Remember last September when, at the UFC 152 post-fight press conference, UFC President Dana White blasted the fans that weren’t happy with the Joseph Benavidez vs. Demetrious Johnson flyweight tournament championship final? Remember him calling them “morons” for criticizing the fight and saying that they “don’t appreciate great talent or heart”?

It was a failed marketing attempt for the flyweights through shaming. White was the mother bear ferociously defending his cubs, in this case the newest division to the UFC. Well, now those cubs have been around a full year since their introduction at UFC on FX 2 last March, and the UFC is making room for an even newer division: the women bantamweights.

And if you don’t love them—I mean truly appreciate them the way you should—then you just might incur the wrath of Uncle Dana. Then again, compared to the flyweights, that sort of tactic won’t be necessary for the ladies. With only one women’s bantamweight fight, a hugely popular main event, the 135-pound ladies have already surpassed the 125-pound men in popularity in a fraction of the time. There is little doubt who is going to be the favorite child between the two divisions.

As far as interest goes, the bantamweight ladies have already come into the UFC with a leg up on their male counterpart.

For many, WMMA is considered a novelty, and the idea of women even competing in MMA draws controversy. Slap the picture of a bloody WMMA fight on the front of a newspaper and it will get people talking. To be fair, plenty of people are already on board with WMMA and would consider the question of if females have any business fighting as being completely outdated. Either way, that separation of opinion, and subsequent argument and interest, will invariably draw more eyes to their fights.

Would it be ridiculous to say that smaller men have no business fighting against one another on the big stage? That is not likely an argument to be made. It’s something that male fighters benefit from due to sexist views in sports. It’s more likely that casual fans are just less interested in seeing smaller male weight classes compete.

If lack of interest is the case, then there isn’t any controversy to discuss. For the most part, the majority of fans would rather watch the bigger guys knock each other silly and not have to be told by people like White that they don’t appreciate the sport if they simply care less about lighter-weight fighters.

Put a check mark on the side of women when it comes to interest, due to their inherent novelty of being, well, woman.

Secondly, let’s compare the success of a certain female bantamweight star to the flyweights.

Who’s the lady on the tip of everybody’s tongue when it comes to WMMA bantamweights? That’s right, crossover star Ronda Rousey.

Can anyone name an equivalent of her success as a flyweight fighter? The answer is no.

Sure, the flyweights have a handful of stars that deserve credit and have successful, merited careers, but not one of them has gotten close to the amount of attention Rousey has already achieved with just one UFC fight.

Her fame has pervaded across the spectrum of media, from magazine covers to television shows like TMZ and HBO’s Real Sports, and even superficially on the level of social media. Compare any flyweight fighter’s Instagram comments to Rousey’s and you’ll see what I mean. You’ll see a lot of marriage proposals and requests for armbars. It’s enough to make your skin crawl, but it illustrates the point that one female star can generate more interest than a whole division of fighters. She’s a star and a bona fide sex symbol. And that’s the sort of thing promoters can use to elevate an entire division of WMMA.

A couple of the most well-known UFC flyweights are Ian McCall and champion Demetrious Johnson. McCall has a great look and personality, but he is currently riding a two-fight losing streak, not counting his controversial draw with Johnson. He’s going to need to win quite a few more fights before he can again be sold as a challenger to rouse fan interest. But as of now, he’s been unable to secure a win in his three UFC fights.

The champion, Johnson, has already cleaned out most of the top flyweight names. McCall, Joseph Benavidez and John Dodson have all been on the losing end of fights with Johnson. And we’re still waiting to hear who the next run of challengers are supposed to be in an already thin division.

Johnson’s next fight would have been against John Moraga, but it has been scrapped for the time being due to a Johnson injury. It will be anyone’s guess who the next set of worthy flyweight challengers are, mainly due to lack of promotion and main-card fights, unless we’re going to see the same names recycled for rematches.

Another problem for the champion is that all seven of his UFC fights have gone the distance. They’ve been fast-paced and technical affairs, but something that has drawn criticism from some fans.

There are flyweights such as Benavidez and Dodson who can pack a punch, and there are excellent grapplers like Jussier “Formiga” da Silva, but if they’re not continually seen on main cards, then they’re not fresh in people’s minds. It might even be worth it to place the well-known flyweights in squash matches on a main card just to get people interested.

More on that in a bit, but let’s shift the focus back to the ladies.

The WMMA bantamweights came into the UFC with an established star in Rousey as their champion. They didn’t pit her against a No. 1 contender, but rather a top-tier fighter who decided to step up: Liz Carmouche. That fight headlined the UFC 157 pay-per-view and garnered 450,000 buys, which cemented Rousey’s status as a star. As long as she can keep winning, the female bantamweights will be a good investment.

Granted, most of WMMA’s recent success has been stilted from having Rousey as its poster child. It’s yet to be seen how well received the other female bantamweights will be by a wider audience. For now, the UFC’s WMMA fighters appear to be a healthy bunch, but it’s still a division with only one real major star. The argument that the division will grow stale in the UFC without Rousey could very well prove to be true, but the current interest is undeniable.

Other than UFC 152, there has been only one other flyweight fight on a UFC pay-per-view main card, and that was Benavidez vs. McCall at UFC 156. That event garnered 330,000 PPV buys and was headlined by a fight between featherweight champion Jose Aldo and former lightweight kingpin Frankie Edgar. Do you see the difference of appeal that one WMMA fight brought to the table, even when compared to a superfight?

You could say that flyweights are less interesting to fans, but the UFC is still culpable for not showcasing enough of the division’s fights for fans to be interested in the first place. In one year, the best the UFC could do in regards to having flyweight fights on its pay-per-view main cards was a single fight. One fight. If fans should learn to appreciate the flyweights, then shouldn’t the UFC be giving them much more exposure? Or does the UFC not believe that they are will amount to a good return for the investment?

Why should fans feel bad about criticizing flyweights, as White has vented about, when the UFC isn’t confident enough to put the fights on its most lucrative platform?

Now, the flyweights have had success on network television. The UFC has smartly placed a few flyweight fights on the UFC on Fox events and headlined UFC on Fox 6 with Johnson vs. Dodson. It gave television audiences a title fight as an enticing offer to watch, and it could prove to be a great way to steer interest towards the division. The event proved that by bringing in a healthy number of 6.4 million viewers.

Putting flyweight fights on television for free could be the best option for the division to catch on with audiences. Still, there is the caveat that the commercials for UFC on Fox 6 never used the word “flyweight.” The UFC’s ads only promised a “world title” fight, while failing to specify the division. Again, where is the UFC’s confidence with supporting the weight class and nurturing its success?

While we’re on the topic of television, wouldn’t a flyweight season of The Ultimate Fighter be a great way to introduce new talent into the division with added television exposure? It might happen down the road, but the women have already stolen the thunder by getting there first.

At UFC 158, it was announced that Rousey will be coaching opposite of the winner of Cat Zingano vs. Miesha Tate in a co-ed season of the show. The announcement reverberated through the MMA community. Fans immediately became curious about men and women competing and training together under the same roof. Plus, the intrigue of the sound-bite generator herself, Rousey, coaching already sold a good number of viewers. Again, the women steal another check mark from the flyweights when it comes to potential for success.

It’s hard to imagine that a flyweight season of TUF would do the same compared to that announcement, unless the UFC is planning something crazy, like pitting the flyweights against a pack of circus clowns that are moderately trained in MMA as their fight to get into the house. Of course, that’s ridiculous, but it’s plain to see that the women generate interest in numbers and the flyweights are sparsely used and undersung.

As far as popularity goes, the writing is on the wall that the women’s bantamweight division is poised for success and that the flyweights are still a misunderstood bunch.

Given that the WMMA bantamweight division is still being launched, their success might very well hinge on Rousey’s. It has still been proven that the exposure she has brought with one fight alone has already eclipsed anything a flyweight star or the UFC’s use of the men’s division has done in the span of a year.

The smart money should be placed on the women bantamweights over the male flyweights for who is producing the most immediate popularity. In the long term, it could be anyone’s guess, but WMMA appears to have the advantage in the important promotional areas. So, the next time you hear Dana White huffing and puffing over why fans should appreciate the flyweights, ask him why the UFC hasn’t given us a good reason to do so.

Photo: Ronda Rousey (Esther Lin/MMA Fighting)

About The Author

David Massey
Staff Writer

David Massey studied Humanities and Art History at the University of Central Oklahoma. He first found interest in MMA from the first TUF show and has been hooked ever since. He began posting on mmajunkie then submitting Sunday Junkie entries and that began his interest in writing about MMA. Through twitter David found other MMA enthusiasts and began contributing articles to marqueemma.com. He looks forward to growing as a writer and being a part of the sport he loves.

  • The biggest problem is that there’s no intrigue in the flyweight division. It’s the same 4 guys fighting each other. Dozens of quality flyweights span the globe yet the UFC ignores them.