It seems the UFC is finally learning its lesson on how to properly promote MMA events on network television.

The promotion has discovered that cards featuring prominent, well-known fighters among the existing community don’t necessarily translate to good ratings. After the UFC’s first Fox offering garnered nearly six million viewers, each of the three subsequent events has experienced a ratings decline, with the most recent Fox card only netting 2.36 million viewers.

While the novelty of MMA on network television certainly contributed to the ratings success for the first UFC on Fox event, the other significant difference between that card and the three others that followed is the fact that it featured a championship fight.

Sure, Rashad Evans, Chael Sonnen, Mauricio “Shogun” Rua and Jim Miller are big names to people who already follow MMA, but to those people who are tuning in without much knowledge of the sport—which is to say the viewers the UFC is hoping to appeal to most—they’re just dudes who aren’t fighting for a title, so they’re not the best. The UFC is not yet in a place where it can adequately promote non-title fights to the general sports-watching public, and the ratings for UFC on Fox 2, 3 and 4 have reflected that. In a very wise decision, therefore, the UFC has once again decided to headline its next two Fox events with championship bouts.

First, on Dec. 8, Benson Henderson will defend his UFC lightweight belt against Nate Diaz (who will actually be headlining his second UFC on Fox event after defeating Jim Miller in the main event of UFC on Fox 3). The UFC is obviously hoping to capitalize on the additional hype that can be generated for a title fight, and it has picked a couple of exciting fighters to serve as bait for potential viewers. That card will be supported by a light heavyweight title eliminator between Shogun and Alexander Gustafsson, as well as two potentially incredible welterweight fights (B.J. Penn vs. Rory MacDonald and Mike Swick vs. Matt Brown), but again, the title fight is going to be the main point of attraction for new viewers. If those folks are going to have to give up a Saturday night to watch cage fighting, they’ll be more apt to tune in if there’s a title on the line.

Then, on Jan. 26, the UFC will return to Fox with a card headlined by a flyweight title fight between champion Demetrious Johnson and No. 1 contender John Dodson. Like its predecessor, this UFC on Fox card is also supported by a number of great fights for existing MMA fans, including a light heavyweight showdown between Quinton “Rampage” Jackson and Glover Teixeira and an explosive lightweight contest featuring Donald Cerrone and Anthony Pettis—both of whom are a win or two away from title contention. Once more, the UFC has elected to showcase a title fight in the main event slot, but this particular fight has raised some questions about its attractiveness to fans both new and existing.

Because the flyweight division is the UFC’s newest, it has not had the opportunity to build up much excitement around it for anyone other than the most attentive MMA fans. There have only been a handful of flyweight fights in the UFC to begin with, and the division’s roster contains the fewest fighters among the promotion’s weight classes. The other (stupid) reason some believe flyweight fights won’t attract a lot of fans is because of the size of the fighters themselves. There aren’t many grown men who are small enough to fight at 125 pounds, and it’s possible that a number of viewers unfamiliar with MMA would pull the old “I could take either of these little guys” routine and de-legitimize the division’s position in professional sports.

First of all, anyone who has ever said they stand a chance against a professional MMA fighter has never been to an MMA gym and had a guy much smaller than him turn his body into a pretzel of pain and suffering, so the UFC has to hope that newer fans would consider the source of comments serving to detract from the lighter weight classes. As MMA becomes more of a known entity among sports fans, generally speaking, one of its aspects that will be stressed more than the others is the sheer athleticism of all MMA fighters, so remarks from Johnny Barstool will become less and less relevant as time goes on.

Second, while concerns about the division’s relative newness are legitimate when it comes to the selection of main event fights on Fox, what better way to increase the flyweights’ cache than by putting the weight class’s belt on the line in such attention-grabbing circumstances? Remember that it wasn’t so many years ago that the lightweight division was just getting started, and now many would argue that it is the most exciting division in the sport. And now that Jose Aldo has run roughshod though the featherweight division, would anyone question one of his fights in a headlining spot, even though the UFC’s featherweight division is just two years old? The headlining spot that Demetrious Johnson and John Dodson are receiving on network television, and the exciting fight that will surely transpire therein, will only serve to further (and probably more quickly than in other divisions) increase the interest in the UFC’s lightest weight class.

Finally, I return to my original point: A card on Fox featuring a title fight, no matter the division, is going to attract more viewers than one without a title fight.

Hardcore MMA fans should be thrilled with the fights on tap for Jan. 26 in Chicago, but they’d probably tune in either way. Most of those fans don’t need much convincing that the flyweight title fight will be a great one, and they’re equally thrilled to see Cerrone and Pettis finally throw down.

More casual MMA fans will tune in because UFC on Fox 6 is a fantastic card that’s on free television, and they recognize Rampage as one of the sport’s more legendary figures. New and uninitiated fans, the ones to whom the names on the bill mean very little and whose decision to tune in will make the most significant difference in the ratings, will be most attracted to the presence of a title fight on the Fox card and will therefore be more likely to watch.

In a year or two, the flyweight division will no longer be new and, like every division introduced to the UFC over the years, fans will no longer question the legitimacy of the sport’s smallest male fighters. When that time comes, this whole argument about whether a 125-pound title fight is a good choice to headline a Fox card will seem sort of silly. The flyweight division has just as much potential to produce exciting fights as any other, and the title fight between Johnson and Dodson is a fantastic choice to close UFC on Fox 6 because it will satisfy existing fans with its thrilling pace and attract new fans, and therefore increase ratings, with its prominence.

Photo: Demetrious Johnson (R) outlasted Joseph Benavidez en route to the flyweight title (Paul Thatcher/Fight! Magazine)