Not that long ago, the future of the UFC’s 125-pound division was up in the air. Back in 2017, then-flyweight kingpin and top UFC pound-for-pound fighter Demetrious Johnson began making assertions that the UFC brass had threatened to shutter the entire division over lack of interest. Then after Johnson lost the title and was traded to ONE Championship, the UFC started releasing flyweights in droves, so many in fact that at one point they couldn’t even fill out their 16-man rankings because there were not enough flyweights under contract.
But everything turned around with Henry Cejudo. Cejudo campaigned to keep the flyweight division alive by defending his title against bantamweight champion T.J. Dillashaw. After that, Cejudo moved up in weight and became the first double champion in UFC history under 145 pounds and in so doing, saved the flyweight division. After that win, Dana White put to bed the rampant rumors that he was going to close the division and the UFC started re-signing flyweight talent. But despite the division now being confirmed to be sticking around, the flyweights on roster still aren’t generating much buzz, and that’s a big problem, at least, so says a man whose entire career was built around generating buzz.
Speaking on his YouTube channel recently, Chael Sonnen put the flyweight division on blast for their reaction to almost getting cut and their subsequent return to obscurity now that the division is apparently safe.
“One thing at 125 pounds – and it does surprise me and it does disappoint me and it even infuriates me – listen, that division was almost cut,” Sonnen said. “That division was almost gone. And I’m not speaking out of school, that was very public and well-known. Henry saved the division. Henry Cejudo brought something new where they said ‘You know what? We’re going to keep it around. We’re gonna keep this guy here and we’re gonna see if he can drive it into the future.’ The rest of the 125 pounders were so thankful. The holidays were saved, their careers were saved. [But they] did not apparently learn a single god damn lesson from it almost being taken away from them.”
Cejudo managed to save the flyweight division largely because the UFC views him as a marketable star. On top of being a two-division champion, Cejudo is also a former Olympic gold medalist. But aside from his credentials, Cejudo has also made a concerted effort to increase his visibility to the public at large. Since winning the title(s), Cejudo has started calling himself “Triple C” and has adopted a pro-wrestling style persona that blends Kurt Angle (fellow Olympic gold medalist), Andy Kaufman, and a generally cringe-inducing dork. Whether or not any of that is making Cejudo a bonafide star, it is at least raising his profile and Sonnen lambasts the rest of the division for not following his footsteps.
“Aside from Henry Cejudo, not one of the guys in the back who thought their contracts were going to go away because of lack of interest in the division have done a god damn thing to be interesting,” Sonnen said. “Not one them and it is infuriating to me. As much as they all wanted to cry into their beer when they were going to get cut — and I would take no pleasure in somebody having their opportunity taken from them, none — but you would certainly think that would serve as a wake-up call. A major wakeup call [that] something has to be done different.
“‘Oh my gosh, here’s Henry Cejudo. Oh my gish, this guy looks like a fool, a jester. This guy’s coming on stage with fake snakes and snapping them down. Oh my gosh, this guy just saved an entire division? He just saved the jobs of 56 strangers who happen to be in the same weight class with the same goals as him? Wow. Maybe I should learn something.’”
It’s true. Aside from the general rejoicing done by being assured of continued employment, the flyweight division has remained largely the same. But they would be better served by changing things up because Cejudo may not be around much longer. Since claiming the bantamweight title, “Triple C” has been calling out a laundry list of legends that doesn’t include any flyweights, and recently, Dana White said he’d need to defend the flyweight title or give it up. If Cejudo abandons the division, suddenly the reason for keeping it around goes away too, which means someone else needs to step up to keep the boat moving forward. And Sonnen says while that doesn’t necessarily mean a bunch of flyweights need to go full WWE, it does mean they need to do something.
“Look, you don’t want a whole bunch of gimmicks in the division, you don’t,” Sonnen said. “You don’t need a whole ton of them, particularly for the hardcores. The hardcores don’t need eight or nine characters all at once. But the casuals do. Now you may look at Henry and Colby [Covington] and go, ‘I don’t like the character. I don’t like the gimmick, they need to change.’ You may do that but you also need to understand that they are the two best gimmicks in the entire sport by default. They are the only two which makes them the two best. . . It just strikes me as a little bit of a surprise that [no one is] coming out with a branded marketing campaign to himself when one of them is about to fight for the world title and the other one has the title and saved an entire division. It would just seem to me that you would learn something from that.”
Cejudo is currently recovering from shoulder surgery and is not expected to return to the cage until next year. That gives the rest of the flyweight division plenty of time to pick things up.
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Will Cejudo come back to 125 or are they on their own?
He’ll defend the flyweight title.
He’s moved on from that weight cut.
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