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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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Events

*Live Updates* UFC Winnipeg Official Results

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The UFC returns to Canada for the final Fight Night card of 2017. In the cold of Winnipeg, Manitoba, the UFC will host eleven of the originally twelve scheduled fights. Unfortunately, Tim Elliot will not fight in the north country. His scheduled opponent, Pietro Menga, a newcomer to the promotions roster, failed to make weight after taking the bout with just over a weeks notice.

An exciting main card will be capped off with a potential contender eliminator bout featuring, Robbie Lawler and Rafael Dos Anjos. The former champions (Lawler at welterweight, Dos Anjos at lightweight) both put together impressive win streaks which dispatched top contenders in their respective divisions. Elsewhere on the main card, Santiago Ponzinibbio takes on the outspoken Mike Perry.

The card begins on UFC Fight Pass at 4:30/1:30 ETPT.

UFC Winnipeg Official Results:

MAIN CARD – FOX – 8PM/5PM ETPT

  • #2 Robbie Lawler (28-11) vs. #4 Rafael Dos Anjos (27-9) – Welterweight bout
    • Result: Rafael Dos Anjos def. Robbie Lawler via unanimous decision (50-45, 50-45, 50-45)
  • #3 Ricardo Lamas (18-5) vs. Josh Emmett (12-1) – Catchweight bout (148.5 lbs)
    • Result: Josh Emmett def. Ricardo Lamas via KO (punch) 4:33 round 1
  • #10 Santiago Ponzinibbio (25-3) vs. Mike Perry (11-1) – Welterweight bout
    • Result: Santiago Ponzinibbio def. Mike Perry via unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28)
  • #3 Glover Teixeira (26-6) vs. #7 Misha Cirkunov (13-3) – Light Heavyweight bout
    • Result: Glover Teixeira def. Misha Cirkunov via TKO (punches) 2:45  round 1

PRELIMINARY CARD – FS1 – 5PM/2PM ETPT

  • #14 Jared Cannonier (10-2) vs #15 Jan Blachowicz (20-7) – Light Heavyweight bout
    • Result: Jan Blachowicz def. Jared Cannonier via unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28)
  • Julian Marquez (6-1) vs. Darren Stewart (7-2) – Middleweight bout
    • Result: Julian Marquez def. Darren Stewart via submission (standing guillotine) 2:42 round 2
  • Chad Laprise (13-2) vs. Galore Bofando (5-2) – Welterweight bout
    • Result: Chad Laprise def. Galore Bofando via TKO (punches) 4:10 round 1
  • Nordine Taleb (13-4) vs Danny Roberts (14-2) – Welterweight bout
    • Result: Nordine Taleb def. Danny Roberts via KO (head kick and punch) :59 round 1
  • John Makdessi (14-6) vs Abel Trujillo (15-7) – Lightweight bout
    • Result: John Makdessi def. Abel Trujillo via unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27)
  • Alessio Di Chirico (10-2) vs Oluwale Bamgbose (6-3) – Middleweight bout
    • Result: Alessio Di Chirico def. Oluwale Bamgbose via KO (knee) 2:14 round 2

EARLY PRELIMINARY CARD – UFC FIGHT PASS – 4:30PM/1:30PM ETPT

  • Jordan Mein (29-12) vs. Erick Silva (19-8) – Welterweight bout
    • Result: Jordan Mein def. Erick Silva via unanimous decision (30-26, 30-27, 30-26)
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Fight Announcements

Gilbert Burns vs. Olivier Aubin-Mercier Added to UFC Orlando

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The UFC has now added more bouts to the front end of their 2018 schedule. Gilbert Burns (13-2, 5-2 UFC) will face Olivier Aubin-Mercier (10-2, 6-2 UFC) in Orlando, Florida on February 24th, 2018.

Alongside a few other high-profile fight announcements, is the addition to the UFC Orlando, Florida card. The two lightweights will join Jake Collier and Marcin Prachnio, as the second fight set for the event.

It has been a while since the UFC hosted an event in the state of Florida. Last seen by the Floridians was UFC on Fox: Texeira vs. Evans, on April 16, 2016 in Tampa Bay. The card was a success, despite the cancellation of its planned main event between Tony Ferguson and Khabib Nurmagomedov. Drawing a gate of $1.05 million and 2.13 million viewers.

Gilbert Burns signed with the UFC after accumulating an undefeated record of 8-0. His first loss came in his home country of Brazil, as Rashid Magomedov defeated him via unanimous decision at UFC Fight Night: Belfort vs. Henderson 3, in November of 2015.

In his most recent bout, Burns defeated Jason Saggo by KO with five seconds remaining in the second round at UFC Fight Night: Rockhold vs. Branch.

Aubin-Mercier will come into the contest as a winner in his last three bouts. The Canadian fighter trains out of the Tristar gym, alongside legends such as Georges St. Pierre and head coach, Firas Zahabi.

In 2011, Aubin-Mercier was chosen to compete on The Ultimate Fighter: Nations. Competing in the welterweight bracket, he became a finalist by defeating both, Jake Mathews (unanimous decision) and Richard Walsh (rear naked choke). In the finale, Aubin-Mercier lost to Chad Laprise by split decision.

UFC Orlando will take place at the Amway Center in Orlando, Florida on February 24th, 2018.

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Fight Announcements

Eryk Anders vs. Lyoto Machida Officially Headlines UFC Belem

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Eryk Anders vs. Lyoto Machida is officially booked to headline UFC Belem in Brazil.

Following his unanimous decision victory over Markus Perez on last weekends, UFC Fight Night: Ortega vs. Swanson, undefeated middleweight, Eryk Anders, called for the match-up with former UFC light heavyweight champion, Lyoto Machida. The UFC heard, and obliged.

First reported by The MMA Kings (@mma_kings.)

Anders holds a 2-0 undefeated record in the UFC. The Alabama native made his promotional debut against Rafael Nata in July of this year. A bout he took on short notice, replacing Alessio di Chirico whom withdrew from the fight due to a neck injury. Anders defeated Natal by knockout in the first round that night at UFC Long Island.

Prior to his indoctrination to MMA, the undefeated middleweight played for the University of Alabama football team, between 2006-2009.

Machida recently returned to the UFC roster after an 18-month suspension handed down by USADA, stemming from a failed out-of-competition test leading up to his April 2016 contest against Dan Henderson.

In his return to the octagon, Machida faced Derek Brunson in the main-event of the UFC Fight Night: Brunson vs. Machida, in Sao Paulo, Brazil. “The Dragon” lost the bout via first round KO.

UFC Belem, Brazil is scheduled for February 3rd, 2018, at the Mangueirinho Arena. The card will also feature the flyweight debut for Valentina Shevchenko as she faces Priscila Cachoeira

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