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Is it Time for Demetrious Johnson to Step Outside the Flyweight Division?

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UFC 174 Results: Hail to the King! Demetrious Johnson Routes Ali Bagautinov in All Five Rounds
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UFC 174 Results: Hail to the King! Demetrious Johnson Routes Ali Bagautinov in All Five Rounds

It was just minutes after UFC flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson earned his second title defense victory, against challenger John Moraga at UFC on Fox 8 at the KeyArena in Seattle, when questions funneled in about potential superfights against fighters in higher weight divisions.

Yes, you read that correctly; despite only having two UFC title defenses to his credit, questions were raised as to whether or not the promotion could muster a worthy adversary for “Mighty Mouse” in the coming months.

“Reporters keep asking me when he can get the respect he is due,” said UFC president Dana White at the UFC on Fox 8 post-fight press conference.  “I think he's earned the respect he is due. He really proved himself in that last Dodson fight. That's what really did it for me. He was in deep water and managed to overcome. I think he's one of the best in the world, man, and tonight he was unbelievable. Tonight he proved it. Tonight he looked amazing.”

When the lingering thought of a potential superfight hung mid-sentence, White proclaimed, “We had the same questions about Anderson Silva and GSP, so I'm sure there's more to follow.”

Comparing Demetrious Johnson to company legends like Anderson Silva and Georges St-Pierre – at least at this stage of Johnson’s career – is stretching the realm of believability, even for the most ardent MMA fan.

That, however, didn’t stop the champion from giving his two cents; and by ‘cents,’ we’re talking literal dollars, folks.

“Right now, I'm just throwing it out there,” Johnson said with a sly grin after referencing a potential superfight with interim bantamweight champion Renan Barão. “I hear about GSP and all that other stuff, and that's great, but I think there are great fights to be had in the lighter divisions.”

Great fights that come with much higher paydays.

“I hear about Jon Jones, Anderson Silva, GSP, and all the superfights and how, ‘Oh, they’re gonna make a lot of money!’  So, I'm just throwing out there for the lighter weight guys and see what happens,” said the Washingtonian with a smile plastered across his face.

When White was asked about a potential superfight for Mighty Mouse, he was cordial, but far from over-the-moon with enthusiasm.

“Listen, if Demetrious came out and said that he wants to fight one of the champions at 135 pounds… I don't know,” he paused.  “I'd have to talk to our matchmakers and see what they think. I don't hate the idea.”

Johnson elaborated further on a potential, albeit brief, move to 135.

“I've beat the best of the best in the flyweight division and there's still up-and-comers there,” said the victorious Johnson.

“I know there are some key match-ups coming up pretty soon; Louis (Gaudinot) is fighting somebody. There are some other guys that I’d like to fight that I haven't got to, but whatever the UFC wants me to do.

“I think the focus has been on Anderson Silva and George St-Pierre and other superfights, but I think we can make some fun fights at the lighter weight division. I'm just here to fight and have a good time, and put on a good performance for the UFC and the fans.”

To be fair, superfight talk isn’t entirely unfounded, as yes, this was only Johnson’s second title defense, but prior to tonight’s main event, he had dispatched of Joseph Benavidez, Ian McCall, and John Dodson – effectively beating every single “name” fighter in the newly minted division.

The name of the game, however, is building stars, and keeping a steady flow of progression. Building a division takes time, and risking the selling power of one of your still developing champions against a much bigger opponent probably is not the best business decision.

After all, former bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz and Johnson met once before inside the cage at UFC Live on Versus in October 2011, and it had menial success in the ratings… to put it nicely.

Simply put, a match with Johnson and any other divisional champion doesn’t sound like a smart business decision to make at this point.  Sure, it would allow for an undoubtedly entertaining scrap, but it certainly won’t be selling out any 50,000-seat arenas anytime soon.

So until then, the smart money is on developing the lighter weight classes into the force it could become and let these introductory champions build their divisional legacies.

(Follow @RyanMcKinnell on Twitter)

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