UFC Kansas City: Demetrious Johnson and the Problem of Popularity

UFC Kansas City went down as the least-watched FOX event ever, despite being stacked with talent. Here are some theories pertaining to Demetrious Johnson’s lack of star power.

At UFC Kansas City, flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson defended his belt yet again, submitting elite black belt Wilson Reis in the third round.  His 10th title defense ties Mighty Mouse with Anderson Silva’s all-time record, cementing him as the most dominant champion in the world and one of the best pound-for-pound fighters on the planet.

The curious thing is, he did it on free TV, in front of a relatively small audience The problem for Demetrious Johnson is popularity, or rather, lack of it. It’s a vexing issue problem for Mighty Mouse, the UFC, and many fans who believe he deserves more.

Several theories have been put forth to explain his lack of star power. One of them is that there is simply no competition for him at flyweight. The weight class is not skilled enough.  And indeed Reis only had a UFC record of 6-2. The UFC has been scrambling to build up the division. But in response to this argument, Johnson mentioned Ronda Rousey, who had a similarly struggling division, yet achieved unprecedented stardom.

Demetrious has suggested two theories: that the organization is not giving him the promotional push he needs, and that that he is not the arrogant personality that craves attention. Indeed, the UFC likes to promotionally push fighters who do proven numbers (see Conor McGregor), and Mighty Mouse is a self-proclaimed humble family man. He has done a lot to get fans interested, starting a Twitch account where fans can tune in to watch him play video games. Still, he is struggling to galvanize fan interest.

An alternative theory offered by welterweight champion Tyron Woodley that the promotion and its fan base prefers a certain race of champion. This claim was protested by many but has started an interesting conversation. If we look at those sitting in the ringside seats at UFC 205, we can tell it’s a certain demographic of American that’s willing to shell out the big bucks.

Whatever the reason, the lack of buzz around Demetrious is certainly an obstacle for the promotion. And many commentators have suggested that a super fight with bantamweight champion Cody Garbrandt could break the spell.