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UFC 178 Results: Dispelling the “Lighter Weight Classes Can’t Draw” Myth

(Photo via Getty)

By Matt Saccaro

The notion that lighter weight fighters have drawing power as little as their size is among the most oft-touted truisms in MMA.

When given a cursory glance, it appears true. Demetrious Johnson is responsible for one of the worst UFC PPV buyrates of all time at UFC 174. People were so disinterested they literally walked out of the arena during Johnson’s world title fight against Ali Bagautinov.

Johnson (and perhaps flyweight in general) lacking buzz isn’t new. He headlined UFC on Fox 8 in Seattle and drew a paltry live gate of $735,000. When the UFC ran the city the year prior, the live gate and attendance were twice as high. And the ratings for UFC on Fox 8? It was 40% lower than UFC on Fox 7 at 2.04 million–a record low at the time.

Flyweights debuted in the UFC in March 2012. When flyweights–to use a loaded cliche– failed to move the needle, proponents of the division said to just give it time. Fans would be wowed by the action and speed in flyweight fights. It’s September 2014 now and the weight class is just as devoid of interest as it ever was.

However, that doesn’t necessarily mean lighter weight classes can’t draw. It just means Demetrious Johnson (and much of the current stable of lighter weight fighters) can’t draw.

There is no doubt some percentage of viewers who disregard flyweights based on their physical proportions. “Who’s the toughest 125-pound man? Isn’t that a trick question.” Hell, when we were watching the fights last night, someone came by during the tale of the tape. He said “unless these guys are fighting Tyrion Lannister, I don’t care.” These same people are likely put off by the high pace of flyweight fights typically featuring technique above raw power.

The typical insult used to write off people like this is to call them fake MMA fans, but fake fans have real money. Thus, a fighter has two primary responsibilities: Win and sell.

Demetrious Johnson fails at the former as much as he excels at the latter. He’s an incredible fighter and a pleasure to watch for people who appreciate the technical aspects of the sport. Unfortunately, that kind of fan is in the minority.

MMA is pro wrestling. While people claim they cherish talent rather than theatrics, numbers indicate the opposite. Fans crave story lines and rivalries–not just in MMA but in all sports. Any physical prowess displayed is just an added bonus.

Conor McGregor was also on the UFC 178 fight card last night. As a featherweight, he’s part of the doomed-to-sub-250k buys lighter weight classes. From the sheer amount of atmosphere around him, you wouldn’t know that. McGregor is such a personality he had his own media scrum after the UFC 178 post-fight press conference. He’s reached such a level of popularity in his homeland that allegedly 10 percent of UFC 178′s ticket sales came from Ireland. McGregor broke ratings records when he fought Diego Brandao at UFC Fight Night 46.

Conor McGregor is proof the lighter weight classes can produce fighters with charisma and magnetism enough to be stars. Meanwhile, Demetrious Johnson is proof of the unfortunate reality of prize fighting: You’re only as good as your ability to draw money.

Many people are interested in seeing Conor McGregor. Not many people are interested in seeing Demetrious Johnson. Johnson’s small size might play a minuscule part in that, but the real reason is self promotion. Conor McGregor makes you care about him (either because you think he’s awesome or you want to see him get humbled). Even Dominick Cruz scored some extra attention last night when he called out Team Alpha Male in his post-fight interview by saying he was ready to beat up more “alpha fails.”

That’s what fighters need to do.

There is no budo. There is no honor. There is no respect. After you win, you have 20 seconds to make sure fans remember who you are. You have 20 seconds to make them care about you and your next fight. If you don’t, you’re poisoning your future. You’re sealing your fate as one out of millions of generic UFC Fighters™ with a shaved head, shitty tattoos, and Dynamic Fastener emblazoned across your ass. Talent is rarely enough. You need to stand out. It’s great if you can do that with your performance in the cage, but it’s even better to do it with your words.


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