Sunday, January 27, 2013

Are flyweights big enough to carry a fight card?

Now before all the little people in the world unite and have at me, hear me out first. As you read you will see I'm not directing a slight towards fighters of a smaller stature, in this case the smallest, but rather asking a legitimate question; are flyweights (125 lbs.) big enough to carry a fight card as the main event?

This is a question that has been asked numerous times before; maybe not necessarily about flyweights in mixed martial arts, but the question has been asked before in both MMA and boxing. If you don't believe me, let's take a look back at some recent history long before there were 125 pound fighters in MMA.

For those that remember and for those newer fans that don't realize, it wasn't that long ago that lightweight (155 lbs.) was the smallest weight class in mixed martial arts. Part of the original "Big Five" created for MMA when weight classes were instituted into the sport, the same question was asked when BJ Penn and Jens Pulver, two future Hall of Fame candidates, fought for the initial lightweight title in the UFC. Can you believe that? Seems kind of silly when you think about it now and in that context doesn't it?

However, it's always been this way in combat sports. I remember vividly in the summer of '97, HBO sports was headlining a card with the main event featuring IBF super flyweight champ Danny Romero against his hometown (Albuquerque, NM) rival and WBO super flyweight champ, the late great Johnny Tapia. Now mind you, super flyweights in boxing only weigh 115 lbs., so that's even lighter than the main event we got on Saturday night.

In boxing, where heavy fisted knockout artists are what TV audiences crave, the question was asked; could these two extremely talented fighters, in their fighting prime, Tapia was 30 and Romero was a young 23 who already had 31 pro fights, carry a TV audience? The answer was they could and they did. An epic fight classic that went the distance, 12 rounds, with Tapia winning an exciting back and forth tilt via unanimous decision. To this day I remember that fight vividly and always refer back to it fondly.

That brings us back to Saturday night where UFC flyweight champ Demetrious 'Mighty Mouse' Johnson (17-2-1, 3 KO's 6 subs) faced number one contender John 'The Magician' Dodson (14-6, 6 KO's 2 subs). The result just like the Penn/Pulver five round classic that took place 11 years ago (wow has it been that long?) and the Romero/Tapia fight, was a mirror image of those battles; a back and forth affair, where each fighter had their moments and in the end it was Johnson whose hand was raised with a close unanimous decision victory.

Dodson, with his heavy hands for this weight class, had some early knockdowns from crisp sharp punches, yet every time Johnson got right back up and in the end answered the biggest question going into this fight; who was the fastest fighter in mixed martial arts? Chael Sonnen said it best in his post fight analysis, "Speed kills and Johnson was clearly the faster fighter in there tonight."

Johnson used that speed to do something that's never been done to Dodson in his career, take him down. When he did, he attacked with punches and more importantly knees to the body, which actually slowed Dodson down. Dodson's trainer Greg Jackson told him after the third round, where at that point he was winning the fight, "The only thing I want you to do these last two rounds is stay busy."

Try as he did, it was Johnson who was the busier fighter and those knees he was throwing while in the clinch kept Dodson from doing anything about it. The result was scores of 48-47 from two judges and 49-46 from the third all for the champion. More importantly though, both the champ and challenger answered, yet again, the question of whether flyweights are big enough to carry a fight card? Hopefully, this will be the last time that question is ever asked about smaller fighters whose hearts are as big as any heavyweight.

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