Roll up, roll up, all flyweights welcome. If you want to be a star, the newly constructed UFC flyweight division could be the place for you. Well, so long as you're able to cut to a fighting weight of 125lbs and match the pace of some of the most frenetic mixed martial artists on the planet. Trust me though, if you fit the bill, the time couldn't be any better.
This Friday night live from Sydney, Australia, the UFC's first four flyweights compete in stage one of a four-man tournament, which will later decide who becomes proprietor of the organization's inaugural flyweight championship. While much of the attention this weekend will be focused on headliners Thiago Alves and Martin Kampmann, these two flyweight semi-finals represent another crucial chunk of UFC history, and for that reason alone should not go unnoticed.
Furthermore, the lighter weight classes have been running rings round the heavier boys of late and this new flyweight talent pool should act as an extension of this little men equals big thrills equation. Quicker, more agile and capable of moving and hitting for round after round, I'd often rather watch two technically astute, yet vertically challenged scrappers swing fists than a couple of lumbering lummoxes up at heavyweight. A rash generalization, perhaps, but there can be little doubt the lighter weight classes serve up more Fight of the Year-type spectacles per calender year than their heavyweight counterparts.
In light of this, one can't help but grow excited about the introduction of this new flyweight class. Yes, the division may only currently boast around half a dozen fighters at present and, yes, we have yet to see two flyweights pair off in the Octagon, but, once word is out, it's easy to anticipate the 125lb playground taking on a life of its own.
This Friday night, live on FX, the division gets off to a great start, as four of the best 125lb fighters in the world square off. Jose Benavidez meets Yasuhiro Urushitani and Ian McCall battles Demetrious 'Mighty Mouse' Johnson. Of course, UFC veterans will recognise the names Benavidez and Johnson, but may struggle to attach names to the faces of McCall and Urushitani. Not to worry, though, as both men are considered premier flyweights and, unlike Benavidez and Johnson, enter this weekend's semi-final matches with some semblance of previous flyweight experience.
A ten-year pro, McCall (11-2) first rose to prominence during his stint in the WEC, where he went 1-2 and suffered bantamweight defeats to Dominick Cruz and Charlie Valencia. Since leaving the WEC and dropping down in weight, however, the 27-year-old McCall has excelled, winning the Tachi flyweight gold with a third round submission of Darrell Montague in August 2011. En route to that particular title, 'Uncle Creepy' also picked up victories over top flyweights Jussier da Silva and Dustin Ortiz, handing both their first career loss.
Urushitani, meanwhile, has spent the whole of his career in his native Japan and was the former Shooto bantamweight (123lbs) champion. Respected for his slick counter striking, the 35-year-old Urushitani (19-4-6) has claimed the scalps of The Ultimate Fighter John Dodson, Mamoru Yamaguchi, Junji Ikoma, and Daniel Lima. He has only been finished once in an 11-year professional career and, though he frequently has to go the distance in order to grab victory, is accustomed to competing against and defeating the top flyweights in the world. He is also undefeated in his last five bouts.
While McCall and Urushitani enter the Octagon this weekend as blank canvasses, the same cannot be said of Benavidez and Johnson, two recycled UFC bantamweights, slim-lined and reinvigorated ahead of a fresh challenge in a new world.
Perhaps the best-known of the foursome, 27-year-old Benavidez was a former WEC world bantamweight title challenger and a relentless brawler known for two thrilling scraps with Dominick Cruz, as well as a shock submission victory over Miguel Torres back in March 2010. Benavidez (15-2) has defeated Ian Loveland and Eddie Wineland since joining the UFC in 2011, and this weekend represents his first visit to the flyweight division.
'Mighty Mouse' Johnson (14-2) has made the drop down in weight following an unsuccessful attempt to wrest the UFC world bantamweight crown from the grip of Dominick Cruz in October 2011. Undersized and overpowered that night, many expect Johnson to excel among men his own size, following standout bantamweight wins over Miguel Torres and Kid Yamamoto.
Accustomed to plying their trade with relative anonymity, McCall and Urushitani are thankful for the profile this new UFC flyweight division brings, while Benavidez and Johnson hope to turn their bantamweight potential into tangible success and accolades in more natural surroundings.
Picking a winner will prove to be difficult. The two UFC newcomers bring a wealth of experience and know-how to the tournament, but may find themselves victims of Benavidez' and Johnson's athleticism and, dare I say it, superior competition of late. Although the former UFC bantamweight contenders are yet to score standout wins as flyweights, they have been in the thick of it as 135lb contenders, competing against some of the leading mixed martial artists in the world. That could very well stand them in good stead when it comes to baptising McCall and Urushitani, two flyweights scoring success in a wafer-thin division away from the UFC. Both the depth of the weight class, and the reputations of these 125-pounders, could very well change in a matter of days, weeks and months, however. Expect big things from the flyweight division.
Follow Elliot Worsell on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@ElliotWorsell