UFC Flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson resoundingly defended his title over John Moraga with four rounds of grappling dominance, capped off with an armbar finish. But it is already being discussed that the card will disappoint when the ratings are released and about the ability for Flyweights to draw in viewers. Since the introduction of the division the idea that Flyweights are "too small" to be entertaining has been batted around by fans and some media and it is just silly.
The "those fighters are too small to be interesting" line has been repeated each time a weightclass has been added to the sport, going back to the addition of Lightweight. It just takes a special fighter to elevate a division. Lightweight had B.J. Penn, Featherweight had Urijah Faber and Jose Aldo, Bantamweight had Miguel Torres, and we still waiting to see who will emerge for Flyweight. Johnson's performance tonight makes him a candidate but it has yet to be seen if he will become the face of the division.
In the end the ratings won't be fantastic for this card most likely, but don't blame it on the size of the fighters. Blame the lack of marketing push and the injuries that ravaged the main card. Talk about how the UFC and Fox seem to be settling into a pattern of a few big cards, mostly when they can market during NFL season and then the rest of the cards can be smaller events, but it isn't because Demetrious Johnson is a small guy.
And when the ratings come back and turn out not to be the near Superbowl rating that some fans seem to expect each time the UFC is on Fox, let's not jump off that metaphorical cliff. Keep in mind that compared to the other major sports Fox carries the UFC is very cheap, and carries with it a solid number of reliable viewership. Hardcore MMA fans tune in, pretty much not matter what, and it has been demonstrated when a card creates casual interest the UFC can draw strong numbers. But it is a give and take relationship, and the UFC is still a Pay-Per-View driven company so we will get cards like this one, geared to give a champion a little exposure and raise awareness of a PPV the following weekend. It is going to be up and down at times, and Fox seems to be okay with the arrangement as nothing has been changing, not the UFC"s time slot, not their starring role in the Fox Sports 1 channel, nor the construction of the cards.
On to the other thoughts of the night:
- Johnson had a masterful display of MMA grappling: his takedowns were perfectly timed, he sliced through Moraga's guard, and then worked an excellent top game. Johnson fought off takedowns, reversed them, worked from top and bottom, and in the end he wasn't content to ride out a win, he kept attacking. He failed on a kimura attempt in the fourth round and lost position, but he tried again in the fifth. The second attempt Johnson made sure he was in side control and had freedom of movement and was able to switch to an armbar and finish the fight. All in all Johnson looked a special champion last night.
- The co-main event wasn't a thrilling fight, just want to get that out there right off the bat. But don't make it out as a failure for Rory MacDonald. He used his superior footwork and jab to very carefully control the distance, and it was Jake Ellenberger's job to make something happen. MacDonald was having success with what he was doing and Ellenberger had to do something to disrupt that and he didn't until late in the third round with his increased takedown attempts. Ellenberger was losing for nearly 13 full minutes before he tried to change something for force action upon MacDonald.
- The fight did expose that Ellenberger's striking is still rather elementary. He didn't have the footwork to cut off MacDonald and he didn't have the combination punching to get the fight in a range that favored him. And every time he tried to charge forward he was brought up short by a sharp MacDonald jab. Ellenberger is going to have shore up his striking to make another serious run at a title.
- While MacDonald did a very good job controlling the distance and frustrating Ellenberger, he did not open up his offense at any point. The power of Ellenberger is likely what kept the normally highly aggressive MacDonald on a leash. While it is disappointing from an entertainment stand point, MacDonald is not responsible to creating a path to victory for Ellenberger or adjusting his game plan, it is on Ellenberger to make the adjustment, and he was unable to.
- Robbie Lawler beat up a guy that wasn't on his level. With a very nice head kick, given, but still not sure what we learned about Lawler that we didn't know in 2002: he can knockout average UFC guys.
- Liz Carmouche put on a display of positional dominance against Jessica Andrade, using her physical and technical grappling to move from dominant position to dominant position. Some people complained a bit about Herb Dean's stoppage of the fight, but it seemed appropriately timed. Some of Carmouche's strikes did land to the back of the head, but they seemed to occur more because Andrade was thrashing about than intent from Carmouche. Overall it was a very impressive performance from Carmouche and shows she was not just a stepping stone for Ronda Rousey.
- Jorge Masvidal hit a beautiful dump to D'arce choke to finish off Michael Chiesa to cap off what was a pretty good fight, another gate keeper halting the climb of a recent TUF champion.
- Melvin Guillard looked very sharp against Mac Danzig. His footwork looked very fluid, he was cutting angles, and most impressive he established a pattern of intelligent aggression on the feet and slowly built up to the big punch that eventually dropped Danzig instead of just trying to force the issue. Very good showing from Guillard.
- Germaine de Randamie took a step forward as a fighter as she was able to fend off veteran fighter Julie Kedzie. A kickboxer, de Randamie had struggled with developing a real comfort with MMA and while she still looked a little stiff and awkward on the ground this was clearly a step in the right direction.
- Quick final point, I've complained in the past the UFC production crews rarely do a good job miking the crowd. But they changed their arrangement for this fight and the crowd was much more a part of the audio experience and despite all the boos it was a positive change in my books.