Flyweights Demetrious Johnson and John Dodson still fighting for respect despite main event status

Kevin Iole
Yahoo Sports

Before the start of the main card at every UFC event, The Who's classic, "Baba O'Riley," blares over the sound system as footage of fighters being knocked into various states of unconsciousness plays on the video boards.

No matter how good the preliminary card might have been, the video evokes a Pavlovian response and invariably sends the crowd into a frenzy.

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Demetrious Johnson is eager to prove flyweights have plenty to offer.

A good knockout highlight reel will do that to you.

And that brings us to the problem facing the UFC, Fox and guys like Demetrious Johnson and John Dodson, who will fight for a title on Saturday at the United Center in Chicago.

If you've been paying attention – to Fox, that is – you may know that there is a title fight on Saturday's card, though many do not know it's a flyweight title fight.

Fans love finishes in general, and knockouts in particular, and the flyweights haven't been delivering those at a high rate since being introduced to the UFC last year.

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They've been delivering compelling, acrobatic action, but they haven't done much in the way of providing the type of violent finishes that so frequently send the fan base into a delirium.

"Joseph [Benavidez], John [Dodson] and I, none of the three of us have ever been finished by anybody," said Johnson, the UFC's flyweight champion. "Joseph and I have fought the best at both 125 and 135 and none of those guys have finished us. The likelihood of that happening is low.

"When you're facing someone who is legitimately one of the best guys in the world, and both of you are very well-rounded and fast and technical, it's more of a chess match sometimes. There probably aren't going to be a lot of finishes."

After Johnson's title-winning victory over Benavidez at UFC 152 in Toronto in which fans lustily booed throughout the match, UFC president Dana White reacted angrily.

"If you didn't like the flyweight fight, please, I'm begging you, don't ever buy another UFC pay-per-view again," White said. "I don't want your money. You're a moron. You don't like fighting. You don't appreciate talent."

The fan base has become conditioned to expect spectacular finishes, and it often gets what it has come to see. The slobber-knockers, the fights where two guys stand flat-footed and trade major blows with little effort at defense, really bring the fans out of their seats and send them into a full-throated roar.

That isn't the case with the flyweights, though. And as a silent, unspoken nod to that reality, despite all the promotion Fox did on the event during its NFL playoff telecasts, the word "flyweight" was rarely mentioned.

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White said the company has nothing to hide, and he believes that eventually fans will fall in love with the flyweights.

They booed Dodson mercilessly in his October victory over Jussier Formiga until Dodson managed to catch Formiga in the second round to score a rare flyweight knockout.

"They hurt my feelings," said Dodson, tongue planted firmly in cheek. "But seriously, it's OK. Really. The fans pay their money. If they want to boo, that's up to them. No problem."

The UFC, though, will have a major problem if either the flyweights don't start finishing their fights at a higher rate or if the fan base doesn't begin to show a taste for fast, technical fights.

Still, Dodson isn't worried.

"Really, all it is going to take is some time and some familiarity," Dodson said. "A lot of fans say they want to see their fighters go balls to the wall for 25 minutes and let it all hang out. That's what we do. Once the fans realize that the smaller fighters are actually giving the fans what they want to see, then maybe we'll get more appreciation, like the heavyweights do."

Dodson has an eye toward winning not just the flyweight belt on Saturday, but also adding the bantamweight and featherweight belts later on in his career.

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Johnson and Dodson aren't concerned with any of that for now, however. They're more concerned with the immediacy of Saturday's title fight.

Johnson has been in the gym almost nonstop since his win over Benavidez and vowed he'd made "a huge improvement" over the last four months.

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Five-foot-three John Dodson offers technical prowess in lieu of raw power.

"I want to evolve, not just as a martial artist, but also as a professional athlete in terms of my preparation, my conditioning, everything that is a part of it," he said. "Anything can happen in a fight. I know that and that's what makes fighting so great. You never know.

"But you can control all the variables and do the things to put yourself in the best position to be successful."

If that occurs and they boo anyway, well, White has a response for that.

"[Expletive] 'em," White said. "If they boo guys who fight like this, they're not fans anyway."

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