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Failing flyweights? An in-depth look at the UFC’s history of flyweight prominence

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A little over one week ago, an MMA fighter scooped up ESPN’s ESPY award for ‘Best Fighter’ for the third year running.

Following in the footsteps of two of MMA’s biggest-ever stars, Ronda Rousey in 2015 & Conor McGregor in 2016, the consensus number one pound-for-pound fighter in the sport received his due credit outside of the bubble that MMA tends to confine itself. Undefeated in his 13 flyweight bouts, joint-holder of the record for consecutive title defences and bringing a premature end to more than half of those bouts in particular, Demetrious ‘Mighty Mouse’ Johnson is without a doubt sitting upon MMA’s mountaintop.

Yet, in the eyes of his promoter and company president, his division is surplus to requirements. Claims from Johnson himself have spelt out that UFC president Dana White threatened to remove his division altogether from the company payroll with further rumours that their contracts will be sold to the highest bidder if White were to get his wish.

Whether that story is to be believed is up to the listener’s discretion but, somewhat surprising to some and dishearteningly expected from others, many fans were nonplussed at the possibility of removing a division containing the world’s best fighter.

So just why are there certain sections under the MMA umbrella that wouldn’t lose any sleep with the extinction of the flyweights?

The main hypothesis is that the UFC’s lightest weight division doesn’t draw viewers – and ergo money – and there is some evidence to suggest so. Johnson does hold the unwanted distinction of having drawn two of the lowest ratings for a UFC on Fox show as well as some of the lowest PPV buy rates in the modern era.

Taking those figures at face value, however, is without doubt the wrong thing to do. It takes two to tango in the world of fight promotion and when it comes to the flyweight division, the UFC has certainly let themselves down when a further investigation is undertaken.

Looking back to the flyweight division’s debut at UFC on FX: Alves vs. Kampmann in March 2012 until present day (21/07/2017), data has been collected in terms of the division’s prominence on UFC shows.

From the holy grail of the numbered PPV shows to the forgetful UFC on Fuel shows, every flyweight bout has been recorded in addition to the events which failed to feature a 125lbs bout.

Here is the collected and ordered data and underneath are the main takeaways from the UFC’s history with the flyweight division:

Main Points

  • There have been 206 events since the flyweight debut and there is a less than 25% chance of a flyweight main card bout per event (24.2%)
  • There have been 50 main card flyweight bouts since debut and bouts including Demetrious Johnson account for 26% of those fights (13 appearances)
  • Of the 50 main card flyweight bouts, only 11 bouts of 50 did not feature a former or upcoming title challenger (22%)
  • There has only been one flyweight main event to not feature Demetrious Johnson – Smolka v Hoolahan (UFC Fight Night 76, Oct 2015). The fight in question had been promoted to a co-main event billing 10 days out after Miocic v Rothwell was cancelled before later being promoted to the main event after Poirier v Duffy was cancelled 3 days out.
  • Every co-main event in flyweight history has either featured Demetrious Johnson or Joseph Benavidez
  • From March 2012 to 2015, flyweight exclusion decreased from 60% to 37% but 2016 saw the highest-ever exclusion percentage at 61%
  • Two of Demetrious Johnson’s title challengers did not feature once on a main card in their win streak building towards title fight – Moraga & Reis (Reis had never been on a main card in his whole UFC career (8 fights) outside of title fight)
  • Johnson v Moraga (UFC on Fox 8) and Johnson v Reis (UFC on Fox 24) are the two lowest viewership ratings that Johnson has attracted with both in the lowest 5 rated events in UFC on Fox history
  • Johnson v Dodson I (UFC on Fox 6) and Johnson v Benavidez II (UFC on Fox 9) are both within the top ten highest rated in UFC on Fox history (Dodson I = 4th highest; Benavidez II = 10th). Both challengers were featured on main card billings during their win streaks prior to title challenge with both featuring on a main card in their penultimate bout before challenging.
  • Johnson’s highest headlining PPV buy rate (UFC 178; 205,000 buys) featured both Alvarez v Cerrone (co-main event) and Poirier v McGregor (3rd billing). Cariaso (the title challenger) had only featured once on a main card.
  • Johnson’s two lowest PPV buy rates (UFC 186; 125,000 buys & UFC 191; 115,000 buys) were co-headlined respectively by Rampage v Maldonado and Arlovski v Mir. Horiguchi (UFC 186 challenger) had featured twice on a main card – once in a PPV main card – while Dodson II (UFC 191 challenger) had featured twice on a main card – once in a PPV main card opener but not in his penultimate bout before challenging.   
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Ovince Saint Preux Steps in to Face Corey Anderson at UFC 217

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UFC 217 just got even more interesting. Earlier this week, Patrick Cummins pulled out of his light heavyweight matchup with Corey Anderson due to a Staph infection. Corey “Overtime” Anderson was not happy with his opponents decision, even calling out his opponent on Instagram asking how Cummins could, “call it quits so far from fight night”.

The UFC left Anderson on the card, and he found an opponent through the magic of Twitter. Ovince Saint Preux tweeted out directly to Anderson stating:

It didn’t take long for Anderson to respond agreeing to the fight, tagging Mick Maynard and Dana White in his response.

Only a few short hours later, the fight announcement came from the official UFC twitter account.

 

This top 10 Light Heavyweight matchup should add to an already amazing card coming in November at Madison Square Garden. Saint Preux is coming off of back to back wins both due to the very rare von flue choke, he finds himself ranked #7th in the latest edition of the 205-pound rankings. Corey “Overtime” Anderson is 4-2 in his last 6 fights, but is coming off a brutal first round knockout loss to Jimi Manuwa in March.

With such a exciting fight added to this card, what do you see happening November 4th?  Will Corey Anderson bounce back and look to jump into the top 5 of the rankings, or will Ovince Saint Preux go for a third straight von flue choke? Let us know.

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*Watch* Bellator 185 Weigh in: Live Stream, Results

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Watch the live weigh-ins for Bellator 185 here.

Gegard Mousasi takes on Alexander Slemenko live this Friday night October 20th at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville CT. This is the first appearance for Mousasi in the Bellator cage as he looks to secure a title shot with a win over the very tough former Bellator champion Slemenko. Joining these men of the main card will be a pair of welterweights as Neiman Gracie from the famous Gracie BJJ family takes on Zak Bucia in the co-main event.

Full Weigh-in Results: (Updated in real time)

Main Card:

Gegard Mousasi (185) vs. Alexander Shlemenko (186)
Neiman Gracie (170.5) vs. Zak Bucia (170)
Heather Hardy (126) vs. Kristina Williams (126)
Ryan Quinn (155.5) vs. Marcus Surin (155)
Ana Julaton (125.5) vs. Lisa Blaine (122)

Preliminary Card:

Jordan Young (200) vs. Alec Hooben (194)
Costello van Steenis (185) vs. Steve Skrzat (186)
Vinicius de Jesus (170) vs. Joaquin Buckley (171)
John Beneduce (154.5) vs. Dean Hancock (155)
Timothy Wheeler (144) vs. Pete Rogers (144)
Don Shainis (150) vs. Matthew Denning (149)
Frank Sforza (149) vs. Vovka Clay (150)
Kevin Carrier (156) vs. Jose Antonio Perez (153)
John Lopez (126) vs. Billy Giovanella (125)

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Bellator 185 Fight to Watch: Heather Hardy vs. Kristina Williams

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Heather Hardy will compete in MMA for the second time at Bellator 185 on Friday night, as she faces Kristina Williams in a strawweight contest. The fight takes place on the main card at the Mohican Sun Arena in Connecticut.

Potentially, what Bellator have in Heather ‘The Heat’ Hardy is a major draw that they can build their 125 pound division around. While relatively new to the organisation she is fast becoming one of the more popular names on the roster. Her career is in the early stages, but many have already started to draw comparisons with former boxer turned MMA star, Holly Holm. Holm’s UFC success partly inspired the native New Yorker to make the switch from boxing.

Hardy is already an established world champion in the land of the ‘sweet science’, holding a 21 fight undefeated professional record. She made her MMA debut in June this year with a victory over Alice Yauger, at Bellator 180. At 35, Hardy is a late starter in the sport, but proved at Madison Square Garden against the credible Yauger that she has a bright future.

Hardy’s first outing in the cage was disciplined and composed. Despite a slow start in round one, Hardy grew in confidence as the fight progressed and her cardio never faltered. She mixed in plenty of kicks that complimented her boxing and looked at ease in the clinch, even defending a couple of takedown attempts in the process.

Despite looking on course for a decision win, Hardy forced the TKO stoppage with just thirteen seconds remaining in round three. Even a large cut that required seven stitches from an accidental head clash could not deny her victory.

Hardy was fighting an experienced professional, competing for the tenth time in MMA, which makes the win over Yauger more impressive. However, her upcoming opponent Kristina Williams will be making her professional debut.

There is little known about Williams except that she is 3-0 at amateur level. One of those wins came by way of submission so there may well be a threat to Hardy if the fight goes to the ground. More importantly for Williams is how she copes on the big stage against a popular opponent, who is more familiar competing in high pressure combat situations. If Williams can produce an upset it will be a huge boost in her young career.

But in all honesty, this fight is about Hardy. It’s about getting the win and gaining valuable experience. The boxing career is on hold while MMA takes centre stage. Beating Williams will mean she likely continues fighting inside a cage rather than a boxing ring.

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