Look, I get it.
Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Flyweight Champion Demetrious Johnson may be a hell of a fighter, but there's a reason his last three title fights have been featured on FOX. Simply put, if recent history is any indication, there's a good chance a pay-per-view (PPV) headlined by fighters under 155 pounds is going to do basement-level numbers.
That goes double for a show that features the pint-sized champion of a still rather shallow, semi-recently minted division like Flyweight.
With UFC's deal with FOX calling for four live events per year on the network, Zuffa finds itself in the awkward position of needing to save its biggest money match-ups for PPV, but at the same time providing its television partner with main events that appear consequential to casual followers of mixed martial arts (MMA) and the mainstream sports fans who watch FOX properties such as the NFL.
After the Jim Miller vs. Nate Diaz-headlined UFC on FOX 3 and the Mauricio Rua vs. Brandon Vera-helmed UFC on FOX 4 both tanked in the ratings, the world's leading MMA promotion hit on the solution to this problem: Slotting lighter weight champions who aren't proven PPV draws in FOX main events.
This tactic had a three-fold benefit for the company: FOX main events now appeared significant since a title was at stake, champions who weren't over with the public had a chance to receive excellent publicity fighting in prime time on network television, and UFC wasn't forced to give away a potential blockbuster PPV attraction for free.
And Anthony Pettis' injury notwithstanding, this is the reason Flyweight kingpin Johnson has headlined three of the past five FOX cards (with former Lightweight champ -- and initially disappointing draw on PPV -- Ben Henderson main eventing the other two).
However, after Johnson's performance at UFC on FOX 9 this past Saturday night (Dec. 14, 2013) UFC may want to consider giving "Mighty Mouse" a chance to headline a PPV on his own.
For years the book on Johnson has been that he uses his quickness and superior technique to win decisions against his opponents. That type of fight style doesn't exactly do a lot to dispel the notion some fans have that Flyweights aren't capable of delivering exciting knockouts.
With Johnson's brutal first round knockout of No. 1 contender Joseph Benavidez last night, however, it's probably time to rewrite that book. Johnson didn't just knock down Benavidez with a well-placed punch, he sent him on the express train to the astral plane and followed up his heavy handiwork with a barrage of punches so vicious they looked like they belonged on an Animal Planet documentary about a lion pouncing on its unfortunate dinner.
If that wasn't enough to convince all the 180-pound plus Joe TapOut shirts out there who don't train MMA that, yes, Johnson can kick all of our non-athlete asses into next year, then I don't know what would.
What's more, it's not like Benavidez is a chump. Against anyone who isn't named "Demetrious Johnson" or "Dominick Cruz" he invariably looks like a beast. Beating the master of "Joe Jitsu" so handily just goes to show what an elite fighter Johnson really is.
And, sure, I know as well as anyone that talent in and of itself doesn't have a lot to do with being a draw. The thing is though, there's only so many times Johnson can fight on free television before fans start to pick up on the idea that he isn't one of the "real stars" whose title defenses are saved for PPV. Eventually there comes a time where you risk typecasting him -- and by proxy the entire 125-pound division -- as not ready for PPV if you keep putting his fights on FOX.
If the point of all these FOX main events was to help Johnson get over, then he's probably had more than enough primetime exposure for casual fans to know what he's all about at this point. Besides the "Knockout of the Night" victory over Benavidez, "Mighty Mouse" has racked up a "Submission of the Night" win over John Moraga and received the nod in a "Fight of the Night" barnburner against John Dodson during his tenure on FOX.
With UFC President Dana White having already gone on record saying Flyweights will eventually headline on PPV, there's no time like the present to find out whether or not combat sports fans are ready to pay for the privilege of watching Johnson fight.