Apparently, the UFC intends to continue its planned expansion into lighter weight classes. While in its earlier incarnations, the promotion seemed primarily focused on the heavier fighters, though it has slowly begun adding smaller divisions since the reinstatement of the lightweight (146-155 lbs.) title in 2006. First, in 2010, it merged with the WEC and imported many of that promotion’s featherweight (136-145 lbs.) and bantamweight (126-135 lbs.) fighters. Then, last year, it added a flyweight (116-125 lbs.) division to accommodate the sport’s even more physically diminutive competitors. Its latest planned expansion will incorporate the UFC’s first women’s bantamweight title later this month, after which the promotion will likely further grow its roster of female fighters.

So with the majority of logical men’s weight classes covered and the forthcoming introduction of women’s divisions, where else can the UFC look to further expand its ranks? Last week, the UFC clarified its future plans by announcing it would likely be adding a strawweight (106-115 lbs.) division to its lineup. UFC President Dana White called the new division “an amazing opportunity for fighters all over the world,” according to MMA Weekly, and mentioned the potential addition in connection with the company’s continued expansion into Latin American and Asian markets.

While there is no timeline for the new division’s debut and no other details about the weight class have been discussed, the announcement of its forthcoming addition raises some questions about its true viability as a marketable entity in 2013. With that in mind, let’s examine the pros and cons of this new division.

On the plus side, the new division would offer MMA fans more potential bouts between elite fighters. When the UFC first added its 155-pound division in 2000, there was some question as to whether fighters at the comparatively lower weight would be able to put on quality contests. Flash forward 13 years and not only is the lightweight division arguably the most exciting in the sport, but it is now far from the lightest weight class in MMA. In fact, there has been precisely zero drop in the number of exciting fights since adding that and the other three lighter divisions—quite the opposite, in fact. It stands to reason, then, that a strawweight division would only add to the pile.

Another possible plus for adding a men’s strawweight division would be the future potential of adding a women’s strawweight division. Just as the UFC has continued to expand its weight classes for its male fighters, it will likely begin to do the same for women as they begin to comprise a greater percentage of the promotion’s roster. Since the UFC is beginning with a 135-pound women’s division, a 115-pound weight class is probably not too far off. Perhaps the UFC will debut both the men’s and women’s strawweight divisions at the same time. Anyway, I’m getting ahead of myself.

The only concerns about the institution of a men’s strawweight division surround its timing. While a 115-pound division would certainly add great fights to the UFC’s future cards, the promotion might do better to focus first on building the existing men’s flyweight division and expanding its roster of female fighters at 135 pounds and elsewhere.

We’ve already reached a bit of a flyweight standstill, as the three best fighters in that division by most measurements—champion Demetrious Johnson and contenders Joseph Benavidez and Ian McCall—have all fought each other. That Johnson defeated both of them, as well as another elite flyweight in John Dodson, puts the flyweight division into somewhat of the same situation a few of the other weight classes have found themselves in; that is, with a dominant champion with no clear No. 1 contender. There are nine other flyweights currently on the UFC’s roster, but they’d have to get through Benavidez, McCall or Dodson at the very least to get a shot at Johnson’s belt. Perhaps a maintained focus on that division’s immediate and long-term future should be a higher priority than the addition of an even lighter men’s weight class.

The same could be said for the UFC’s attention to its burgeoning women’s division. At the moment, the promotion currently employs two female fighters—bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey and No. 1 contender Liz Carmouche—but that number is only going to grow as women’s MMA becomes more a part of the sport as a whole. Promotions like Invicta FC that have shone a bright spotlight on female fighters are doing a great job of providing women with opportunities to build their careers. In 2013, the UFC will probably begin scooping up some of the other elite female MMA talent, and it would do well to pool its resources properly in an effort to promote those fighters so its women’s division doesn’t die if Rousey’s career should falter.

Finally, there is a practical reason for the UFC to pump the brakes before trying to make straw into gold: 115 pounds is really, really small for a full-grown man. I consider myself an average-sized American man, and I’m 5-foot-10 and a positively unshredded 185 pounds. I don’t even remember the last time I weighed 115 pounds, but it was probably in middle school sometime. It was important that Dana White mentioned the creation of this division in concert with talk of expansion into Latin American and Asian markets because right now all of the top fighters in the only strawweight rankings I could find are from those areas of the world. While this wouldn’t necessarily hinder the division’s potential popularity stateside, it probably doesn’t help. In any case, the UFC might instead focus on putting more than 13 fighters on its flyweight roster before adding a weight class that seems almost impractically small.

As mentioned above, the UFC has not put any timetable whatsoever on the debut of a men’s strawweight division, and its likely that the promotion’s priorities are more in line with what is outlined here. The fact that the 115-pound weight class is even under consideration, though, gives us a glimpse as to where the UFC sees itself going in the future. As the sport continues to grow, the fighters we see in the UFC will apparently continue to shrink.

Photo: Highly-touted strawweight Yuki Shojo (top) (Taro Irei/Sherdog)

About The Author

Eric Reinert
Staff Writer

Eric Reinert has been writing about mixed martial arts since 2010. Outside the world of caged combat, Eric has spent time as a news reporter, speechwriter, campaign strategist, tech support manager, landscaper and janitor. He lives in Madison, Wis.

  • Robby C.

    Some knockout lines toward the end (re: straw into gold). I agree with your overall sentiments and with the idea that the UFC’s flyweight division is criminally understaffed. There are a half dozen Brazilians who should have been signed long ago and also guys like Ali Bagautinov and Allamurad Karayev who must be scratching their heads in eastern Europe.