Demetrious Johnson would likely make the cut to 125 lbs. when the UFC creates the division early next year. Photos by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC
During the post-fight press conference at UFC on Versus 6 on October 1st in Washington D.C., UFC President Dana White was asked about the potential addition of a 125 lb. weight class. The question was appropriate considering challenger Demetrious Johnson was controlled by the much bigger champion Dominick Cruz in a main event bantamweight title showdown only minutes beforehand. The topic has also been tabled over the course of the last two years, never actually getting a confirmed approval from Dana White, only a glimmer of hope with vague undertones.
There was nothing unclear about White's answer this time around. He confirmed to reporters that the UFC would, in fact, promote a flyweight division in early 2012, causing questions to arise whether Johnson would make the transition down. Johnson wasn't receptive to the idea just yet, but it will inevitably happen as he's considered a natural flyweight with the potential to be the division's first champion.
The obvious impact of such a move is clear. A fighter like Jussier da Silva, who struggled to pay for travel expenses to fight in America, will have his tab picked up if he were in the UFC. Sponsorship money, salaries, and the media spotlight will increase dramatically. The added perk of fighter insurance will make it possible for some of these fighters to train full-time. In a nutshell, it makes it viable for some of these fighters to make MMA a career rather than a hobby.
There are, however, potentially detrimental effects that the addition of the division creates. Most notably, it will thin out the UFC's bantamweight division. Former title contenders Joseph Benavidez and Demetrious Johnson are the obvious choices to vie for the newly-minted title. That depletes the division of two potential repeat contenders, and that isn't factoring in the rest of the talent that would drop to 125 with the creation of the weight class.
The solution to that problem lies in the prospect pool. Surely there are a number of great bantamweights available to replenish the ranks, right? Wrong. The division is lacking numbers in the regional scene as well, and the addition of a flyweight division causes the exact same problem I outlined before. Some of these prospects will make the drop, thinning out the bantamweight talent pool. By the end of all the shuffling, the flyweight division will bilk one quarter to one half the worldwide bantamweight pool.
The good news is that regional promotions will more than likely begin adding flyweight fights to their roster. The bad news? Nobody cares about the bantamweights, at least in the sense that casuals are what make the UFC major revenue, and the flyweights will likely be seen as a step down in relevancy. Cruz vs. Johnson barely moved the needle with fans. Why should we believe Benavidez vs. Johnson, or any fight inside the flyweight division will deliver ratings or buys? We care, but does anyone else?
This isn't the boldest business decision by the UFC by any stretch of the imagination. It does allow them to put together more cards that feature two title fights, which is always great for business. The reality is that it creates two divisions that will have a thin talent pool to pull from, and they are both essentially competing with one another for fighters. The interest isn't there to fuel pay-per-views or ratings. It's also proven that the culture of combat sports is obsessed with larger fighters. Unless a shift, one that we see with Manny Pacquiao in boxing, occurs in MMA, the flyweight division is a money pit that will have a hard time driving revenue. Kudos to the UFC for giving these fighters their due, but is it the smartest decision when the division directly above it hasn't been able to fuel interest?