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Demetrious Johnson, Ben Askren swapped: Is this the end of the UFC’s flyweight division?

Former flyweight champion Demetrious “Mighty Mouse” Johnson has been released from his contract with the UFC, while welterweight Ben “Funky” Askren has been released from his deal with ONE Championship. It’s the first major MMA “trade” in a sense, though it was more an agreed-upon timed release than an actual swapping of contracts. This allows the former to sign with ONE and the latter to sign with the UFC.

The news that such a move was in the works came on Wednesday, when Ariel Helwani of ESPN reported it wasn’t just in the works, but was “close to getting done.” It’s a huge move, one that should have a big impact on the UFC and ONE as promotions. The deal itself was finalized on Saturday.

Johnson and Askren both had multiple fights left on their respective contracts, with Johnson being a mainstay of the UFC flyweight division since March 2012, and Askren being a former Olympian and long-time success pretty much everywhere but UFC. He boasts an 18-0 (1) record, while Johnson had won his last 13 bouts before a controversial split decision loss to Henry Cejudo in August.

Johnson holds the record for the most consecutive UFC tile defenses with 11, has a 27-3-1 record, and most assumed he would eventually rematch Cejudo, who Johnson has previously beaten via TKO. Askren had previously retired from MMA after a November 2017 win over Shinya Aoki, but he later claimed he would return to competition to face the likes of Georges St-Pierre or Rory McDonald.

ONE is a Singapore-based promotion that also conducts Muay Thai, kickboxing, boxing, and grappling competition, and is one of the biggest martial arts promotions in Asia. The promotion recently signed Eddie Alvarez, and it’s clear they’re targeting more fighters with western name recognition, like Johnson.

It’s also worth noting that Matt Hume, Johnson’s head coach, serves as ONE’s vice president of operations.

The future of the flyweight division

While this will immediately mean Johnson has more exposure in Asia and, presumably, more flexibility with his career, the future of the UFC’s men’s flyweight division has to be in question. It’s not that losing Johnson means there are no more good fighters, but for a division that has generally failed to drive pay-per-view buys, it’s an ominous sign.

The casual MMA viewer simply doesn’t get as hyped for fights between the little guys as they do with the upper weight classes (ironically, heavyweight has long been the worst division in the UFC). This is despite the fact that Johnson is a generational talent and certainly one of the best pound-for-pound fighters of all time.

Many believe the UFC has failed over and over to promote Johnson and the flyweight division as a whole. The promotion has been criticized for not pushing fights in the lower weight classes with the same gusto as higher weights.

Cejudo is now the champion of the division, and his title win was controversial to say the least. The competition he has to face isn’t a bunch of no-names, but it also includes top-ranked guys he’s already faced before, such as Jussier Formiga, Sergio Pettis, and Joseph Benavidez.

Prior to Johnson’s loss to Cejudo, many felt that the division was getting stale, with repeat matchups and newer talent struggling to break through. There have also been rumors that Cejudo will move back up to the 135-pound bantamweight division, which would leave the division without a champion.

For a little bit of speculation, this would seem a good opportunity for the UFC to get rid of the entertaining-but-seemingly-not-so-profitable flyweight division while installing a 165-pound division. The UFC has made it clear in the past they don’t want too many divisions because they don’t want to dilute the title pool (despite being extremely gung-ho with interim belts to sell pay-per-views).

Regardless of what happens going forward, losing Johnson to a less-visible promotion is a big blow for western MMA fans, and a massive hit to the UFC’s flyweight division.


  • Pattie Hodkiewicz
    Posted March 25, 2023 at 5:54 pm

    People say in cases like this – Ahal Uncle, looking at himself 🙂

  • Reginald Cremin
    Posted March 25, 2023 at 8:43 pm

    No words, just emotions 🏆

  • Terry McGlynn
    Posted March 25, 2023 at 8:44 pm

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