, and I think in most people’s, this is the main event. This is the real main event. Two big hard-hitting guys. No one cares about little flyweights…,” Bisping said.
To an extent, Bisping is right—nobody cares about the flyweights. It’s a shame, considering the little guys have put on a number of exciting fights since the division was introduced, but all have been relegated to preliminary bouts or fights on free television. The extra exposure on free cards is nice, but those cards are often overlooked. It’s on pay-per-view that interest is created.
Like competing for a small high school and signing on with a Division-I school, the pressure of competing on a televised PPV fight is magnified. With increased pressure comes increased exposure, as the average fan may look past a weak free-TV card, but rarely do the fans miss out on a PPV show.
When Benavidez and Johnson enter the Octagon in Toronto, they will carry with them a lot of weight on their shoulders. Not only will they be fighting for their legacy and the first UFC flyweight title, but also for an entire division. If the two men can be just as exciting as the numerous other flyweight contests, then the division may take off.
A fluke ending or questionable outcome may create some initial interest in the division, but that will be quickly forgotten. What will help the division and the flyweight title grow in prestige the most is a classic MMA fight between two of the most exciting little guys in the sport.
Photo: Joseph Benavidez (Dave Mandel/Sherdog)