Since Henry Cejudo was stripped of the UFC Flyweight title back in December 2019, the division has headed nowhere. The mess that the division is in is best summed up by the UFC's official website in an article titled 'Where We Stand: Flyweight Division'. Longtime contender Joseph Benavidez – who handed Cejudo his last loss – stopped Jussier Formiga in a No. 1 contender fight a month later, but the injuries Cejudo sustained against Marlon Moraes kept him from defending either belt. Eventually, Cejudo vacated, which led to a title fight where the winner, Deiveson Figueiredo, missed weight and was ineligible for the title. So, more than a year later after Cejudo’s big win in Brooklyn, it is the only weight class lacking a champion."
The article makes it clear that it isn't as if there aren't any contenders in the division. You have Deiveson Figueiredo, who would have been the division champion had he not missed weight at UFC Norfolk. Then there's the grand old man of the division Joseph Benavidez, who has a record deeper than some champions UFC has seen. You also have the-young-blood Brandon Moreno, who defeated Jussier Formiga in his last fight. Apart from that, there's Askar Askarov, Kai KaraFrance, Alex Perez, and several others.
The flyweight division has plenty of fighters who can make a case for a run at the title, the problem, however, lies in the fact that the division does not have an identity. Given the debatable nature of the decision which led to Henery Cejudo winning the title, Demetrious Johnson's 11 title defense streak is something that any MMA fan will still identify the flyweight division with.
That could have changed at UFC 249 when Cejudo managed to defeat Dominick Cruz, considered as one of the greatest MMA fighters of all time, by knockout. The win added the name-value he needed to claim superiority over "the Mighty Mouse", as Cruz was the last person who had defeated Johnson. The win also meant that Cejudo now had a deep record which included wins over T.J Dillashaw and Marlon Moraes. Hence, allowing the division to restart, with him moving down and facing the next contender in line for the title.
However, a retirement announcement closed that door thus making the mess denser. The reason the identity of the champion matters so much is because the UFC belt is identified as a symbol of being the best in a weight class. It's like an MMA power structure. However, given the current nature of the division and Johnson still being an active fighter in the ONE, anyone else holding the belt will need to work a lot before he gets the confidence of the MMA world.
Now it isn't being implied that the UFC hasn't handed over belts to fighters who had a very strong competition to the title of the best. A recent example could be of Khabib winning the UFC lightweight championship by defeating Al Iaquinta. But in cases like those an entire division wasn't identified with one person, sure there were popular fighters but no one person had ruled the division with an iron fist. Khabib had competition but not one person could simply consider him out, it was a debate as to who was the best amongst him, Conor McGregor and Tony Ferguson. And remember, all three fighters were signed with the UFC.
Even Germaine De Randamie won the women's featherweight belt by defeating Holly Holm in a division best known by the name of Cris Cyborg but even in that case Cyborg was signed with the UFC, hence the powerstructure lived. Right now, the UFC can't claim it is home to the best flyweights in the world. Hence, making it even more difficult for a champion to be crowned. It will be interesting to see where the division goes from here.Published 20 May 2020, 21:58 IST