After years of struggling to gain a solid foothold in the imagination of fight fans, it feels like we experienced a real breakthrough in the acceptance of the Flyweight division as one to watch. It always has been to some from the time the UFC added it in 2012. But following Deiveson Figueiredo’s unprecedented two-fight run in 21 days, there’s a new respect being shown to the 125-pound division.
A lot of that undoubtedly has to do with the champ Figueiredo, who fights with a violent intensity that’s impossible to ignore. And following a satisfying first round blitz of Alex Perez at UFC 255, we got a five-round “Fight of the Year” contender with Brandon Moreno at UFC 256 that solidified “Figgy” as a badass, but also showed he was still mortal, and amongst killers who are ready to slit his throat the moment he drops his guard.
It all gives the division a sense of excitement I can’t remember it having in the past. But while Dana White has been nothing but complimentary toward Figueiredo and Moreno, he strangely credited the resurgence of the Flyweights not to their willingness to put their bodies through hell to cut weight twice in 21 days, but to UFC matchmaker Mick Maynard.
“I got to give it to Mick,” White said at the UFC 256 post-fight press conference. “Mick went in and restructured and rebuilt that division and it’s one of the most exciting divisions in the UFC now. And tonight we put on a potential fight of the year and potential greatest fight ever in the division’s history. So, congrats to Mick.
“Well, we all know no one cared about it,” he continued. “I sat up here at press conferences before the fight telling everyone why you needed to watch that division and why there were so many great fights, but people just didn’t a s—t. You can’t make people care. They gotta care, or they don’t. Mick had some ideas, he wanted to go in and make some tweaks. And here we are today.”
Asked what kind of tweaks, White demurred.
“I think you can figure it out,” he said. “Look at the roster. All exciting guys. Guys that are fun to talk to. You got a guy who’s a real Mexican from Mexico, and he fights like a real Mexican from Mexico. You know, the list goes on and on.”
It’s an interesting statement, considering the deep cuts we witnessed to the Flyweight division that saw violent finishers and top ranked contenders like Jussier Formiga and Dustin Ortiz let go. Even Moreno, who White specifically implied was the kind of guy Maynard tweaked to feature on the 125-pound roster, was actually released by the promotion and not even told for months.
“Apparently I was cut a while back, like around November, December,” Moreno told MMA Fighting in April 2019. “I was removed from the rankings, and you know, I was like, ‘what’s going on?’ And I don’t know if I didn’t get all the info, but I thought that I was still with the company and that maybe they were going to find me some space a weight class above, but no.
“Around January, I understand the situation and realize that I was out of the UFC completely without a possibility of getting a fight,” he continued. “The thing is that we were talking to Sean Shelby, the matchmaker, to see if I could get a fight or not (at 135). What I was told was that the division was full, so I didn’t have my hopes up, but I thought that maybe I was in like a waiting list, but that was never the case. I wasn’t in any waiting list, I was cut. The moment that I found out, I started looking around.”
As of mid-2019 the fate of the Flyweight division looked grim. There were just 12 fighters on the roster to fill the Top 15 rankings page on UFC.com at 125 pounds.
UFC ended up bringing back Moreno at the end of that year as a late addition to a UFC Fight Night card in Mexico. Perhaps this was the beginning of those tweaks we can credit Maynard with? Hey, if the tweaks involve, “treating the Flyweights with a modicum of respect and featuring them like the beasts they are,” then yes ... I can definitely get behind Maynard’s tweaks.
Nevertheless, I’m still gonna give Figueiredo the lion’s share of the credit for this Flyweight resurgence, though.