It’s a strange and worrying time for the UFC flyweight division. The former UFC flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson has been traded to ONE Championship in exchange for welterweight talent Ben Askren. A procession of long-time UFC flyweights have been released from their contracts, including Justin Scoggins, Jared Brooks, Roberto Sanchez, and most recently, Ulka Sasaki. Rumors that the promotion plans to close the division have been rampant, and when pressed about these rumors, UFC President Dana White hasn’t exactly provided cause for optimism…
“The flyweight division just never took off, it never caught on,” White said on a recent episode of the UFC Unfiltered podcast. “Even with a dominant champion like Demetrious, it just never caught on. People didn’t care. I battled for a long time, I tried to keep it alive and obviously, it’s still going on now. We still have fights going on in that division, but we’ll see what the future holds for it.”
Speaking on episode 105 of BJPENN Radio, the former UFC champion and current ONE Championship star Demetrious Johnson opened up on the potential closure of the division he ruled for so long.
Johnson started by addressing the perception that the division is not popular among fans.
He assures that he doesn’t fault fans for their personal preferences and will not expend his energy trying to change their opinions.
“If I go up and ask people, ‘Hey, why don’t you like flyweights, why don’t you like bantamweights?’ [They’re] just like, ‘You guys are small. I don’t like watching small guys fight,'” Johnson said. “Boom, perfect. I don’t like chocolate cake. You can’t convince me to like chocolate cake. I’m not going to argue it, you’re not going to convince me otherwise to like chocolate cake.”
While Demetrious Johnson won’t argue with fans who aren’t interested in the lighter divisions — or with lovers of chocolate cake — he personally appreciates these divisions for the blinding speed and high-level technique they produce. He feels that anyone who doesn’t enjoy the lighter divisions probably just doesn’t understand what they’re watching.
“I mean, the [UFC Argentina] event just showed you the definite power in a small package the UFC [has] in the flyweight division,” he explained. “[Alexandre] Pantoja, that transition from the triangle to the armbar, and then he got the armbar and then went to the legs, and took the back and choked [Ulka Sasaki] out. I mean, only a purist of pure martial arts, who’s a fan of it, will understand what’s going on. Obviously you have the drunk dude who’s getting drunk off whatever he’s drinking [saying] ‘Oh, they’re humping each other.’ I’m like ‘no dude, that is martial arts right there.’
“You will not see a heavyweight do that,” he continued. “You will not see a middleweight do that. You will never see a featherweight do that — you might see a featherweight, you might see Brian Ortega because he has that skillset. But that’s the problem with the Western market: they don’t understand what they’re watching. They didn’t take time to get educated on it so it’s unfortunate.”
Although the future currently looks bleak for the UFC flyweight division, Demetrious Johnson says this is nothing new. He says the UFC’s giant finger has been hovering above the division’s kill switch for some time.
“I mean they were talking about closing it two years ago,” he said. “It’s not the first time they’ve ever brought it up, you know? They were talking about closing when I was a champion, and I was like ‘okay, it is what it is…
“The UFC was planning on getting rid of flyweight division when I was the champion — [I was] finishing people, not taking people to decision, finishing people.”
One of the biggest names to chime in on the uncertainty that currently surrounds the UFC flyweight division is former UFC lightweight and featherweight champ Conor McGregor.
Speaking on Twitter in early November, McGregor seemed to blame the struggles of the UFC flyweight division on ONE Championship Chairman and CEO Chatri Sityodtong.
You must now take all the 125lbers that have been let go, Chatri.
You talk all of this Martial Art and respect talk, yet your greed has directly cost more than half a fighting division it’s chance to earn income for their family.
Have respect @YODCHATRI.
Sign the division.
— Conor McGregor (@TheNotoriousMMA) November 8, 2018
Needless to say, Demetrious Johnson did not agree with this comment from McGregor.
“I don’t get where this logic comes behind that,” He said. “What makes him think Chatri owes somebody something?”
Furthermore, Demetrious Johnson feels that Conor McGregor has enough pull with the UFC that he could probably improve the situation of the flyweight division if he really cared about the issue.
“If he’s worried flyweights losing their jobs, I’m pretty sure he has a huge stake in the UFC company now,” he said. “I’m sure he can go to Dana, and be like Dana, ‘Keep these guys, these guys are fucking amazing. Let’s try to do this right. Let’s try to promote them.’ Facilitate a meeting of those who can [change things], with Proper Whiskey. ‘Let’s sit down and have a good talk.’ I’m sure he could come up with something.”
“As I said, that’s Conor’s opinion of what he thinks should happen,” the former flyweight champ continued. “This is a guy who just did this thing, you know, the Barclay’s Center [thing], throwing the dolly in the bus, hurting multiple people. I truly think he doesn’t care. But that’s just my personal opinion.”
Having departed from the UFC, Demetrious Johnson will have watch the fate of his former division unfold from afar. Given that reality, his priority is simply performing to the best of his ability as a member of the ever-growing ONE Championship roster.
“I want to be a champion,” he said. “I know it’s not going to be easy.”
“I’m just looking forward to being able to do my best over at ONE Championship and see where we go from there.”
This article first appeared on BJPENN.COM on 11/29/2018.