On the surface, Ian McCall's upcoming flyweight clash against John Lineker is easily the most consequential fight on what is an otherwise sparse UFC Fight Night 58 card next Saturday. It's a match-up between top-six ranked contenders, with the winner landing in the driver's seat to get the next title shot against 125-pound champion Demetrious Johnson.
Yet still the flyweights find themselves going down the only road they've ever known -- taking a backseat to a light heavyweight co-main event comprised of Ovince St. Preux versus the unheralded Francimar Barroso, a 1-1 UFC fighter who last dropped a split decision to the guy Fabio Maldonado blew through at UFC 179.
"I've come to the conclusion that, it's not racism, it's like small person-ism," McCall said of situation on Tuesday's edition of The MMA Hour. "No one really gives a s**t about us, and it's true. I mean, maybe it's Demetrious' fault for not being the marketable guy, even though he's an amazing athlete. Maybe it's my fault for not beating him up when I should've. Maybe people really just don't care about seeing small half-sized people fight. I don't know what it is, and it's frustrating, but at the same time, you just get over it, whatever, I go in there and do my job."
Card placement issues have always been a curious, if lightly broached, talking point for the flyweights. More than a few of Johnson's challengers have been plucked from the undercard with little to no promotional backing, and it's not uncommon to see a match-up between ranked 125-pound contenders fall underneath their heavier and less-accomplished brethren. But rarely do you hear a fighter talk about the subject as candidly as McCall did on Tuesday.
"I mean, look at the numbers," McCall said. "We don't get paid the same, and I'm not hating on the UFC, the UFC treats me amazing. If you want to make more money, you fight more, you win more. But it's just an overall consensus from everybody that we just kinda get swept under the rug and no one seems to really care. The women get a lot more exposure than we do, and let's be honest, we're twice the fighters they are.
"No one wants to hear what I have to say anyways," McCall added. "But it's true. It's BS because they don't push us like they should, and like you said, we are the two top guys going for the number-one contender fight. You'd think they would promote it more. Obviously Shogun is going to headline the card. Shogun is Shogun, everyone adores him, he's huge, he's an ex-champ. But it's like we're the stepchild no one cares about."
The general lack of enthusiasm for the flyweights is not a new phenomenon, but it does seem to be growing as Johnson slowly and efficiently cleans out the division one scalp at a time.
Johnson is among the UFC's most amiable champions, a good-natured and friendly fighter who possesses a technical brilliance and unrivaled work ethic to boot. Those traits are indeed respectable, but such a vanilla disposition has done little to endear Johnson to the same fans who clamor to hear every word from the UFC's more outgoing personalities, and because of that, McCall believes Johnson's placid approach to promoting is the reason the division is now dealing with these issues.
"I don't mean to pick on him, but it does (fall on him)," McCall said. "The guy has the personality of my coffee mug. Actually, my coffee mug has more personality because it's a Joe Rogan coffee mug, so never mind. He doesn't do his job as far as marketing.
"We all know, he's awesome, he does great, he improves and whatever, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. But this is entertainment. This is the entertainment business, and as a whole, the flyweight division, apparently we're not doing enough, so I'm just going to take it upon myself to beat the crap out of everybody, become champion, and then just start talking s**t like Conor McGregor and causing trouble. You never know, I might get a DUI. Who knows. I'm going to do whatever I can to make money and to get the little people some publicity.
"I don't want to cause too much trouble," McCall added. "But it's like, I don't know, it sucks. It's kinda depressing at some point because we're never going to get the love that everybody else gets, and that translates to money, that translates to fame, that translates to everything that you strive for when you're an athlete."
At the very least, McCall knows he has the opportunity to impose the very change he's asking for, and it all starts by beating Lineker; only then can he march into a trilogy fight with Johnson and finish what he started way back at UFC on FX 2.
"I mean, if I screw this up, where do I go from here? Do I become a gatekeeper?" McCall asked. "I don't think John Lineker is going to be that hard to beat if I stay smart and I don't let him hit me. Obviously the guy hits hard, but what else is he good at? Not much. He punches really hard, he keeps trying to talk trash and trying to get me to slug it out with him.
"Hey, I'm not stupid, I'm going to hit you from the outside, I'm going to make you miss, I'm going to make you pay, and big thing, I have two hands now, so I'm going to beat you with both of them and then I'll get a finish, and then, you know, run around, maybe do a failed backflip like last time."