Trading Shots: If this is it for the UFC’s flyweights, will we miss them when they’re gone?

Is the beginning of UFC on ESPN really the end for the flyweights in the octagon? If so, how will we feel when the 125-pounders are no more? Retired UFC and WEC fighter Danny Downes joins MMAjunkie columnist Ben Fowlkes to discuss in this week’s Trading Shots.

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Fowlkes: So here we are less than a week out from the UFC’s debut on ESPN, headlined by what very well could turn out to be the last men’s flyweight title fight in UFC history. Isn’t that weird to think about, Danny? Not only that an entire division could just vanish soon, but also that we just don’t know whether or not it will.

I mean, on one hand you have the UFC remaining non-committal and re-signing flyweights like Joseph Benavidez to new contracts. On the other, you’ve got bantamweight champ T.J. Dillashaw straight up saying that he’s being paid to “kill” the division by dropping down and beating flyweight champion Henry Cejudo.

Say it happens just like that. Say Dillashaw wins, takes the belt back up to bantamweight, and Dana White throws his hands in the air like, guess that settles it. How will you remember the flyweights when it’s all over? How would you explain what happened here to a new fan who sees this crazy sport for the first time on ESPN and decides to start following it? Most importantly, how sad would you be?

Downes: I guess I won’t really be that sad. And I won’t even resort to the disingenuous “There are hungry people in the world and you’re worried about this?” line of attack (although I still reserve the right to go there). I feel bad for the fighters sitting in limbo and unsure how to proceed, but that’s where it ends. There will be no shortage of fights to watch.

One fringe benefit if men’s flyweight disappears is that it will finally put an end to the ultimate MMA hipster debate. You and your other buddies in the so-called media have been telling people for years that if you don’t like 125-pound fights, “you’re not a true MMA fan.”

Admittedly, there was a faction of fans/trolls who would crap on any flyweight fight, but just as the refrain “flyweights are boring” was devoid of critical thinking, there would be the opposite group proclaiming any C+ fight as a feat of technical mastery. I’d rather debate Pepsi vs. Coke or “Could Jack have fit on the door?” than be subjected to more “Can flyweights draw?”

As for how I’ll remember the flyweight era, I suppose I’ll simply think of it as Demetrious Johnson’s division. It’s a testament to “Mighty Mouse’s” dominance, but also the lack of any other real storylines.

That’s not to say that there weren’t other great fighters or performances, but when there’s MMA on every week, what’s one division? How many iconic flyweight fights can you name? You may not like how the UFC is going about things, but will you even notice it’s gone?

Fowlkes: I guess it depends what becomes of the fighters left behind. If most of the flyweights end up as bantamweights without issue, maybe we won’t notice the absence of the flyweights. Of course, every once in a while we’ll hear about what “Mighty Mouse” is up to over in ONE Championship and we’ll remember, oh yeah, one of the greatest to ever strap on a pair of gloves isn’t around these parts anymore.

That’s the part that still seems crazy to me when I picture myself talking to our hypothetical new ESPN fan. Johnson is an important fighter in the history of this sport, and his career is still ongoing. He’s a pound-for-pound great, statistically the most dominant champion the UFC has ever had. Then he lost one debatable decision after six years of total perfection, and the UFC dealt him away like some mediocre relief pitcher.

How do you explain that? “Well, see, he was brilliant at his sport but he was never that profitable for the sports company.” If I’m John Q. ESPN Fan, here’s where I take a couple steps back and wonder what kind of world I’m entering here.

Downes: Because the UFC is the first organization to place profits over athletes? I don’t know who this John Q. guy is, but unless he’s never heard of the National Football League, you probably won’t have a difficult time explaining the fate of flyweights.

Also the fact that I asked you to name some iconic flyweight fights and your first response was to bring up Johnson going to ONE should be telling. There are a lot of great flyweight fighters, but it is a shallow division. It’s not the only one (e.g. light heavyweight), but it doesn’t make sense to discontinue that division.

I like watching Kyoji Horiguchi fight. Do I wish he were in the UFC? Sure, but he seems to be doing all right for himself fighting at bantamweight in Japan.

Maybe it’s because I started watching “Tidying Up with Marie Kondo” on Netflix, but we all need to need to de-clutter a bit – even combat sports organizations. Flyweight fighters will make the adjustments.

How many elite 125-pound male fighters do you think would be out of their element at bantamweight? Benavidez, John Moraga, Jussier Formiga and others will be fine. Are you worried about the fate of Magomed Bibulatov? Is he even on the roster? How many flyweight stories have you written in the last three years?

We can blame the UFC marketing strategy and a dozen other things for the fate of the flyweights. But if they never registered with you, someone who is paid to cover the sport, who’s really at fault?

For more on UFC on ESPN+ 1, check out the UFC Rumors section of the site.

Ben Fowlkes is MMAjunkie and USA TODAY’s MMA columnist. Danny Downes, a retired UFC and WEC fighter, is an MMAjunkie contributor who has also written for UFC.com and UFC 360. Follow them on twitter at @benfowlkesMMA and @dannyboydownes.

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