This weekend there will be two bantamweight fights -- Joe Soto vs. Anthony Birchak and Alex Caceres vs. Francisco Rivera -- on the main card of UFC Fight Night: Henderson vs. Boetsch. By the end of fight night, the number of bantamweight bouts on any UFC main card will have doubled. None of the four fighters has had a previous fight this year, and it's a microcosm of what is a much larger problem for the bantamweight division.
In an excellent breakdown of the UFC's roster, as well as fights booked this year, Michael Hutchinson of Last Word on Sports found that despite men's bantamweight comprising roughly 10% of the entire UFC roster at 55 fighters (chart link), less then 4% of the UFC's entire fight list (not counting this weekend or future events) have occurred in the weight class. No weight class, including the new women's strawweight division, has had fewer fights booked in 2015 than men's 135. (Chart link)
Not only is bantamweight not getting many fights, the majority of them are stuck on the prelims. As mentioned earlier, only 2 fights -- Iuri Alcantara vs. Frankie Saenz and Thomas Almeida vs. Yves Jabouin -- have been on a main card of any sort. It's the only weight class without a main event, although Dillashaw vs. Barao 2 this July should break that streak. For the record, lightweight has both the highest total fights and main card fights. (Chart link)
One of the root causes of the paucity of fights is the long-term injuries that have plagued many top ranked bantamweights, most notably Dominick Cruz (1 fight since 2011), Michael McDonald (last fought in December 2013), Eddie Wineland (last fought in May 2014), Johnny Eduardo (last fought in May 2014), and Erik Perez (last fought June 2014).
This all relates back to this Reebok opinion piece written by Bloody Elbow editor Zane Simon, who noted the problems that the lighter weight classes (plus the very thin light heavyweight and heavyweight) divisions face with regards to the tenure-based sponsorship pay:
While women's bantamweight and strawweight are extreme cases, men's flyweight is under a similar problem, as only three fighters have more than 10 fights, meaning practically everyone in those divisions will be making $5,000 or less. Like I said, that's a problem that could go away in time. But a secondary problem, and one equally related to those divisions won't be solved by months or years, as it's a problem with the UFC's fight booking structure itself.
There's no reason that the 145-185lb fighters shouldn't be getting more fights overall, after all there's more of them. But the fact that they get booked at a higher rate means that they also get more opportunities to climb the sponsorship tiers. To put it another way, while the 219 fighters at light heavyweight and above and bantamweight and below make up 40% of the roster, they only get booked for 33% of the fights.
If the statistics are anything to go by, it looks like bantamweight is going to be hit the hardest in this Reebok deal if things don't change soon.