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Analysis: Demetrious Johnson could start breaking flyweights out of obscurity at UFC on Fox 6

Johnson vs. Dodson headlines Saturday’s network-television card

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ASSOCIATED PRESS

Demetrious Johnson holds the winning belt after defeating Joseph Benavidez during the flyweight championship title bout at UFC 152 in Toronto on Saturday, Sept. 22, 2012.

CHICAGO — Anyone who tunes in to UFC on Fox 6 Saturday night based solely on the event’s commercials won’t know exactly what they’re watching.

Much to the chagrin of many in the mixed martial arts community, UFC on Fox 6 promos make no mention of Demetrious Johnson and John Dodson fighting for the flyweight championship in the main event. The spots, many of which aired during the NFL playoffs over the past three weeks, appeared intentionally vague regarding Johnson and Dodson, saying the two 125-pounders were fighting for the “world title.”

“I don’t think it was specifically designed not to talk about the flyweights,” UFC President Dana White said. “I think that’s just the way they put the commercial together.”

White might be telling the truth. Fox executives may have made the call to go with the not quite deceptive, but not exactly forthcoming advertisement without the UFC’s knowledge.

But someone somewhere along the line was, at worst, embarrassed and, at least, concerned with how casual sports fans would react to two men fighting who combine to weigh less than most linebackers.

The hesitancy with the flyweights needs to end. Several reasons exist as to why that process will start at 5 p.m. Saturday at the United Center.

One stands out. His name is Demetrious “Mighty Mouse” Johnson, the champion who’s taking the responsibility of introducing the 125-pound weight class to the masses beyond serious.

“The UFC has given us this spotlight on national television on Fox,” Johnson said. “It’s going to give me and John Dodson the chance to show the world what we can do and educate the fans as well.”

Whenever anyone questions White about whether the flyweights are capable of headlining a UFC card, he harkens back to a decade ago when he heard identical concerns about the lightweights.

That talk proved foolish as a Hawaiian “prodigy” named B.J. Penn eventually broke out and turned into one of the promotion’s most significant stars. Penn captivated audiences with the way he transformed from a normal, laid-back guy to a blood-licking, violence-craving maniac when the door to the octagon shut.

Johnson is less crazed, but has his own unique traits. The 26-year-old bounces around the cage with pinball-like movement and marathon agility.

His fights almost feel like they need a warning label outlining the side effects of watching him flash across the screen and into opponents for 25 minutes. Throw in Dodson, who’s probably second to Johnson for most frenetic fighter in the UFC, and Saturday should be a sight to behold.

“We both have the speed,” Johnson said. “It just comes down to technique, fundamentals and skill set.”

Dodson is an outstanding fighter who could crash Johnson’s title reign before it ever truly begins. But divisions tend to flourish under a dominant champion, and Johnson looks like he could be just that at flyweight.

He’s already beaten the man once considered the best 125-pound fighter in the world, Ian McCall, and supremely talented Joseph Benavidez in a four-man tournament to win the inaugural flyweight championship last year.

If Johnson can continue his tear, he’s only going to garner more attention. And he could very well keep it because Johnson has another all-important factor working for him: He’s relatable.

“Mighty Mouse” didn’t find fighting because of a hardscrabble upbringing that saw him challenging all-comers in a nondescript back alley. In fact, the former high school wrestler fell into an MMA career more than anything.

Johnson trained on the side while he held down a full-time job as a warehouse forklift operator for the first four years he was a professional fighter.

“I love working 40 hours a week,” Johnson said. “I love going in and sliding my timecard because, at the end of the day, you owe me money and that’s the way I like it.”

It wasn’t until Johnson received a bantamweight title shot against Dominick Cruz, which he lost by unanimous decision but kept competitive despite a noticeable size disadvantage, that he took a leave from work. It wasn’t until the UFC implemented the flyweight division that he decided to stick with only fighting.

He now spends his time commuting more than two hours round-trip every day from his home in Parkland, Wash., to his gym in Kirkland, Wash. Johnson could move closer, but he’s not the type of guy to run away from his roots.

Those roots now include being the first and only flyweight champion in UFC history, something else he’s not planning on giving up easily.

“I think the UFC is doing a great job promoting the flyweights,” Johnson said. “To give us this opportunity on Fox is just another step in the right direction.”

Case Keefer can be reached at 948-2790 or [email protected]. Follow Case on Twitter at twitter.com/casekeefer.

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