NOTE: Originally published via MMA Today on 27/9/18
It’s hard out there for a flyweight.
The frenetic pace and myriad scrambles synonymous with the men’s 125-pound class haven’t translated to headliners or box office receipts in this corner of the market, which could be as easily attributed to a lack of initiative from flyweight competitors in drumming up interest as the UFC’s apparent reluctance to do so itself.
So says one of the division’s own, at least.
Speaking with MMA Today ahead of his professional debut at Friday’s LFA 51, Paul Elizondo deemed his weight class worthy of the accolades and riches that have long proved elusive, but urged his fellow flyweights to take matters into their own hands if they’re to share a marquee – and pocket substantial cabbage – with their hard-hitting, albeit geriatric, heavyweight counterparts.
“I don’t think the flyweights are (appreciated), and they have a responsibility as well to make themselves a household name,” Elizondo said. “When it comes to highlight reels and stuff, the heavier you are, the more gravity you have working for you, and heavyweights only need to touch somebody one time on the chin and they get put to sleep.
“To be honest, the flyweights don’t get that much credit, but they should because we have way more longevity. Our cardio is what allows us to stay in the fight when we do get cracked, and most of those fights, those guys just don’t stop.”
True to Elizondo’s assessment, one would have a rough go of unearthing an Ngannou vs. Lewis-esque stinker from any flyweight film archive, but that hasn’t kept MMA’s preeminent promoters from repeatedly relegating its pint-sized fighters to middling slots on the average card, even with ex-divisional UFC champ and luminary Demetrious Johnson in the fold.
Despite owning the UFC’s record for title defenses with 11 (most of them one-sided), the recently deposed Johnson’s drawing power has never held a candle to his abilities. UFC 191, capped by his rematch with John Dodson, pulled a paltry 115,000 pay-per-views. Johnson hasn’t entered the brass’ good graces or headlined a bill that wasn’t on free TV since, and most recently saw his air of infallibility – and what little clout that came with it – revoked by Henry Cejudo as UFC 227’s second fiddle last month.
The way Elizondo sees it, the powers that be might have bungled their investment at 125 pounds, but his colleagues aren’t doing themselves many favors in letting the fighting and only the fighting – however enthralling – do the talking.
“I believe it has a lot to do with marketing. There is a fine line between competing and getting respect, but at the same time, it is the fight game, and if you don’t want to sell a fight and just be a good competitor, you’ll be a Demetrious Johnson with 12 titles and no one knows who (you are). I’m not saying no one knows who he is, but it took him 12 title fights just to be a co-main event on a (pay-per-view) card. It does have a lot to do with them.
“We’ll see what happens with Cejudo being the champ now. He’s got Olympic gold, so he knows a little bit about marketing. He’s already challenging (bantamweight champion) TJ (Dillashaw), so he’s already making some noise. I’m excited for it. Personality has a lot to do (with) this business. It’s turning more into entertainment than a sport.”
The sport’s purists may bitterly agree with Elizondo’s assessment of MMA’s state of affairs. UFC president Dana White himself, a man in the business of grooming bankable bruisers (in theory, at least), called for the fighters within his purview to build themselves into stars
earlier this year. As a young upstart competing in an unheralded division, Elizondo aims to mitigate the trials that have plagued Johnson and Co. by – oddly enough – heeding White’s divisive words.
“Not at all because no one’s ever going to hand you anything. It’s the flyweights who aren’t working. If people don’t see you working, they’re not going to be behind you. Going back to the Conor (McGregor) thing, everyone’s hating on his jock, they all say he got it handed to him, but he was putting out footage and marketing before the UFC did it themselves, and little did they know, he can also fight. So it definitely helped. As long as you want me to put on a show, I think everyone will be fine.”
Elizondo makes his first walk to the cage as a professional on Friday at Selland Arena in his native Fresno against Freddy Mendez, one of six scalps he collected on the amateur circuit.