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Fortunes changed for five at UFC 191

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting
Demetrious Johnson on Saturday night continued being Demetrious Johnson.

That is, being the best technical fighter in the sport, and a seemingly untouchable champion with no discernible flaws. And he also, on the flip side, remained someone the public has little interest in, particularly when contrasted with his record.

It's become the narrative before every Johnson main event about how good he is and how it doesn't translate to the box office. His previous title defense, in Montreal, did a $668,000 gate ($554,000 U.S.), the lowest total of any pay-per-view show of the modern era. During the modern era, as in post-2005, only three UFC title fights on pay-per-view have drawn less than 150,000 buys, and two were headlined by Johnson in flyweight title defenses against Kyoji Horiguchi and Ali Bagautinov.

Saturday night's UFC 191 did a $1,362,700 gate, the lowest for a UFC pay-per-view event at the MGM Grand Garden Arena, the company's home base, in Las Vegas, since UFC 49. That was back on Aug. 21, 2004, before the company had any television deals and an era where fans were used to paying a lot less for tickets.

Fans didn't leave Saturday night during the match, as had happened at a few Johnson fights over the past few years, although as soon as it was over, people rushed out, not even waiting for the announcement over who won.
Then again, it was hardly a mystery, since round two was the only round challenger John Dodson was even competitive in the five-round fight.

Johnson, the UFC's first and only flyweight champion in history is someone who will be viewed as far more noteworthy figure long after he's retired, when the record book will speak for itself. He's beaten almost everyone of note in his weight class. As far as his two top contenders, he's beaten them both twice. If it wasn't for the rise of Henry Cejudo, there would be almost no intrigue left in the division.

Saturday was Johnson's seventh consecutive title defense. Anderson Silva's number ran out at ten. Georges St-Pierre retired at nine. Jon Jones ran into legal trouble at eight. So it's a race between Johnson and Jose Aldo (also at seven), to see if Silva's record can be broken. But Aldo at least feels like he's got competition and also faces new regulations come October that are going to affect his weight cutting and rehydrating which somewhat change the game for him. Johnson right now, as a flyweight, doesn't appear to be threatened by anyone or anything.

Since winning the title, Dodson, on Jan. 26, 2013, was the only fighter who even gave Johnson a rough time, and he still handily took the decision. But in the two-and-a-half years since that fight, it's clear Johnson has improved far more than his competition. Saturday's rematch with Dodson was one-sided. With the exception of his first fight at flyweight with Ian McCall,  in early 2012, where Johnson was lucky to escape with a draw, he's never been in a fight where the outcome was really in dispute.

But until he's the guy admired far more when he's no longer around, things are likely to not change much. While the days that the heavyweights are the marquee division in fighting sports are long over, there is still an issue with size in the UFC. With the exception of B.J. Penn and Conor McGregor, and to an extent Urijah Faber, nobody under 170 pounds has been a big pay-per-view draw for UFC. Johnson's personality and ring style are set in tone. As is the public's reaction to what it is.

Perhaps if he gets to where he's going to break Silva's record, it will at least be a news story to where there is some intrigue.

The other issue is opponents. People don't either love or hate Johnson, either emotion would be preferable to the combination of respect and somewhat indifference. So people aren't willing to pay just to see him win, like some champions, or pay in the hopes of seeing him get beat, like other champions. So he needs either a colorful challenger, or a challenger who becomes a real rival. Perhaps Cejudo can be that guy, but he has to get through Jussier Formiga on Nov. 21 in Monterrey, Mexico.

The other option is moving up a division. It would create new matches and challenges, but the reality is that Johnson is much smaller than bantamweights. He did well in that division before there was a flyweight division, good enough to get a title shot at Dominick Cruz, and he's a far superior fighter today. So that does remain an option. He will be testing himself, but given his natural body frame, it really isn't fair to him. And will he want to make that move before he gets the record?

Let's look at how Fortunes Changed for Five of the stars of UFC 191:

DEMETRIOUS JOHNSON - Johnson's fortunes didn't change, as he performed as expected, got the results as expected, and faces the same future as expected.

In a perfect world, Cejudo (9-0), who captured the gold medal in freestyle wrestling in the 2008 Olympics, would get maybe another year under his belt before challenging Johnson. But there are no other challengers. If Cejudo doesn't win, the next challenger would comedown to Formiga (18-3), the current No. 3 contender, or Joseph Benavidez (22-4), who has dominated contenders John Moraga, Ian McCall, Dustin Ortiz and Formiga, but lost twice to Johnson.

If Benavidez can dominate at UFC 192 on Oct. 3 in Houston against Bagautinov, and if he aggressively campaigns for a shot, which he hasn't done to date, perhaps he can get a third chance. But UFC's reaction regarding the women's bantamweight division and Miesha Tate, shows how difficult that is going to be. But in the flyweight division, they are also running low on options.

ANDREI ARLOVSKI - Sometimes, when there's a great fight, people say that both guys came out as winners.
With Arlovski's unanimous decision win over Frank Mir, you can argue nobody came out a winner. Arlovski's reaction after his hand was raised was of someone who blew a big chance, apologizing for his performance, even though  he just beat a former two-time champion.

With Fabricio Werdum not wanting to defend the heavyweight title until March, Arlovski may have had a chance to get that title shot with an impressive win over Mir.

Former champion Cain Velasquez was announced as Werdum's next opponent, but history shows that can change at any time. When Velasquez was announced, a lot of people felt that Arlovski should have gotten the shot, given Velasquez was coming off a loss. So this was Arlovski's golden opportunity.

But Dana White saying afterwards that he thought Mir won the fight makes him changing his mind over who faces Werdum in the spring less likely. Arlovski (25-10, 1 no contest), himself a former UFC champion a decade ago, is probably in a position to have to sit and wait.

With the exception of Velasquez and Werdum, every top tier heavyweight is booked over the next few months. From a timing standpoint, Arlovski's next opponent should be the winner of the fight in three weeks between Roy Nelson (20-11) vs. Josh Barnett (33-7) in Saitama, Japan. If the winner of that fight isn't ready soon enough, he'd likely have to wait for the winner of the Oct. 24 fight in Dublin, Ireland, with Ben Rothwell (35-9) vs. Stipe Miocic (13-2).

ANTHONY JOHNSON - Johnson (20-5), is another fighter who looks to have to sit and wait. Johnson shouldn't be too far from a title shot. Current champion Daniel Cormier (16-1) faces Alexander Gustafsson (16-3) on Oct. 3 for the title. Cormier just beat Johnson, and as dangerous as Johnson is, he's not exactly the kind of challenger someone rushes to face a second time.

If Cormier wins, he would face either Jon Jones (21-1), if Jones can return, which is dependent on settling legal issues, or the winner of the Oct. 3 fight with Ryan Bader (19-4) vs. Rashad Evans (19-3-1).

If Gustafsson wins, given that Johnson knocked Gustafsson out on Jan. 24, Johnson would probably get the shot, unless Jones is back.

If the title shot isn't available, the best fight for Johnson to build him, would be Rampage Jackson (36-11), but Jackson's future is held up in a court fight with Bellator right now and may not be available. And even if he was, Johnson isn't exactly the guy that people who are careful who they fight are looking at mixing it up with.

The other choices are Bader, if Jones faces Cormier next, or Glover Teixeira (23-4). Evans is out of the picture since the two are training partners. And Teixeira wouldn't be available until the spring of 2016 since he's fighting Patrick Cummins on Nov. 7.

JOHN LINEKER - Nobody at UFC 191 probably upped their overall stock like Lineker (26-7), who choked out Francisco Rivera in just 2:08 in his forced move to bantamweight.

Lineker has a flyweight frame, and looked tiny next to Rivera. But after missing weight at flyweight four times in eight UFC fights in that division, he was told he wasn't getting booked as a flyweight any longer.

Lineker rocked Rivera, hurting the bigger man with punches and ending speculation as to whether the knockout power he had as a flyweight would move to bantamweight with him. But it's too bad for him, since there is a far shorter road to a flyweight title fight right now than a bantamweight shot.

A strong next test would be Aljamain Sterling (11-0). A winner of that fight shouldn't be far from a title fight, and it would make a good match on a T.J. Dillashaw vs. Dominick Cruz title fight card.

PAIGE VANZANT - VanZant (6-1) is in the weird position of being the contender who would garner the most attention in going after Joanna Jedrzejczyk's strawweight championship. Normally, with three wins in a row, that would put her in title discussion. But it's almost universally agreed that right now, that would be the worst of ideas.

VanZant and Jedrzejczyk right now are totally different caliber of fighters. With VanZant being only 21 and improving rapidly, she's still got several years before her own goal of being the youngest UFC champion of all-time runs out in late November 2017.

For now, VanZant should be going against a higher level of somewhat known opponents. Randa Markos (5-2), who made the final four in the tournament to crown the first strawweight champion would fit that bill. Lesser known, and not in the UFC, Alexa Grasso (7-0) of Invicta would also make a good opponent, because Grasso has the potential to be a star in the Mexican market. If she can come into UFC and beat VanZant, Grasso has more of an upside to build than almost anyone else with that win. Plus, with Grasso being 22, if they fight a close fight, they could be rivals for years to come.

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