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Click Debate: Is the idea for Demetrious Johnson vs. TJ Dillashaw the latest in a UFC trend?

UFC on FOX 24 Open Workout Photos
The UFC wants Demetrious Johnson to face T.J. Dillashaw this summer.
Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

The possibility of a fight between Demetrious Johnson and T.J. Dillashaw isn’t just one of the most polarizing stories of the week in MMA. It’s the latest example of one of the biggest trends of 2017.

The UFC has shown a willingness to mortgage future plans for quick payoffs — and filling needed main-event slots — over the last several months.

Johnson vs. Dillashaw doesn’t make a whole lot of sense on several levels. But the UFC and many fans are very much in favor of it because it would likely be Johnson’s stiffest test as flyweight champion, and an interesting story going into an historic fight, one where Johnson has a chance to break the UFC’s all-time title defense record. Dillashaw is also a far more intriguing candidate than any other current 125-pound contenders.

In a vacuum, it’s a fantastic fight. There’s no denying that. Dillashaw is one of the best bantamweights in the world — some could argue the very best — and Johnson is a pound-for-pound all-time great. For one night, to build up one card, it’s excellent.

But then what?

If Dillashaw wins, it would send two divisions into upheaval. Would he stay at flyweight and defend the belt there? Let’s remember that he’s never fought at 125 pounds and it’s unclear if he could make that weight in a healthy way once, let alone multiple times.

At bantamweight, Dillashaw is already the No. 1 contender and a fight with champion Cody Garbrandt is bigger than a fight between Dillashaw and Johnson from a box-office perspective.

Dillashaw and Garbrandt are former teammates with legitimate heat between them. The UFC built The Ultimate Fighter 25 around the two of them coaching against one another. It produced compelling confrontations, some of them physical. Garbrandt vs. Dillashaw was set to headline UFC 213, the promotion’s historically significant annual July show in Las Vegas until Garbrandt got injured and had to withdraw.

It feels like the UFC (and maybe even Dillashaw) is making a knee-jerk reaction to Garbrandt being out by forcing a fight at flyweight against Johnson. Yeah, it would be a fantastic scrap, but Garbrandt vs. Dillashaw would almost certainly garner more pay-per-view buys and it’s actually at Dillashaw’s real weight class.

If Dillashaw waits for Garbrandt’s return, which Garbrandt promises will be before the end of the year, in the meantime Johnson can defend his belt and try to set the record against Ray Borg. Johnson has expressed a willingness to go up and fight the bantamweight champion (for the right price) if he gets 11 title defenses at flyweight. So early next year we could be looking at Johnson against the Garbrandt-Dillashaw winner for the 135-pound title, which is preferable to Dillashaw trying to cut a bunch of weight to make 125 for a division he might not stay in if he wins the belt.

Instead, the UFC is willing to cast aside that scenario to do Johnson vs. Dillashaw for the flyweight belt over Johnson vs. Borg at UFC 215 in August. That would make UFC 215 a bigger event, for sure. But by how much? And is that marginal amount worth throwing away the attractive possibility of Garbrandt vs. Dillashaw and the winner against Johnson for the bantamweight title? No way.

A Johnson vs. Dillashaw flyweight title fight brings to mind something similar the UFC did earlier this year that it is paying for now. The promotion went ahead and stuck Germaine de Randamie in a fight with Holly Holm for the inaugural women’s featherweight title in the main event of UFC 208 in February. Rather than waiting for Cris Cyborg, the clear top women’s 145-pounder in the world, the UFC had a main-event slot it needed to fill, so it rushed to put together Holm and de Randamie.

Now, Cyborg was dealing with health issues stemming from a hard weight cut and was briefly suspended by USADA after a failed drug test. But she got a retroactive exemption from the UFC’s anti-doping partner in relatively short order and probably would have been able to fight a month or two later.

Meanwhile, De Randamie vs. Holm was an unmitigated disaster on every level. De Randamie won the title by disputed five-round unanimous decision in a fight in which she hit Holm after the bell in two rounds. Since then, she has said repeatedly that she won’t fight Cyborg, who was clearly going to be waiting in the wings for the winner, because of her past positive drug tests.

De Randamie has talked about going back down to bantamweight and there have been rumblings of her relinquishing the title. The whole thing is a disaster that didn’t have to happen if they just waited for Cyborg. But hey, the UFC got its pay-per-view main event in Brooklyn, even if it didn’t exactly set the world on fire in terms of buys and interest.

To a lesser degree, a middleweight title fight between Michael Bisping and Georges St-Pierre, which still might happen, is in the same category. If St-Pierre, who has not fought in four years and has never competed at middleweight in the UFC, wins the title, will he even stay at 185? Or will he move back down to welterweight and give up the belt? Personally, I can’t imagine GSP defending the title against giants like Yoel Romero and Luke Rockhold when there are bigger money fights out there in other divisions.

The difference between this fight and the rest is that GSP was asking for it as part of his comeback negotiations with the UFC and Bisping wants it just as much. It'll sell exceptionally well if it does happen later this year. There’s no doubt it would be legitimately one of the biggest money fights of 2017, even if it doesn't really make a whole lot of sense.

The lesson here is this: If you’re going to risk long-term gains with quick payoffs, it should probably be for a fight that can approach 1 million pay-per-view buys like Bisping vs. GSP.

Johnson vs. Dillashaw does not qualify as such and the UFC has much greater potential for a long-term score with Garbrandt vs. Dillashaw and then Garbrandt or Dillashaw against Johnson if it just remains patient.

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