Going into the first ever UFC card on ESPN, much of the controversy surrounding it regarded the 125-pound division. While the fight was supposed to help settle things down, it left us with more questions than answers.
Henry Cejudo, the newly crowned UFC flyweight [125-pound] champion, was set to take on TJ Dillashaw, who at the time was the UFC’s bantamweight [135-pound] champion. The fight took place at flyweight, meaning Dillashaw would have to go down an extra ten pounds in weight, a rarity in the UFC. While this was certainly a good storyline going into the fight, what was seemingly more important was the flyweight division itself.
In order to understand the magnitude of this fight, we must first understand how the division has fared in recent times. Back in August, now-flyweight champion Cejudo earned a controversial split-decision over long-reigning champion Demetrious Johnson.
Johnson was a highly accomplished champion with numerous promotion accolades, but despite this, the UFC struggled to successfully promote him. This eventually led to him being traded to ONE championship, a Singapore-based promotion.
Prior to trading Johnson, the UFC had already considered closing the flyweight division, and made that very clear in the build up to Cejudo’s fight with Dillashaw. They pretty much told Cejudo that if he didn’t win, the division would be closed for good. This caused much of Cejudo’s message going into the contest to be that the fight wasn’t so much for him, but for the other fighters in the flyweight division.
Fast-forward to today, and Cejudo has now successfully defended his UFC flyweight crown, defeating the highly-regarded Dillashaw, albeit controversially, in just 32 seconds. Yet that isn’t the only thing that didn’t change from before the fight Saturday.
Both Dillashaw and UFC president Dana White verbally disputed the fights stoppage, claiming it was too early and didn’t give Dillashaw the chance to recover. Because of this, White didn’t give any clear direction of what was happening to his promotion’s flyweight division.
So for the time being, the 125-pound division stands, but the prolonged question still remains; what’s next for the UFC’s flyweight division? Here are some possible scenarios of what could happen.
Cejudo goes up in weight, loses rematch, and his division stands
While nothing is ever for certain in the UFC, this scenario could very well happen. Both Cejudo and Dillashaw have expressed interest in a rematch, but this time at 135-pounds. Cejudo has always been known as a bigger flyweight, and even before the fight, expressed interest in going up in weight. Along with this, as Dillashaw went down in weight to challenge Cejudo, he still holds his 135-pound belt. With Dillashaw fighting at his natural weight, he’ll likely have enough speed to neutralize Cejudo’s wrestling, and earn the victory he feels was taken from him in the first fight. Cejudo will return to his division and have a chance to avenge his loss to now No. 2-ranked Joseph Benavidez, and the winner of that fight will become the new face of the flyweight division.
Cejudo goes up in weight, wins rematch, and the division closes
Cejudo will in all likelihood once again be the betting underdog against Dillashaw, but that hasn’t stopped him in his past two fights. He was considered by many to be an underdog against both Johnson and Dillashaw, and found a way to win in both fights. Cejudo has continued to prove people wrong time and time again, and that could certainly be the case if he were to face Dillashaw in a rematch. However, if Cejudo were to win, that would also likely mean the end of the flyweight division. With Cejudo expressing interest to go up in weight, a win would likely see him look to defend his 135-pound title. The UFC has continuously hinted at closing the flyweight division, and with no clear champion, this would be the perfect scenario for them to do so.
The two champs remain in their weight class, and the flyweight division stays
Even though a rematch between Cejudo and Dillashaw seems inevitable, deals like these fall through all the time. Contract negotiations could present problems, Cejudo could struggle to put on the extra ten pounds, or better opportunities could be presented to one or both of the fighters. The UFC could go in a few different directions if this were to happen. While a Cejudo-Benavidez fight certainly makes sense, there are other options if that falls through. Both No. 1-ranked Jussier Formiga and No. 4-ranked Deiveson Figueiredo have shown potential, and are set to for a fight for the No. 1 contender spot in late March. No. 3-ranked Ray Borg has also shown flashes of excellence, earning a title shot against then-champion Demetrious Johnson (but let’s not get into what happened in that fight).
The two champs remain in their weight class, and the flyweight division closes
While this may not make much sense from a logical perspective, the UFC is certainly capable of doing something like this. Dana White has always been known for his “business first” mentality, in efforts to give the fans what they want to see. However, this can often come at the expense of the fighters. Even though there are certainly promising matchups at flyweight from a stylistic perspective, for one reason or another the UFC has not been able to successfully promote the flyweight division. Even when Johnson was champion, he managed very few pay-per view buys. Considering Johnson’s success, without him what remains of the division are contenders who were unsuccessful in dethroning the former champ. Closing the division might be what makes most sense for the UFC from a business standpoint, even if it means upsetting the fans of lighter weight classes.