UFC gets it right with flyweight title main event in Toronto
UFC Sydney - Demetrious 'Mighty Mouse' with Ian ' Uncle Creepy' McCall (Image: Karen Touma)
I was really worried that the bout to crown the first ever UFC flyweight champion was going to be either (1) the headlining act on an FX or FOX card, or (2) the co-main event on a pay-per-view with another title fight.
So, you’ll imagine my surprise and excitement when earlier this week, the UFC announced that Joseph Benavidez and Demetrious Johnson would battle for the newest UFC belt in the main event of UFC 152 this September in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
The UFC deserves a round of applause for this booking decision. All too often they’ve relegated the lighter weight classes to secondary status, booking a more prominent champion and challenger pair ahead of featherweight title fights on two occasions, and once having the bantamweight belt defended on Versus.
In opting to give Benavidez and Johnson top billing on the upcoming Toronto card, the UFC is signalling to fans that they’re fighters who you should be paying attention to, and giving immediate value to the newly minted flyweight title.
What makes the announcement even better is the fact that the inaugural UFC flyweight title fight isn’t being rolled out as the main attraction of a lame duck card.
Instead, the UFC has loaded up their third Toronto show with a pair of compelling contests that are sure to draw attention, thereby creating a built-in audience for the final bout of the evening.
Michael Bisping will take on Brian Stann in the co-main event of the evening, while Canadian welterweight Rory MacDonald squares off with legend BJ Penn in a contest that will serve as the third contest on the eventual UFC 152 poster.
While the MacDonald-Penn fight was earning some groans when it was potentially going to be the main event of this show, it’s awesome in the middle of this fight card, and the addition of the boisterous Bisping is a win as well.
Love him or hate him, people tune in to see him, and his presence opposite Stann, ahead of the two flyweight title hopefuls will bring solid numbers to the show.
It’s entirely possible that I’m reading too much into things, but this to me signals the start of an important shift in how the UFC is booking events and pushing fighters. They could have easily rolled out this fight on television as “See? We’re giving you a title fight for free” offering to unhappy fans, backed by a weak undercard, leaving Benavidez and Johnson destined to fail.
Instead, they’re bringing them to one of their biggest, most successful markets, and slotting them into the main event of a strong pay-per-view card, which means they will receive the full promotional push they rightfully deserve heading into this historic match-up.
This feels like an attempt to build some new stars, and it’s about time. With the constantly growing UFC schedule, and the insatiable desire of fans, the organisation needs to identify, build, and promote more marquee names so that they have more stars to headline the ever-growing number of shows the company holds each year.
Who better to be at the head of that list than the newest champion in the organisation? Though the first UFC flyweight champ won’t be an Anderson Silva level star right out of the chute, getting the belt wrapped around their waste in the centre of the Octagon at the end of a pay-per-view event is better than having it happen on Fuel or FX or even FOX, as pay-per-view is still acknowledged as where the UFC showcases their biggest and brightest.
While the heavier weight classes (170 and up) still feature on main cards much more prominently than their lighter colleagues – 52 of 88 main card fights to date in 2012, and just 43 of 103 preliminary card slots – maybe this is the start of a shift towards greater parity between the two groups.
It has consistently been said that the lighter weight classes produce the most entertaining bouts, so it only makes sense to give them more time in the spotlight. They’re doing so with this announcement, and deserve credit for making that decision.
Well done, UFC.
Follow The Roar’s UFC Expert E. Spencer Kyte on Twitter (@spencerkyte).