UFC to break out an action-packed flyweight division with two bouts in Australia
They’re about the size of an average eighth-grader, though they’ll put on fights that will put most heavyweights to shame.
The UFC will debut its flyweight division in a surprisingly low-key manner on Friday in Sydney, Australia, with the first two bouts of a four-man tournament to determine its inaugural 125-pound champion.
Championship matches and fights to determine No. 1 contenders are usually treated with great reverence by the UFC and are put at the top of the card.
But Friday (Saturday in Australia) on the UFC on FX 2 card, the main event will be a welterweight match between Thiago Alves and Martin Kampmann. That should be an entertaining bout, but neither man is on the verge of title contention and it doesn’t seem to rise to the level of significance of a tournament to crown a new champion.
They won’t be treated as afterthoughts much longer once the public gets a look at them. For the four fighters in the flyweight field – Joseph Benavidez meets Yasuhiro Urushitani and Demetrious Johnson takes on Ian McCall – it’s an opportunity to finally compete in a class where they’re at their best.
Benavidez, Johnson and McCall have fought almost exclusively at bantamweight, and have combined for a 40-6 record. That’s an 86.9 winning percentage which would jump to 95.2 if they’d managed to avoid Dominick Cruz.
Cruz, the UFC bantamweight champion and one of the five best fighters in the world regardless of class, has beaten Benavidez twice and Johnson and McCall once apiece. Without having faced Cruz, who is naturally much bigger than they are, the trio would have an astounding combined record of 40-2 with 27 finishes.
It all bodes well for the first round of a tournament that pretty much will overshadow everything else on the card. Benavidez says fans who will see flyweights compete for the first time on Friday can expect one thing: speed.
“The pace in these fights is going to be incredible,” he said. “It’s going to be like go, go, go, go, go.”
Smaller -weight fighters have never been embraced as much as bigger fighters, but they almost always put on the most exciting matches. Boxing has an astronomical 17 weight classes, compared to eight in the UFC, but the Boxing Writers Association of America’s choice as Fight of the Year has been fought at 140 pounds or lower in six of the last eight years.
Benavidez (15-2) is excited about the opportunity to once again be fighting a match of significance. Since losing for the second time to Cruz at WEC 50 on Aug. 18, 2010, he’s basically been treading water.
He’s gone 3-0, but said he hasn’t been put in position to challenge for the bantamweight title again and has thus had less than meaningful fights.
“I was in purgatory [after the second loss to Cruz],” he said. “I was fighting guys who really did nothing for me. I was No. 2 in the world [at bantamweight], but they were trying to build up the division and they weren’t looking to have me and Dominick do it again. So, I got fights that really didn’t help me.”
When UFC president Dana White announced the addition of the flyweights last year, Benavidez never had a second thought about making the drop.
He said he dreaded the weight cut, but has been surprised by how easily he’s shed it.
“I was kind of expecting the worst, but it’s been a lot easier than I thought,” he said of his weight cut. “I always knew this would be my natural class and where I belonged, but getting here I worried about a little bit. But I’m just as strong [as I was at bantamweight], but I’m in better shape and I have better speed. Getting to fight as a flyweight is the best thing that could have happened to me.”
He’ll meet Urushitani, a former Shooto champion who is fighting for only the second time outside of Japan and for the first time outside of Asia. Urushitani, 35, hasn’t been particularly active, which Benavidez believes will work to his advantage.
Urushitani fought only once in 2009, twice in 2010 and once in 2011. Benavidez has fought eight times in that span.
“Being active is huge in this sport,” Benavidez said. “If you’re not fighting the best guys in the world on a regular basis, you get left behind.”
Johnson hasn’t been left behind despite coming off a five-round loss to Cruz in October in a title fight that, if anything, raised his standing. Cruz won all five rounds, but all five were close and Johnson established himself as an elite competitor.
Johnson was an extraordinarily quick bantamweight and only figures to be faster at 125.
“I expect to be at my best in all areas,” Johnson said. “I think it’s a perfect fit for me [at flyweight].”
The flyweights are a perfect fit for the UFC, as well. And though the UFC seemingly didn’t embrace the division and played its debut in a very low-key way, that’s probably not going to be the case after Friday’s fights are over.
Other popular content on Yahoo! Sports:
• Brown: Vernon Wells must hit to remain in Los Angeles Angels’ lineup
• Pirates official helps deliver baby at ballpark
• Fantasy baseball: Ten-round mock draft | Play ball!
• Forde Minutes: College basketball’s five remaining big questions