Everything you need to know about the flyweight division in MMA.
Weight classes have become a crucial part of the sport of MMA. Not only did they help to justify the professionalism of the sport as it followed a model similar to that found in boxing but they also allowed athletes to set goals within specific size parameters, allowing them to strive for gold without having to worry about facing somebody over 100 pounds heavier.
Every MMA division has had its up and downs throughout its history. At times, some weight classes will be the most popular within the sport, creating enough intrigue and excitement that any fan would glue themselves to their screen to watch two top contenders from that division go head to head. Other times, weight classes become stale and they have often been brushed aside in favor of more popular ones.
The most common explanations for a division getting stale is either due to the talent pool being significantly smaller than others or if there has been a single dominant champion who has cleaned out their whole division. Both these issues plagued the UFC’s flyweight division for a long time, a weight class that was so very close to not existing anymore.
Flyweight is the smallest weight category that male athletes can compete in within the UFC. Its upper limit is 126 pounds and 125 pounds when the title is on the line. When it was introduced to the UFC in 2012, a four-man tournament was set up to crown the company’s first-ever flyweight champion. The man who would rise above them all would be Demetrious Johnson, a champion who proved he belongs in the greatest of all-time conversation but seemingly doomed flyweight with his dominance. After winning the title, Johnson would defend it for a UFC record 11 times in a row and he is third all-time for most title fight wins with 12.
Such was his dominance that when he lost the title, Dana White was set on shutting it down, stating that the flyweight division just wasn’t entertaining enough. In comes Henry Cejudo. The self-hailed ‘King of Cringe’ put the 125-pound division on his back with his extremely cringe-inducing monologues and press conferences, once again placing attention on a division that was longing for some new blood.
Even though Cejudo would vacate the title after a single title defense to move up in weight, he set the path for flyweight to resonate and find a home with fight fans. With new competitors eyeing the belt, and more eyes on the division than ever, the UFC’s smallest weight division would bring the company its first-ever quadrilogy fights when current champion Brandon Moreno would face Deiveson Figueiredo four times. The rivalry ended this past January, when Moreno became a two-time flyweight champion and went up 2-1-1 overall, allowing the division to move on from the epic rivalry.
Whilst the men’s division was almost pushed out the door, the same cannot be said for the women’s flyweight division although one could argue that the issue of an extremely dominant champion has also plagued the women’s side. There have only been two 125-pound champions in the division’s history, as Nicco Montaño would win the belt before vacating it due to struggling to make the weight.
Valentina Shevchenko stepped up, defeated future UFC Hall of Famer Joanna Jędrzejczyk to win the vacant title, and now currently holds the longest active streak of title defenses in the UFC regardless of gender with seven, also a women’s UFC record. Although Shevchenko has been extremely dominant, the division has somehow continued to stay relevant.
Perhaps it is the manner in which the champion carries herself, being a great representation of what MMA stands for. Or perhaps it is the fact that we’re all waiting to see if she will ever lose and exactly how close she is to Amanda Nunes in the G.W.O.A.T. conversation.
Thankfully, new and exciting talent in the form of Talia Santos, Manon Firorot, and Erin Blanchfield will all try to snap Shevchenko’s stronghold over the division. Despite almost not being a part of contemporary MMA, it is safe to say that flyweight has found its place amongst MMA fans, and is proving to be one of the most fascinating weight classes to follow for the next decade.