UFC president Dana White is a person who has all the time appeared capable of promoting something on the subject of his enterprise. For some cause, this expertise as a salesman have by no means actually translated into his strategy to the flyweight division — a division that sees it is newly-crowned champion make his first title protection in the principal occasion of UFC 255 on Saturday when Deiveson Figueiredo places the belt on the road in opposition to Alex Perez.
Figueiredo is simply the third champion within the historical past of the division and now could be positioned within the place of needing to grow to be the face of a weight class that has struggled to achieve mainstream consideration and was near being minimized fully from the UFC.
The primary champion in the division’s historical past was Demetrious Johnson, who held the Championship for greater than 2,000 days, defended the title efficiently 11 instances, established himself as the highest pound-for-pound fighter on the planet, and produced a number of the most spectacular moments in UFC historical past. Nonetheless, the story of Johnson’s time with the promotion is basically dominated by accusations the UFC by no means lived as much as the chance to advertise one of the best fighters on the planet and bitter phrases exchanged between Johnson and White.
When Johnson lastly misplaced the title by way of cut-up choice to Henry Cejudo of their highly-competitive rematch, the UFC executed the primary commerce in historical promotional past, sending Johnson to ONE Championship in change for Ben Askren simply months later.
Cejudo appeared a neater promote than Johnson to White, who told ESPN, “I had a man who was fully dominant. Each time he fought, he was thrilled, and he all the time went for the end; however, individuals did not care. No person cared in any respect about Demetrious Johnson. Henry Cejudo is likely to be that man that individuals care about.”
The place Johnson constructed a following as one of many early figures in fight sports activities which created the following taking part in video video games on Twitch, Cejudo was extra keen to play into the usual promotional recreation of huge trash speak and “cringe” moments that may simply go viral.
Nevertheless, Cejudo made only one title protection — knocking out T.J. Dillashaw in simply 32 seconds — earlier than shifting as much as a bantamweight. Cejudo received the 135-pound Championship and vacated the flyweight title, leaving the struggling division without anybody on the wheel.
Figueiredo appeared positioned because of the B-side in his first struggle with Joseph Benavidez at their UFC Combat Evening conflict in February. Benavidez had constructed a resume because the second finest flyweight in promotion historical past, having misplaced to Johnson twice, with a kind of by very shut cut up choice, and proudly owning a win over Ceudo. With the vacant title on the road, Figueiredo missed weight, dropping his alternative to win the title. And, when he knocked out Benavidez within the second spherical, the second flurry of controversy adopted after it appeared an unintended headbutt surprised Benavidez to arrange the end.
He eliminated all questions within the rematch, nonetheless hurting Benavidez on theft earlier than submitting him on the bottom within the first spherical. With that, Figueiredo turned champion, and the division had a path ahead.
But it sure as soon as once more felt as if UFC was skeptical of its champion’s skill to promote with the promotion scheduling Figueiredo’s first protection in opposition to former bantamweight titleholder Cody Garbrandt. That struggle was booked regardless of Garbrandt by no means having fought at 125 kilos and solely having a single victory for the reason that starting of 2017.
“We wish him to show he could make 125 kilos and struggle somebody in my weight class,” Figueiredo informed MMAFighting.com earlier than the struggle had been scheduled. “After that, if he wins, he can come to struggle me. However, we do not agree with him coming down and skipping the road and going straight for the belt in opposition to me. He must show he could make 125 and struggle somebody. It will be unfair if the UFC places him straight for the belt. I believe the UFC has to respect the others that labored laborious for a title shot.”
With Garbrandt pressured out of the bout because of damage, Perez received the decision to step up. Whereas the Garbrandt struggle was an even bigger struggle when it comes to profile, Perez is the extra established expertise at flyweight.
Now comes the laborious work for Figueiredo. In a division that has not done very well in the past, will he be capable of setting himself up as a dynamic finisher follower who is keen to tune in to see? And can the UFC throw the total weight of their promotion behind the division and the champion?
It begins with the Perez struggle. Merely profitable is probably not sufficient to start out constructing Figueiredo up as a star. He might have to grow to be a mix of persona, pleasure, and longevity to seize the creativeness of the followers — and his promoters. In fact, that did not work out for Johnson. However, Figueiredo appears to know the division is his to information shifting ahead.
“I am the lead singer of the flyweight division,” Figueiredo mentioned throughout a UFC 255 digital media day interview. “I come to carry pleasure to the load class, and I will place on a Show on Saturday, that is for certain. As soon as once more, I will show why our weight class deserves a reward.”