Little dudes bring it, the casual fan leaves it

September, 25, 2012
9/25/12
2:28
PM ET
Mindenhall By Chuck Mindenhall
ESPN.com
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Joseph Benavidez and Demetrius JohnsonAl Bello/Getty ImagesDemetrius Johnson and Joseph Benavidez showed the flyweight division can give UFC a lift.

The flyweights are either the most exhilarating electrons to ever blur our field of vision, or something of a fight game hoax. Which is it?

For those of you who think 125-pound grown men fighting is boring or anticlimactic, Dana White thinks you’re a “moron.” He invites you to save your disposable income going forward. Can’t get down with those swift moving twerp weights? Your money’s no good to the UFC. The UFC will not suffer your ignorance.

However...for those who like breakneck speed, flitting athleticism and ping-pong action, the flyweights are definitely onto something. Connoisseurs of frenzy, unite! Demetrious Johnson and Joseph Benavidez put on the prototypical flyweight fight -- a distilled version of a million little wars gone into one. What’s not to love? This was the anti-Shawn Jordan/Cheick Kongo sludgefest. These guys were bouncing off of the cage, the floor and each other like lotto balls. Like amphetamines. Like dueling banjos.

If they seemed small, it’s because Michael Bisping and Brian Stann -- who went directly before them -- looked massive.

But all of this is just window dressing.

The problem is that people tend to like bigger. In boxing, the heavyweight glory of the 1970s was a golden era that was almost out-budgeted by the players. There were so many names (Joe Frazier), so many big punchers (George Foreman) so many outsized attitudes (Muhammad Ali), and so much closing in periphery (Larry Holmes, Chuck Wepner, Earnie Shavers...et al.), that all the romance went into the biggest division.

We still hover around this mindset in 2012.

In MMA, the descending scale of weight classes is telling. From heavyweight down to welterweight, people are paying attention. Brock Lesnar, on sheer comic book size, is PPV gold. By the time we’re talking lightweight, we’re at the threshold. It’s the cutoff point for a lot of fight fans in terms of interest.

Featherweight, we are starting to play at fetishes. Bantamweight, be prepared for the judge’s scorecards. Flyweight? We had better catch up to the nuances of the game in a hurry. We had better understand why we watch the fight game. We’d better understand what it is we want to get out of the fight game.

The question is -- do we want chess, or Russian roulette?

The one-punch power can’t be underestimated in MMA. That one punch can close the curtains of Junior dos Santos will make Alistair Overeem a compelling opponent. It makes anybody vulnerable and dangerous at the same time. That’s what we like. Two brutal forces coming together, only one standing after. Two flyweights can’t equal one Brock Lesnar. This is true in our imaginations as well as on the scale. Bigger is better.

But why is bigger so much better? Maybe it’s because casual fans like the idea of two colliding colossus’s. It’s a bike rack mentality. The two biggest bullies in the schoolyard meet at the bike rack after school to fight, and everybody shows up. The winner is the baddest kid in school. Size dictates our perception of what and what isn’t imposing. The big kid who sits on top, sits on top over everyone. The smaller kid who fought in the Golden Gloves? He’d get squashed by the bigger kid. The big kid is king.

And the problem is that the littlest guys are tactical. The problem is that they are smaller than us. We imagine flicking paper footballs at each other in the exchanges. The comparison all over Twitter was that children were fighting during Benavidez/Johnson. That we were voyeurs to something comical. People don’t want nickel and diming; they want big bucks. Jackpots. Guys in need of smelling salts.

People want to watch guys smash each other, guys that are physical specimens that we can barely conceive of in terms of power and force. We marvel at Shane Carwin’s 4x glove size because we imagine it punching holes into Brock Lesnar’s sworded thorax. If Carwin lands that anvil, whoever’s standing in front of him drops. That’s a wow factor. If Demetrious Johnson lands a big overhand, the needle (probably) doesn’t skip a beat. It’s all part of a mean 25-minute waltz set to “Flight of the Bumblebee.”

The flyweights may never catch on with everybody. The bottom line is a good portion of MMA fans -- and this could be the majority -- want to see competitors that are truly imposing. Guys we wouldn’t want to cross. There are a lot of people who won’t care to watch two smaller guys outpointing each other, even if they appear to be in fast-forward to the naked eye.

Either you watch MMA because you are a fan of the possibility of all those disciplines coming together in the cage, an appreciation that encompasses all weight classes. Or you watch to be astonished by sweet, raw violence.

Flyweights are the first extreme. And if you don’t get that, then Dana White says save your money.

Not that you’re likely to see the flyweights headline a PPV in the near future.

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