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Dublin: 9 °C Wednesday 16 October, 2019

The UFC has announced unusual plans to find its next flyweight title challenger

If you weigh less than 125lbs and fancy being beaten up by Demetrious Johnson, listen up…

UFC flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson.
UFC flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson.
Image: John Locher

SINCE IT WAS introduced in 2012, the UFC’s flyweight division has yet to spark into life — mainly due to the fact that reigning champion Demetrious Johnson’s dominance of the 125lbs weight-class has never been in serious danger.

Johnson, who defeated Joseph Benavidez to win the inaugural flyweight title four years ago, has successfully defended the belt on seven occasions, often doing so without threatening to approach fifth gear.

In the eyes of many fans, the 29-year-old American is the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world, but that hasn’t manifested itself in interest in the flyweight division. Johnson’s rematch with John Dodson headlined UFC 191 last September but the event reportedly attracted just 115,000 pay-per-view buys — the organisation’s lowest figures in 10 years.

The flyweight division is desperately in need of a fresh impetus and the UFC announced plans to attempt to deliver that last night. Season 24 of The Ultimate Fighter, the organisation’s reality TV series, will feature 16 flyweight UFC hopefuls, with the winner set to be rewarded with a bout against the flyweight champion in December.

Title shots have been up for grabs on TUF in the past, but not in this manner. Matt Serra caused one of the biggest upsets in UFC history when he dethroned Georges St-Pierre in 2007 to win the welterweight belt, having come out on top at the end of the fourth season of The Ultimate Fighter. However, that series of the show was made up of fighters who were already on the UFC’s roster.

More recently, the UFC used TUF to introduce a women’s strawweight division by putting the belt on the line at the conclusion of its 20th season, which was won by Carla Esparza at the expense of Rose Namajunas in December 2014.

The development is likely to pique the interest of several promising flyweight fighters from Europe, so don’t be surprised to see the likes of Pietro Menga, Rany Saadeh, Shaj Haque, Paul Marin and Brett Caswell, as well as Ireland’s Andy Young, in Las Vegas when the tryouts take place on 25 April. Filming will begin in June and the show is due to premiere on 31 August. No coaches have been announced yet.

The unenviable prize for the winner is likely to be a clash with Demetrious Johnson later this year, although Johnson must first overcome the challenge of Henry Cejudo at UFC 197 on 23 April to ensure that he’s still the man in possession of the belt.

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Paul Dollery

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