HEYDORN’S TAKE: The UFC’s arrogance towards Demetrious Johnson and UFC 215 leaves money on the table and a shadow over their history

BY ZACK HEYDORN, MMATorch Contributor

Demetrious Johnson

If a tree falls in the forest, does it make a sound if nobody is there to hear it? It’s one of the most debated questions in history and a notion that applies perfectly to this weekend’s UFC 215 event featuring Demetrious Johnson vs. Ray Borg for the UFC Flyweight Championship. If the championship being on the line wasn’t important enough, with a victory, Johnson can break Anderson Silva’s record of the most successful UFC championship defenses in history with his eleventh. If that record gets broken and nobody is around to watch it, did the record really break? The answer is a resounding yes, yet UFC doesn’t seem to care. Through arrogance and their desire to prove a point, the UFC is undermining a major historical moment within their company and leaving big money on the table.

Demetrious Johnson has had a pristine UFC career to this point. He’s 26-2-1, fought in both the bantamweight and flyweight divisions, and is the best pound for pound fighter that the world of MMA has to offer. He has entered the octagon against some of the best mixed martial artists around including Dominick Cruz, Ian McCall, John Dodson, Henry Cejudo, and most recently Wilson Reis. Johnson is a pros pro within the UFC as well. He makes his fights, promotes the product well, and for the most part is a company guy through and through. If UFC got to design their ideal star in a lab somewhere, Demetrious Johnson is a guy they’d look to replicate. On Saturday night, Johnson will look to shatter a record that is currently held by one of UFC’s most beloved legends in Anderson Silva. Dana White should be salivating at the financial possibilities within that narrative. Instead he’s all but written it off and it makes no sense for him to do so.

White and the UFC are leaving a ton of money on the table by not heavily promoting this potential history making moment on Saturday. They should be drawing significant attention to it instead of sweeping it under the rug. There needs to be special Embedded series videos, large scale press conferences, interviews with Silva, interviews with other past opponents of Johnson, and a full on marketing effort to promote the fact that Johnson is chasing history and the only way to watch it is by buying the PPV. As far as 10 days out for UFC 214, ads were circulating with video promoting Jon Jones’s return to the octagon. That was certainly a big deal, but a history making moment like Saturday’s should be bigger and can be if it’s framed right. This will make the UFC money, but it also will put a different weight division and new potential stars on Front Street to shine. It sounds obvious, yet none of it is being done. UFC should be in the business of making all of their weight divisions seem equal to one another and that the champions in each are the best. Promoting potential history at UFC 215 does that for the flyweight division. For a long time, it’s been the redheaded step child of the UFC, but now that child is getting married and therefore getting attention. UFC needs to embrace the attention and use it to facilitate new stars so they can make more money.

By not putting the machine behind UFC 215 and Demetrious Johnson, the UFC is also undermining their own history. Eleven straight championship defenses is big. Why would they want to distance themselves from something so special? They should be talking about and remembering this for years to come. With fighters having a shorter and shorter shelf life in the company, this type of record could easily never be broken again. UFC needs to own this and make it feel special. If they treat it as an important part of their history, fans will too. Right now, they haven’t. They’ve assumed low interest in the event due to a lack of star power and now they have an event that there is low interest in. The UFC is living inside a self-created, self-fulfilling prophecy. The worst thing is, they can change that fortune, but have decided not to. That’s unacceptable.

For a record breaking moment of this magnitude, UFC 215 deserves the proper hype. So does Demetrious Johnson. News reports stated that there were political issues and disagreements between the Johnson camp and UFC about this fight and others down the road, but so what? Many fighters have had similar disagreements, yet good business still got done. Conor McGregor retired in order to get the respect he deserved from the UFC and you can bet that Nate Diaz will be holding Dana White over some hot coals when he eventually negotiates his third fight with McGregor. In both cases there were differing opinions but in the end the right decisions were made so that the fighters and the UFC product could flourish.

It’s truly mind boggling to try and reason why Demetrious Johnson isn’t getting the same wiggle room and respect that Diaz, McGregor, and so many others have gotten over the years while in a similar situation. If there is one guy that deserves it, it’s him. He has the weight of the UFC and MMA history on his shoulders against Ray Borg on Saturday night and not nearly enough people are aware of it. Shame on the UFC for choosing the wrong place and the wrong time to needlessly flex their muscle. They’ve financially hurt themselves in doing so and have cast a black mark over what should be a momentous occasion. Here’s hoping Johnson pulls it out and can be stubbornly etched in the UFC history books for many years to come.

NOW CHECK OUT HEYDORN’S PREVIOUS TAKE: The UFC needs to strike while the Conor McGregor iron is hottest and book him against Nate Diaz immediately

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