Not long after flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson told the story of how UFC president Dana White threatened to close down the division if he didn’t accept a fight with T.J. Dillashaw, a flyweight showcase actually took place in Auckland. Ben Nguyen took on former contender Tim Elliott at UFC Fight Night 110, and needed just 49 seconds to put him away.
Afterward, with an eye towards those comments, the normally soft-spoken Nguyen let out a subtle jab at the threat to his species.
“Was that a boring fight?” he said to the assembled at Spark Arena. “Was that a flyweight fight? Hell yeah!”
A few days later, now resting back home in Brisbane, Australia, Nguyen has had time to reflect on the whole thing. He said his mind was definitely on the bigger picture of the division heading into the fight, and he wanted to do something to prove just how exciting his weight class can be.
“I actually thought about it going into the fight, that if I had a great fight — and I knew it was going to be a great fight — I was going to get on the mic and say something,” he told MMA Fighting. “Because I think a lot of people miss out on the best parts of the flyweight division sometimes. We get buried in the prelims and on Fight Pass and stuff, a lot of people miss out.
“All of my fights have been exciting. I’ve never had a boring fight. And not a lot of people have seen me fight. I’ve had three finishes in the first round now in the UFC.”
The 28-year-old Nguyen is now 4-1 overall in the UFC, with his only loss coming against Louis Smolka last July in Sioux Falls. He knocked out Alp Ozkilic in his UFC debut, then tapped Ryan Benoit with a rear-naked choke. His choke of Elliott earned him a Performance of the Night bonus.
The bonus was nice, but it was that he made a statement at a timely moment that made him proud.
“I knew I had to do something to make it exciting again,” he said. “I really wanted to put on a big exciting fight. I was planning on going the full distance with Tim Elliott. Tim Elliot is no slouch. He went the distance with DJ, and I was expecting to do the same. But everything just went my way. Everything just went according to plan.”
People have argued about Demetrious Johnson’s marketability since he became the champion back in 2012. Some point to the lighter weight fighters not being able to draw in general, which would seem at odds for people like Conor McGregor (who broke in at 145 pounds), and even Cody Garbrandt (whose star is on the rise). Some believe it’s a personality thing, while others think the UFC just hasn’t gotten behind a historic champion like it should.
Whatever the case, Johnson’s discontent with his treatment by the UFC has struck a chord with plenty fighters across the MMA sphere, and plenty of fans too.
Nguyen is one of those that can see both sides
“I’ve been following it very closely actually, because it has to do with my job pretty much directly,” he said. “When I heard Dana would threaten to shut it down, I was really surprised by that. I was taken aback. The whole thing is a lot of drama, but I can see both sides of the story. I know Dana, he wants to make this superfight happen, but the way he’s going about it I don’t think is the right way to do it.
“And DJ, he’s just wanting respect, man. He’s been pushed around fight after fight. First it was Sergio, then Ray Borg, now TJ out of nowhere. I can understand having that he feels he’s getting these fights shoved down his throat almost.”
Though Nguyen doesn’t think the flyweights in general get a proper push from the UFC, he says he doesn’t really know what more the UFC could do to make Johnson into a bigger star.
“I try to think of ways the UFC could push him more, and nothing really comes to mind,” he said. “I know they did The Ultimate Fighter around him, the whole show basically around him, and it didn’t do that much. Then again, that’s The Ultimate Fighter, which is already suffering lower ratings as it is.
“So, it’s hard to say if people are getting promoted or not. What else is the UFC going to do? They can’t do much more. I can’t think of anything.”
With Johnson’s chance at a record-breaking 11th title defense still up in the air, Nguyen says he just hopes the streak continues on until he gets a an equally historical chance to end it. He would even be up for jumping ahead of both Dillashaw or Ray Borg for a chance to do it sooner.
“I think about it almost everyday,” he said. “I’ve got a sign, a printed out mock sign with the guys in the rankings, the top 10. And my name’s at the top, above Demetrious Johnson’s. So I see it everyday. I see myself being that guy to dethrone Demetrious Johnson. It makes it so exciting. Especially after my last fight [with Elliott], it just became that much more of a reality.”