Mixed martial arts fighters are always fighting for something bigger than just the other guy or girl standing across the cage from them.
For years following Senator John McCain’s infamous reference to the UFC as “human cockfighting”, competitors and promotions alike had to battle the perception that MMA was not much more than legalized bar fights complete with bloody battles and little in the way of rules.
The culture of the sport started to change as more and more state athletic commissions began approving MMA, so long as they followed a strict code of regulations like any other competition. It was still an uphill battle until the UFC really got a stranglehold of fans following the initial run of the Ultimate Fighter on Spike TV that showcased fighters both in and out of the cage in a reality show format.
MMA still battles for recognition today, but the sport is much more widely accepted now than it ever was before, and as the UFC moved onto Fox television in late 2011, just about everybody took notice that this mixed martial arts thing wasn’t going away.
On Jan 26, two fighters will step into the cage as the main event of the latest UFC on Fox offering, looking for similar respect and acceptance as those competitors that had to literally prove to naysayers that MMA was a lot more than “human cockfighting”.
UFC flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson and challenger John Dodson represent the newest weight division in the promotion, and over the last year they’ve fought tooth and nail to prove that the 125lb fighters are no different than any other weight class outside of just being smaller.
Unfortunately fans haven’t flocked to the flyweights yet and some of the bouts have been routinely booed while the action was anything but what most would consider boring.
Is it because the flyweights are just shorter and smaller, and it’s hard for the local crowds to see them in the cage? Is it the speed where you literally feel like sometimes you have to put a fight on slow motion to see what’s happening? Is it just that no one knows the flyweight stars the same way you’d recognized Georges St-Pierre or Anderson Silva?
Whatever the case may be, both Johnson and Dodson are looking at their main event on Fox as a chance to show the entire world what the flyweights can do, and what they can do is put on an absolutely stellar championship fight.
“I think with Fox putting flyweights as the main event it’s going to give us huge exposure, especially nationally, and I think Dana White knows it’s going to be a good fight,” said UFC champion Demetrious Johnson when speaking to MMAWeekly Radio.
“The last Fox fight with Ben Henderson and Nate Diaz was fantastic, it was a five round war, I think the fans loved it, and I think Fox loved it because if people go out there and just get knocked out in the very beginning it doesn’t give people a chance to get very educated and see what goes on. I’m pretty sure you’re going to see all arts of mixed martial arts on display on Jan 26.”
Top flyweight contender John Dodson knows this fight all too well, and that statement has nothing to do with his opponent Demetrious Johnson.
Dodson has been fighting professionally since 2004, while training alongside coach Greg Jackson for the better part of the last decade, and until he made his appearance on the Ultimate Fighter reality show chances are you never heard of him. It wasn’t because Dodson wasn’t an impressive fighter.
No, when he joined the cast of the 14th season of the reality show, Dodson was 11-5 as a professional and had faced some very stiff competition throughout his career. What John Dodson wasn’t though was a big enough fighter to get recognition to sign with a promotion like the UFC.
Big being the main word here because he was literally too small to compete at 155lbs, which was the smallest weight division the UFC or for that matter most major promotions had as Dodson was making his way in the MMA world.
“It’s going to be a battle until the day I die, ” Dodson told MMAWeekly Radio. “Because fans aren’t going turn over a new leaf and think about accepting the fact that 125lbers are real fighters. I’ve got to win them over by the course of my whole goal. If I can do it at 125, 135 and 145, then I can get the respect from all of them. Hopefully I can do it for 125 and they can start respecting them as well.”
Dodson believes that the flyweights have already proven themselves in the short time they’ve been in the UFC. This fight on Fox against Demetrious Johnson is just the biggest opportunity the 125lb class has had to showcase itself on the largest televised stage in the world.
“Not only do I get to bring new fans to the sport of MMA, but I get to show people the true speed and talent of the 125's. People are going to sit there and try to criticize and judge saying that the 125er’s shouldn’t be a part of the UFC cause they’re too light, they could bring in extra heavyweights. They’re not going to do enough damage, there’s not going to be enough finishing,” said Dodson.
“Well look at us already, there’s been a lot of flyweights finishing fights. Submissions and knockouts.”
Demetrious Johnson agrees but if it takes a main event on Fox to prove what the flyweights can do then he invites everyone to tune in and see the show he and John Dodson put on for the fans in Chicago and those watching around the world.
“I think everybody’s going to get a special treat that night,” said Johnson. “You’re going to get some knockouts, you’re going to get some great submissions, and you’re going to get some wars. You’re going to get everything that night.”
For his part, John Dodson knows it’s always going to be an uphill battle. Even if he and Demetrious Johnson put on a fight that has people buzzing for weeks, that fanfare can eventually die down, too. Maybe it’s that edge, that chip on the shoulder mentality that keeps Dodson on point, but he’s not going to feel like he achieved some great moment just because he has one great fight on Fox.
It’s a lifetime of work, a lifetime of goals, and throughout his career, Dodson wants to continue to cultivate the fan’s love of the smaller weight classes. As he says, the work is never truly done.
“We always have to prove something,” said Dodson. “We always have to show the adversity we have through all the fights.”