The story so far: Henry Cejudo vs. TJ Dillashaw
In combat sports, it’s only human nature to be drawn to the heavyweights. They seem to have a superhero like quality to them. Unfortunately, this results in some of the world’s greatest fighters being dismissed. Despite putting on some scintillating battles throughout the years, the little men have never quite generated the attention of the mainstream market until now.
From 22nd September 2012 through till 4th August 2018 the flyweight division was dominated by one of the greatest athletes to ever have competed in the octagon, ‘Mighty Mouse’ Demetrious Johnson. Mighty Mouse is an incredible allrounder who had dismantled any man who stepped into the octagon with him including Henry Cejudo in 2016.
Despite his untouchable time as champion, Johnson never reached superstar status; he rarely headlined PPV’s and his ratings on Fox weren’t overly impressive. One could argue that this was simply because he was so superior to his opponents that his fights never captured the imagination of the fans. However, sceptics of Johnson would insist that his lack of popularity was due to his inability to sell fights combined with his lack of desire to compete against the best. It’s been reported before that he turned down offers to fight Bantamweight champion TJ Dillashaw and this angered some fans.
Despite a push from Dana White to make the champion vs champion matchup for Johnson’s belt, Mighty Mouse turned down the super fight and ultimately the bout fell by the wayside. The pair would find themselves sharing a card at UFC 227 at the Staples Centre in Los Angeles. Both men competing in rematches, Dillashaw against Cody Garbrandt, the man he took the belt from, and Johnson against Cejudo, whom he defeated inside just one round two years previously.
Those who were frustrated with Johnson for taking on a man whom they saw as an easy touch were to be silenced. In their first fight, despite possessing an Olympic Gold medal in wrestling, Cejudo wasn’t well rounded enough to compete with the pound for pound athlete, but two years down the line he’d greatly improved his game and was ready for another shot. An inspired Cejudo and a brilliant Johnson went to the war in the greatest fight in flyweight history. Despite a very close battle, it was Cejudo who received the verdict and shocked the world as a huge betting underdog. His improved striking, alongside his ever-impressive wrestling, was enough to catch the eye of the judges.
As Johnson’s reign came to an end Cejudo breathed new life into the division. In his post-fight interview, he called out the winner of the main event that evening and agreed to take on an opponent Johnson had arguably avoided. In a terrific main event, Dillashaw had dispatched Garbrandt by knock out and closed the book on what had been a terrific rivalry. Directly after the fight, he responded to Cejudo and accepted his challenge.
The champion vs champion fight was confirmed to headline the promotions first ever event on ESPN+ on 19th January at the Barclays Centre in Brooklyn. After years of dominance and uninspiring matchups, fans finally have something to get excited about, two champions in their prime willing to fight the best. Can the ever-improving Cejudo impose his Olympic wrestling on the elusive Dillashaw who has improved tenfold under the guidance of Duane Ludwig? It’s certainly a fascinating one.
Despite the flyweight division being in the best position, it’s ever been, speculation has arisen that the UFC will dispose of it after this bout. With multiple websites such as Bloody Elbow reporting that the UFC consider the division an “afterthought” and in addition that they are going to either force fighters to move up to bantamweight or simply cut ties with them altogether. This could be viewed as a huge slap in the face to athletes who’ve worked their entire lives to get into the UFC to only end up out of work simply because of their size. Some believe that getting rid of a division brings the integrity of the promotion into question as they would be prioritising business over the sport.
If Dillashaw is to win, then it’s likely the division will cease to exist shortly afterwards, however, if Cejudo takes the victory the picture becomes slightly less clear, could the division survive if the fight lives up to its billing? And if he wins and still gets stripped it’ll be interesting to see how the general public reacts to someone losing his belt outside of the cage.
Going into this super fight we’re not only excited for what on paper should be one of the fights of the year, but we’re also intrigued as to what the fate of the Flyweight division will be.