UFC Fight Night: Maia vs. Usman marked the UFC’s 14th event of 2018, and once again the men’s flyweight division was nowhere to be seen on the main card. In fact, the upcoming events suggest that’s not going to change any time soon.
Men’s flyweight is the only weight class that has not been on a main card this year, and you’d have to go back to Henry Cejudo’s win over Sergio Pettis at UFC 218 to find the most recent one. By this point in 2017, there were 3, including Demetrious Johnson’s title defense vs. Wilson Reis.
The 2018 breakdown is as follows:
Dustin Ortiz vs. Alexandre Pantoja - UFC 220 prelims on FS1
Deiveson Figueiredo vs. Joseph Morales - UFC Fight Night: Machida vs. Anders prelims on Fight Pass
Jussier Formiga vs. Ben Nguyen - UFC 221 prelims on FS1
Roberto Sanchez vs. Joby Sanchez - UFC Fight Night: Cerrone vs. Medeiros prelims on FS1
Alex Perez vs. Eric Shelton - UFC on FOX 28 prelims on Fight Pass (fight was at catchweight)
John Moraga vs. Wilson Reis - UFC on FOX 29 prelims on FOX
Alexandre Pantoja vs. Brandon Moreno - UFC Fight Night: Maia vs. Usman prelims on FS2
Five of the seven bouts featured at least one fighter currently ranked in the top-15. Additionally, a bout between Magomed Bibulatov and Ulka Sasaki was slated to be on the UFC Atlantic City prelims, whereas the Conor McGregor-instigated bus attack nixed Ray Borg vs. Brandon Moreno from the UFC 223 prelims. Even when Borg-Moreno was rescheduled for UFC Chile, it was for the prelims.
The next four flyweight bouts are all slated for UFC Fight Pass. Hector Sandoval vs. Jarred Brooks will kick off UFC Utica on June 1st, Joseph Benavidez vs. Sergio Pettis will be on the UFC 225 prelims on June 9th, and UFC Singapore on June 23rd has Matt Schnell vs. Naoki Inoue and Jenel Lausa vs. Ulka Sasaki, but neither of those matchups looks likely to make the main card.
While you could argue that card placement isn’t as important now compared to the days when prelims weren’t even televised, it’s still makes a difference when it comes to fan attendance and/or TV ratings. For example, Moraga vs. Reis was on a preliminary card that averaged more than half the viewership as the main card despite being on the same network. Pantoja vs. Moreno on FS2 is going to be seen by a much smaller audience than had they been on FS1. The odds of the United Center being filled to capacity for Benavidez vs. Pettis on Fight Pass as opposed to even the FS1 prelims are extremely low.
There are only 31 flyweights under contract, by far the fewest among all men’s divisions, with heavyweight currently at 43. Even women’s strawweight, which was formed in 2014, has 41 fighters, while women’s flyweight has 29. Women’s bantamweight has merely 19 fighters, but we can save debate over that division’s future for another day.
Demetrious Johnson claimed last year that the UFC threatened to get rid of the entire division, and while there’s no indication they’re actually going to do so, there’s also zero reason to believe they’re seeing the weight class as anything other than card filler, even for the contenders. Flyweight may have the consensus #1 pound-for-pound fighter in the world, but not only is he not a draw, the rest of the division is virtually an afterthought.