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Tuesday, December 10, 2013
Look before you boo the flyweights

By Brett Okamoto


Let me tell you a few things about a UFC crowd.

Guaranteed, if you attend a UFC event, you will, at some point, hear someone yell, “Sweep the leg, Johnny.”

It’s inevitable. Now that I actually think about it, it’s downright stunning how automatic that phrase is at a live UFC show. Every. Single. Time.

If a fighter gets accidentally kicked in the groin, the arena will boo. I’ve never fully understood if they’re booing the guy who threw the kick, the guy who got kicked or just the situation in general. When the replay is shown, they collectively go, “Ohhhhh.”

And for the most part, UFC crowds boo flyweight fights. It’s a trend that might, hopefully, be dying. A Las Vegas crowd surprised me last month by not booing a flyweight chess match between Ali Bagautinov and Timothy Elliott at UFC 167.

It still exists, though. I can distinctly remember the Houston crowd booing John Dodson, one of the most electric fighters in the division, at UFC 166 -- and he scored a first-round knockout in that fight. A crowd in Minneapolis booed him last year in a second-round TKO win over Jussier Formiga.

And I will never forget the aftermath of the first flyweight title fight in UFC history, which involved the promotion’s president, Dana White, standing at the podium during a news conference in Toronto, literally telling potential pay-per-view customers to never purchase his product again if they didn’t enjoy it.
Johnson-Benavidez
Demetrious Johnson, top, is unapologetic when it comes to his fighting style.

“Let me tell you what,” White said, following Demetrious Johnson’s decision victory over Joseph Benavidez in September 2012. “If you didn’t like that flyweight fight, please, I’m begging you, don’t ever buy another UFC pay-per-view again.”

White, of course, then called the flyweight haters “morons” who “don’t like fighting.”

Johnson and Benavidez, who meet for a second time this weekend at a UFC on Fox event in Sacramento, Calif., have been asked about a billion times if the boos bother them. Their answer is basically, “not really.”

The champion, Johnson, took a defiant stance similar to White’s when asked a while back what he would say to persuade a fan to get on board with the division.

“I’m not going to try and sell it. I’m not a mouthpiece,” Johnson said. “I’m not going to sell a girl either, like, ‘Baby, I’m going to take care of you.’ That’s not the type of person I am. You don’t watch flyweights? Maybe you should watch something else.”

Like last weekend’s heavyweight fight between Mark Hunt and Antonio Silva. According to Fightmetric, the two combined to land exactly 200 total strikes in the five-round bout -- 200 heavyweight strikes.

It won Fight of the Night honors in Brisbane, Australia, and has already been slotted in as a surefire fight of the year candidate.

While Johnson (18-2-1) might admire the heart of Silva and Hunt, truth be told, the 27-year-old champion would probably tell you that, ultimately, that fight was awful.

“When I see fighters whose style is just to brawl, fans will say, ‘Man, did you see that fight?’ I say, ‘Yeah, those guys are idiots,’” Johnson said.

Johnson says he “brawled” one time, against Brad Pickett at a World Extreme Cagefighting pay-per-view event in April 2010. The reason he did it was because the WEC was offering UFC-like bonus money -- $65,000 for Fight of the Night.

When I see fighters whose style is just to brawl, fans will say, Man, did you see that fight? I say, Yeah, those guys are idiots

-- Demetrious Johnson, on his style of fighting compared to brawlers

He ended up suffering a unanimous decision loss and went immediately to the hospital. A barnburner lightweight bout between Leonard Garcia and Chan Sung Jung took Fight of the Night. Johnson made a disclosed amount of $3,000.

“I went to the hospital and heard Chan Sung Jung and Leonard Garcia got Fight of the Night and was like, ‘Wow, really?’” Johnson said.

“[Trainer] Matt Hume tells me too, let’s say I would stand in the pocket with somebody and get hit and think it looks super cool. He’d tell me, ‘Actually, that was pretty stupid.’”

Appreciating flyweights probably comes down to knowing what to look for. The transitions are lightning fast. Recognizing a leg kick, throwing a counter right hand, then closing on an ensuing takedown all takes about one second at 125 pounds.

The constant movement with few heavy strikes landed can be tiresome and look repetitive to a UFC crowd, but the way Johnson controlled range against Benavidez in their first fight can be as much, if not more, fun to watch as two guys standing flat-footed in the center of the cage throwing haymakers.

A paying fan at a live sports event can pretty much boo or cheer anything he or she wants to. I agree with that, even if what you want to do is loudly recite lines from "The Karate Kid."

But to those who will overlook the flyweight rematch between Johnson and Benavidez (19-3) due to what they remember as a “boring” first fight, I would only encourage you to look closer at it this time and see if you’re missing something.

“Any big guy would love to fight like a small guy,” Benavidez says. “They would love to move as fast as we do and throw as much output. You get a big guy who fights like a small guy, and they just whoop everyone’s butt.”