Ever since the Ultimate Fighting Championship debuted on Fox last November, every fan and fight expert has made their speculations known as it pertains to the UFC’s long-term goal of helping the sport of Mixed Martial Arts to reach a national level of recognition as a mainstream sport. Whether or not they’re anywhere close to that goal yet is out in the open, but with the way in which the UFC expands its product for the viewing pleasure of a worldwide audience, the promotion doesn’t seem very far from achieving that objective. Ask some of the combat sports world about the Fox deal, however, and some may tap into their inner Dave Meltzer by addressing the great ratings issue—which is a debate in itself, depending on who you ask.

Now, no one should suggest from either the recent ratings for UFC on Fox events or the more recent UFC fight cards that the promotion is doing anything wrong, but if the UFC can’t find a way to have the UFC heavyweight title contested on every Fox card, what other options does the organization have, aside from creating fights that seem to fulfill the needs of hardcore fans?

Enter the UFC’s lighter weight classes, or for starters, enter the UFC flyweight division, which is not only standing as the promotion’s smallest weight class, but also a division whose inclusion was a part of the proverbial domino effect caused by the WEC-UFC merger in which the UFC finally introduced featherweights and bantamweights to its fans.

Before we talk about the 125-pounders, though, allow Yours Truly to bring you up to speed on these smaller dudes.

The WEC was founded in 2001 and folded in December 2010 after an amazing final card—WEC 53, featuring current UFC lightweight titleholder and former WEC lightweight champion Benson Henderson vs. then-title-challenger Anthony Pettis, and then-WEC bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz vs. Scott Jorgensen. From the time of Zuffa’s purchase of the WEC in December 2006 until February 2009, the weight classes above 155 pounds were absorbed by their UFC counterparts—with the exception of the WEC heavyweight division and super-heavyweight division, both of which were actually abolished when Zuffa purchased the promotion.

In the greater scheme of things, WEC alumni have always been regarded as fighters who “bring it” when the Octagon door shuts, but the pace that the featherweights and bantamweights set in comparison to their larger counterparts—compounded with the well-documented durability and grit of the 145ers and 135ers—has been the most defining feature of both weight classes.

Add in the recent inclusion of the 125-pounders—the flyweights—and when combining their own frenetic pace, their own level of nonstop, action-packed excitement, and their own durability with that of the featherweights and bantamweights, it’s easy to understand what is so captivating about that 125-pound division. The only issue is the matter of marketability—in other words, the matter of selling the division, skills and all, to newer fans of MMA, all of whom may see more money in watching heavyweights collide.

Thus begs the question: how do you market the UFC’s 125-pound division when it’s hardly a division at all at this time?

There’s no complex formula to marketing either of the three lighter weight classes—all a Dana White or a Lorenzo Fertitta needs is a roster full of featherweights, bantamweights, and/or flyweights hungry to showcase their skill set, a card on which to do it, and a platform on which these lighter weight classes can display their skills for their most complete worth.

We understand what the fighters in these lighter weight classes can do inside the cage, we know what they bring to the sport of MMA, and we know that—for a pretty underappreciated trio of divisions—these “lighterweights” easily deliver some of the most fierce action that any combat sports fans will find anywhere in the world—and all without the contrived animosity that accompanies quite a few pay-per-view headliners and free TV main events, but for reasons we have not unraveled, neither of these three divisions has been represented on a stage aside from a pay-per-view card (where Jose Aldo has headlined and co-headlined), a Fuel TV event (where Chan Sung Jung and Dustin Poirier headlined), or an FX event (where Jared Papazian vs. Mike Easton stole the show, and where the UFC flyweight division debuted).

As it stands right now in regards to just the UFC flyweight class, next weekend’s rematch of Ian McCall and Demetrious Johnson is the first immediate instance of the UFC flyweights being represented on a large platform, as it will headline an equally action-packed night of fights on FX. The only other bout in which the flyweights will be on display is when TUF 14 alumn Josh Ferguson returns to face Chris “Kamikaze” Cariaso at UFC on Fuel TV 4. Aside from those two bouts, however, the division’s time to demonstrate their craft ends with Cariaso vs. Ferguson, which may only receive its green-light as a Facebook preliminary at best.

With Joseph Benavidez awaiting his moment to contend for the inaugural UFC flyweight belt in opposition to the winner of Johnson-McCall II, as well as an ample amount of time in which to acquire enough talent for the existence of a flyweight division, only one option for a platform remains open for these flyweights to showcase their skill sets, and that platform is in front of a live national audience, as well as a worldwide television audience, on Fox.

Skeptics can argue all they wish about how the lighter weight classes are not big draws, or how the divisions are not loaded, or how the divisions are just not marketable from any standpoint. What they fail to comprehend, however, is that the UFC’s seven-year Fox deal is not about loading every card with big names like Junior dos Santos, Benson Henderson, Georges St-Pierre, Anderson Silva, or even Jon Jones. The UFC’s seven-year agreement with Fox is about drawing people in to the sport of MMA, and who better than the flyweights to draw people in?

Aside from that, there’s a popular school of thought in some minds that says “skills sell, son,” and a look at what flyweight fights—and the lighter weight classes in general—provide in terms of action, intensity and excitement is proof that a fight can sell in 2012 based solely on what a fighter can do without having to be a light heavyweight named Jon Jones. From striking to grappling, from rapid-fire combinations to a wrestling game that has seemingly overdosed on caffeine, from world-class jiu-jitsu that acts as fast as the poison from the venom of a Black Mamba to footwork and boxing envied by some of the all-time greats in the sweet science, the flyweight division can deliver any and every skill set possible while also leaving fans wondering why there are not more of these guys in the UFC, based on the tempo they consistently set and, again, the action they bring when they fight.

Right now, the UFC would only have just enough flyweights to get Benavidez vs. the Johnson-McCall rematch winner as the headliner—or at least co-headliner—on the UFC on Fox 5 card, if that is what they so choose to do, along with a bout that may pit the loser against anyone from John Dodson or Louis Gaudinot to Tim Elliott or John Lineker. Of course, the MMA world can maintain some realistic thoughts and hold off on asking for an all-flyweight card until the UFC signs the likes of Jussier da Silva, Mamoru Yamaguchi, Darrell Montague, Ulysses Gomez or Dustin Ortiz, but the bottom lines are drawing newer spectators into the MMA world and the exposure and complete exploitation of the flyweight division at its best.

If the UFC—fully aware of the thirsts that only flyweight action can satisfy—opts to follow up the efforts of its Aug. 4 event on Fox with a card headlined or co-headlined by the finals of this UFC flyweight title tournament, the promotion will not only showcase the beauty of the MMA world below 155 pounds, but also it will start to understand the formula necessary to draw more fans to the sport of MMA for the duration of its time on Fox.

Photo: Tim Elliott ducks under a flying kick thrown by John Dodson (Tracy Lee/Yahoo! Sports)

About The Author

Dale De Souza
Staff Writer

Dale De Souza is a 22-year-old kid straight out of Texas, who grew up around Professional Wrestling but embraced the beauty of Mixed Martial Arts and Combat Sports at a young age. Dale is a Featured Columnist at Bleacher Report MMA, a writer at The MMA Corner.