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The Unsupportable Opinion: The Flyweight Division Is Pointless and the UFC Should Kill It

(It’s insulting to compare flyweights to children because of their size. They’re grown men, okay? Grown men who just happen to be sponsored by video games and candy. / Photo via Getty Images)

By Matt Saccaro

The flyweight division doesn’t serve a purpose in the UFC — at least not a good purpose.

Now, do us both a favor and read the whole article before you go to the comments.

The oft-mentioned casual fan — you know, the kind of person who’s decked out in TapouT gear, plays UFC Personal Trainer, and thinks “MMA” is an acronym for some kind of governmental organization and not a sport — doesn’t care about the UFC’s flyweight division and never has. This fact hasn’t been more brutally apparent than it is now.

UFC on FOX 8, headlined by a flyweight title fight between champ Demetrious Johnson and challenger John Moraga, drew a paltry live gate of $735,000. Just under 8,000 fans were present. The amount of comped tickets wasn’t revealed. When the UFC visited Seattle back in December with a non-flyweight main event, the attendance and live gate were twice as high.

The event wasn’t a success in terms of TV viewership either. Despite winning the night in the 18-49 year old demographic, their numbers with that demographic were down 40% since the last FOX event. The FOX portion of the card was viewed by an average of 2.04 million viewers. To put that into perspective, more people watched a rerun of Cops that aired on FOX the previous Saturday in the same time slot than were watching LIVE UFC ACTION!!! Not only did “Johnson vs. Moraga” draw the fewest viewers of any UFC on FOX event, it was the lowest-rated MMA event ever on network television.

The numbers don’t lie. Flyweight is the Ryan Leaf of the UFC’s weight classes. So why not get rid of it?

Flyweight apologists might say that it’s too early to apply such a dubious distinction to the 125 lbs. division and that things will be just fine. “Just give it time and the fans will be wowed by how technical and amazing the flyweights are,” they’ll argue. The biggest flyweight apologist of them all, Demetrious Johnson, clings to this theory as well.

“I think the flyweights are doing pretty well so far. I mean yeah a lot of people still don’t know about us, but it’s just going to take time,” Johnson said on Bleacher Report’s MMA’s Great Debate show. “It’s only been since March of this year that it’s been one year since introducing the flyweight division. I think the roster’s still growing. I think we’re still getting known to the public.”

Translation without the bullshit: It’s been roughly 16 months since the flyweight division debuted in the UFC. Flyweight fighters have been featured prominently on FX and FOX, yet the division isn’t much better off than when it started. We’ve given it time, and it still hasn’t won people over. There are only 16 flyweight fighters in the UFC — 16. Think about that for a second. There are more playable characters in Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3 than there are fighters in the flyweight division. A roster of 16 fighters means that the top-10 comprises more than half of the weight class.

What’s the point of a division with fewer than 20 guys, none of whom the fans care about enough to watch on free television, let alone pay to see? What’s the point of a division where a John Moraga — the guy who just challenged for the world flyweight title — had never fought outside the Facebook prelims before being thrust into a title fight?

The flyweight division has no point outside of determining the answer to a question that fans didn’t ask: Who is the toughest 125-pound man on the planet?

There’s no shame in removing a division of fighters who can’t draw. The hardcore fans would bitch. The media would bitch (though a percentage of them would probably be thankful). The casual fans and the rest of the world outside of the MMA bubble wouldn’t know the difference.

This isn’t to denigrate the athletes, though. They’re all gifted and fight with phenomenal speed and conditioning. And, personally, I don’t mind watching the flyweights at all. It’s amazing to see athletes fight at a breakneck pace for 25 minutes. I’m not trying to insult them or what they do. I understand that there are people who love the flyweights but, to the less-educated majority of fans (read: those who think Kimbo Slice and Brock Lesnar are the best “ultimate fighters” of all time), flyweight fights are piss-break matches — and that’s not going to change. And if that’s not going to change, why keep the weight class around?

The flyweight division doesn’t sell tickets or pay-per-views. It doesn’t wow viewers. In fact, it does the opposite. It’s useless to fans and offers nothing to the UFC except filled space on a card.

That’s another point to mention. The UFC is running way more events then it used to, so it needs as many warm bodies as possible to market as “UFC CHAMPIONS.” That’s where the flyweights come in. How many more “TOP TEN™” fights and title fights can the UFC say they’re offering us now that they’ve added the flyweights? MMA historian Jonathan Snowden referred to this phenomenon as “creating the illusion of importance for UFC television cards lacking oomph.”

But that doesn’t mean that the UFC has to keep flyweights. They’re not a necessity. The UFC can disband the flyweight division and then get other fighters to fill card space, fighters that at least have a chance of becoming popular. Fans tune in to see fighters they want to see, not fighters they’ve never heard of winning accolades they perceive as meaningless.

There is another justification for the flyweight division’s existence, though. It’s possible (and likely) that the weight-class was meant to give a home to the fighters that Zuffa would no doubt be signing as it expanded into China, Singapore, and Asia as a whole. It looked like that theory would be coming true with the announcement of TUF China but, alas, TUF China is looking for featherweights, lightweights, and welterweights. Flyweight will not be getting an influx of new fighters from overseas, at least not yet. And even if it was, the foreign fighters might make the division worse. How long were we told that Tiequan Zhang was the baddest Chinese fighter on the planet only for him to go 1-3 in the UFC while fighting mostly low-level athletes?

If Zhang is the best that China has to offer, what will future Chinese imports be like? And what about the flyweights from other countries in that part of the world whose MMA scenes aren’t as developed? Once these guys get in the UFC, they’ll turn flyweight from a shallow division that nobody cares about into a division populated by shitty fighters that even fewer people will care about. What’ll be worse is that the UFC will still try to shove it down our throats. “Come see the AMAZING flyweights go at it! See the PIONEERS of Chinese/Singaporean/Filipino/Wherever MMA and the STARS of the 125-pound weight class!”

Thus, flyweight is, at best, a weight class founded to artificially inflate the importance of fight cards and to serve as a glorified advertising vehicle for the UFC’s efforts abroad. Yet it’s failing in both of those missions.

The prideful UFC will likely never pull the plug on the flyweight division but they won’t have to. Over time, it’ll fade into abject irrelevance on its own. The dutiful media members will commit names and fighter records to memory and write articles about tiny-sized triumphs all while the casual fans at home go “125 pounds? I could throw that guy through the wall,” right before they change the channel.

Cagepotato Comments

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Chromium- July 31, 2013 at 2:24 pm
The problem isn't things like a Flyweight division, with its 17 fighters and its near-obscure title contender. The problem is that there are 55 Middleweights, 75 Welterweights, and 77 Lightweights. The Featherweight division has been slowly culled down to 44 fighters, which is where Middleweights should be about. WW and LW need to lose 20 or so fighters each. The UFC needs fewer matches-per-event and fewer total fighters, because fuck if I can remember that many dudes.

Flyweight is a division that has been around since the Unified Rules were first implemented, and they belong in the UFC. There are lower divisions than that in boxing, Muay Thai, and kickboxing (ISKA and IKF anyway), and similar divisions in amateur wrestling. Judo bottoms out at 132 for men, but with same-day weigh-ins that is effectively the same size.

Anyway the diversity is good. The card as a whole was obviously weaker than the September card, which had Nate Diaz challenging Bendo, had Gustaffson vs Shogun in the semi-main, and Rory MacDonald against freakin' BJ Penn 3rd from the top. It was also a weaker card than the last Flyweight title fight which did just fine, thank you.

I'll take the diversity we see now, thank you. Hell, give me more of it. Have you seen Invicta lately? Those tiny punchwomen can really tear shit up.

Also, unironically quoting thin-skinned professional troll Jonathan Snowden as some sort of expert opinion is an absolute failure at professional journalism. So yes, your opinion is unsupportable. If that was the point, congrats.
Mr_Misanthropy- July 31, 2013 at 12:34 am
I'm down to watch whoever. The chicks and the midgets have been putting on some pretty good fights, I don't mind the variety.

I'm with ALF, I'd rather watch an action packed fight with unknowns, chicks, midgets, or unknown chick midgets than watch some mediocre lay'n'pray, wall'n'stall, jab'n'grab, stun'n'run, or slap'n'tickle any day of the week. The WEC used to be pretty much guaranteed bad-assery and Invicta has been on fire lately.
RwilsonR- July 30, 2013 at 8:20 pm
Too many divisions, too few stars. It is hard enough for casual jackasses to keep track of division champs in the money divisions - WW to HW - and they don't giveaway shit about the ones below a normal man's size. It also detracts from the novelty for casual MMA fans, which is that these guys would beat the crap out of any normal man they might meet on the streets, or in a bar.

Get rid of 125, 135, 145 and the women's division. Make Jose Aldo fight for the LW title. Get back to what made more people care about the sport.
Nippletwist- July 30, 2013 at 5:34 pm
theyre too small.
Duendes- July 30, 2013 at 2:16 pm
All I read was a bunch of fluff with no real backing. The only solid "point" that the OP made was that the flyweights can be used as a filler, which can still be a positive one.
angry little feet- July 30, 2013 at 1:59 pm
With the exception of Velasquez, Dos Santos & DC if he's fighting there I will take watching the flyweights any day over the Heavyweights. I will watch the first 3 minutes of a heavyweight fight - after that it's time for me to take the proverbial pee break. Damn if I want to watch a bunch of huge ass men huff and puff at one another while mostly standing in place. The UFC needs to get their considerable marketing machine working on the 125ers. How the hell can they expect to pull satisfactory numbers with them when nobody even knows who they are? Even I had to look up who Moraga was when this fight was announced! I was like " wait... the facebook guy Moraga?"
Cestus84- July 31, 2013 at 9:46 pm
The only reason I knew who Moraga was, was cuz he KO'd my good buddy and occasional training partner Ulysses Gomez. If it wasn't for Gomez, I wouldn't know there even was a Flyweight division. Mind you, I found this out around 2009.
wayz415- July 30, 2013 at 1:26 pm
145 should be the lowest
Thumblaster- July 30, 2013 at 12:45 pm
I'd be happy if the ufc cut all the 125ers, I don't think they should go below 145 , if your a grown ass man and you can't weigh more than 145 lb's be pissed off at your shitty genetics and fight for some fucked up promotion that caters to little people and is enjoyed by people like jesus from the big lebowski.
Mr_Misanthropy- July 30, 2013 at 12:15 pm
I'm holding out for baryonweight so Los Duendes from Nacho Libre finally have a place to display their talents.
boomer- July 30, 2013 at 11:59 am
btw, "Hardcore Fans" don't give a shit about them either. any man that is of average size or bigger couldn't possibly give a shit watching 2 men-children attempt to hurt each other. it's fucking pathetic how weak they are! "BUT OMG THEY ARE SO LIGHTNING FAST" yeah well WHO GIVES FUCK??!?!?! I DON'T GIVE A DAMN HOW FAST A MOTHERFUCKER IS, IT MEANS SHIT IN A FIGHT WHEN THEY ARE THAT WEAK!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
boomer- July 30, 2013 at 11:54 am
ahh, i fucking LOVED this article. i actually agree with everything said. nobody, and i mean NOBODY, that's not an under-grown man child gives a fuck about that puny shit division. all it is is a bunch of turds that couldn't cut it a 135, another division that needs to be axed!

if you disagree with anything i say you are admitting that you like little boys and suck cock!
Smirk- July 30, 2013 at 10:35 am
I say merge them with the women's 135 class and call it a day.
Alan K- July 30, 2013 at 10:30 am
To be honest, it's not like most of the UFC divisions really draw that well. It's a couple popular fighters and that's it. Keep things in perspective here.
bierergoggles- July 30, 2013 at 9:08 am
I don’t believe the division should be dropped completely, but perhaps just not featured as the main events. I have noticed that when a card is head lined by Flyweights, Bantamweights or even Featherweights, the supporting card also seems to be largely consist of smaller fighters as well. If it appears the lighter weight classes are not getting the views, then how does an entire card of them make sense?
I think that the bottom three weight classes should be used for undercard fights primarily – then title eliminators on the main card and Championship bouts as co-main events. I think this would help a few ways: If you were to put Demetrious Johnson Vs. John Morega as the co-main event of Anderson Silva Vs. Chris Weidman II – you are already guaranteed HUGE viewers. If you were to advertise the card as having two championship bouts… while it may not create a dramatic increase in views, I believe it would peak the interest of more casual fans and/or people who are wanting to see what MMA is all about. So, this will just make the card that much stronger and it will also give the smaller guys an automatic boost in exposure! If a crowd that size watched DJ Vs. Morega, I would be shocked if the next flyweight title fight did not create a little more buzz.
So I think it’s more about bringing the division along slowly, not just expecting them to carry shows on their own.
Phattousai- July 30, 2013 at 8:27 am
What's wrong with UFC Personal Trainer...I worked hard on that game :'(
wayz415- July 30, 2013 at 1:28 pm
crappiefloper- July 30, 2013 at 7:40 am
I just named my mourning constitutional Demetrius, because they're the same size. He's gonna rank in at #11 in the rankings, and looking at a total fight on November
As Good As Anyone- July 30, 2013 at 7:33 am
This is correct in some aspects, but there were underlying important points inside of the article that I can't help but compare the flyweight division to the featherweight division. A few years back, as featherweight was announced, people were shitting all over the division. This was around the time people were shitting all over the imported WEC fighters and their credentials. What turned everything around? Well, for one, we started seeing them on THE MAIN F***ing card. We associated fighters with their actual previous fights. We knew who they were, what their capabilities were, and how exciting they can be (SEE: Lamas, Swanson, Mendes... ect). We also started seeing their finishes. More featherweights were hired, more lightweights dropped weigh classes (that were notable) and then the pieces started to follow and connect. See where I'm going with this one? What the UFC has failed to do was hire new flyweights, fail to put them on the main card, fail to higher some with actual charisma (except uncle creepy, no - mighty mouse has exactly zero charisma), fail to promote them in any which way. It's very frustrating because the Baldfather is trying to shove these little guys into our faces, yet not try to show us who they are and what they're capable of. Then the UFC sticks them on the main event, and does not ask why we’re not happy with it, rather tells us to be happy about it. There’s nothing wrong with the flyweight division, except that whole “throw them through the wall” thing. We just need to become more associated with these little fellas, see some finishes, see some worthy contenders, and eventually (I believe) we’ll start enjoying them.
Onan- July 30, 2013 at 9:08 am
I agree with just about everything you've written. Except for the part about Creepy having charisma. He's just creepy. But charisma is such a subjective attribute that what appeals to some will be a turn off to others. I am sure if we were to do an historical analysis of the introduction of any newer weight class we would see many of the same arguments from the naysayers as we see in this post.

The UFC has done a poor job of marketing these guys as a distinct division. The only 125's I could name before this weekend were Johnson, Dodson and McCall. When I looked up the division roster online I was surprised to see Benevidez because I always thought of him as a 135'er. Gaudinot has been largely invisible although he is 1-1 in the UFC and has a fight coming up. Other than that I don't think we've seen or heard much about anyone in this division other than DJ, Dodson and Creepy. That's not going to work to build interest. Let's see these other guys more. And not just on Facebook.
whiterice- July 30, 2013 at 7:30 am
The argument seems to be 'Let's not make flyweights headliners.' Let them fight, just don't make them the main event. Even if they are piss break matches for some, thats ok, since hardcore fans will enjoy it - and you leave open the possibility that next year or the year after, some super charismatic little guy is going to come in and start selling the division.
haus66- July 30, 2013 at 7:26 am
This opinion is short sighted (see what I did there?) and hypocritical. The same mindset was ever present in those who said mixed martial arts would never make it in the first place. And in the minds of those same people who said there would never be a woman's division. How is a 125 division that much less agreeable than the 135 division where the champ hasn't fought in a year and a half? Why does the 125 pound division need to exist? Because there are 125 pound men out there who are willing to get into the cage and give their all. Nothing more. Nothing less.
ReX13- July 30, 2013 at 7:24 am
So you're saying they shouldn't pull the trigger on strawweight (115)?

BaghdadBob- July 30, 2013 at 7:14 am
Couldn't agree more.