Just five men have held the UFC flyweight title in its 11-year history and all five champions have at least one bout commemorated here.
While Alexandre Pantoja is only beginning his reign and has yet to have the opportunity to forge a legacy as champion, each of the four men to hold the title before him put together reigns that produced memorable moments, even if they didn’t remain on top for too long.
As we prepare to see Pantoja defend his title against Brandon Royval at UFC 296 on Saturday, December 16 at T-Mobile Arena, let’s look back at some of the best moments in UFC flyweight title fight history.
Demetrious Johnson def. Joseph Benavidez (UFC 152)
The inaugural UFC flyweight title fight remains one of the best, most competitive bouts in the division’s history.
After Johnson and Benavidez each won their semifinal matchups to advance to face one another in the finals of the four-man tournament to crown the first UFC flyweight champion — a process that involved Johnson having to face “Uncle Creepy” Ian McCall twice after a scoring error in their first meeting — the 125-pound standouts battled tooth-and-nail for 25 minutes in Toronto with the belt hanging in the balance.
The judges were split, with one scoring the bout 48-47 for Johnson, another 48-47 for Benavidez, and the deciding official seeing the contest 49-46 for the winner and inaugural UFC flyweight champion of the world… Demetrious “Mighty Mouse” Johnson.
We didn’t know it at the time, but an historic championship reign was about to get underway.
Demetrious Johnson def. Joseph Benavidez (UFC on FOX 9)
Johnson and Benavidez faced off for a second time 15 months after that initial flyweight title fight — the champion having successfully defended the title against John Dodson and John Moraga, while the challenger had collected impressive wins over McCall, Darren Uyenoyama, and Jussier Formiga.
After their first encounter went the distance and with both having remained the clear top two talents in the division, everyone was anticipating the rematch to be another competitive, back-and-forth affair. Instead, Johnson connected with a heavy left hand in tight that sent Benavidez crashing to the canvas, ending the contest in just over two minutes, registering his first finish as champion while becoming the first person to stop the challenger.
These two men should remain inextricably linked in the history books regardless of the fact that Johnson won each of their two meetings because through the early days of the division and into its second wave, Johnson and Benavidez remained the gold and silver standard at 125 pounds in the UFC.
Demetrious Johnson def. Henry Cejudo (UFC 197)
Johnson added four more successful title defenses to his resume between his second bout with Benavidez and what would be the first of two dates with Cejudo (more on that shortly), cementing his standing as one of the top pound-for-pound talents in the sport while moving closer to Anderson Silva’s record for the most consecutive successful title defenses in UFC history.
An Olympic gold medalist in freestyle wrestling, Cejudo was viewed as the first genuine test for the champion since his second fight with Benavidez — a world-class competitor that had shown solid hands, excellent conditioning, and the drive to work through tough bouts and tough moments in order to emerge victorious.
“Mighty Mouse” wasn’t bothered by any of it.
It took less than three minutes for Johnson to put away Cejudo, hurting him and ultimately felling him with a series of knees to the body from the clinch. This was the champion at his absolute peak — a master of his craft showing an ambitious, highly regarded hopeful that he was not ready to compete at this level.
Demetrious Johnson def. Ray Borg (UFC 216)
If you’re going to set a record, why not do it in style?
In April 2017, Johnson equaled Anderson Silva’s mark of 10 consecutive successful title defenses with a third-round submission win over Wilson Reis on a UFC on FOX show in Kansas City. Just shy of six months later, he faced off with Borg in Las Vegas and claimed the record for himself in the most insane way possible.
In the final two minutes of a fight he had been completely dominating, Johnson had his hands wrapped around Borg’s waist along the fence when he hoisted the challenger in the air. But rather than slamming him to the canvas with force, Johnson grabbed his right arm — while Borg was still airborne — and locked up an armbar.
The challenger refused to tap initially, resulting in Johnson further deepening the hold before drawing out the tap, but Borg ultimately succumbed, and “Mighty Mouse” secured his 11th straight successful title defense by introducing the world to “The Mighty Wiz-bar” submission.
Henry Cejudo def. Demetrious Johnson (UFC 227)
Two years after meeting for the first time, Cejudo and Johnson shared the Octagon again at UFC 227, with the flyweight strap once again hanging in the balance.
This time, we got the fight everyone was anticipating the first time around: an ultra-competitive, back-and-forth between the decorated champion and a determined, improved challenger.
When you see 48-47 three times as the final scores, it still doesn’t tell you just how close this fight was. I’m sure I could find people that want to argue about the decision in this contest right now without working too hard — not simply because some folks are always game for an argument, but because it was a freakishly close fight with people on both sides adamant that their man ruled the day.
Ultimately, Cejudo landed on the happy side of the split decision verdict, halting Johnson’s reign after 11 fights and nearly six years atop the division, ushering in a new era in the flyweight division.
Henry Cejudo def. TJ Dillashaw (UFN 143)
For a couple years, the UFC tried to make a fight between Johnson and former bantamweight champ TJ Dillashaw, but “Mighty Mouse” wasn’t keen on moving up to the 135-pound weight class. He’d fought there before and challenged for gold, dropping a unanimous decision to Dominick Cruz in his last fight before the unveiling of the flyweight division, and saw the size discrepancy as too great of a hurdle for him to clear.
When Cejudo claimed the title, a fight between the flyweight champ and bantamweight titleholder was the first order or business, only it was Dillashaw that opted to change divisions and take on the role of challenger.
Just like Cejudo’s first meeting with Johnson, everyone expected one thing and got something entirely different, as the Olympic gold medalist clipped Dillashaw seconds into the contest and scored the stoppage win in just 32 seconds.
In his one and only flyweight title defense, Cejudo set the record for the fastest flyweight title defense in UFC history, and ended up opening the door to his eventually becoming “Triple C” later in the year when he claimed the vacant bantamweight title.
Deiveson Figueiredo def. Joseph Benavidez (UFN 172)
Cejudo vacated the flyweight title to focus on competing at bantamweight towards the end of 2019, with Figueiredo and Benavidez facing off in February of 2020 to determine a new champion.
Figueiredo won, but the finishing sequence in the second round was aided by an inadvertent clash of heads that left Benavidez leaking and worse for wear. So instead of leaving things uncertain, a rematch between the two was scheduled for Fight Island, and the Brazilian made sure to make it clear that he was the new ruler of the 125-pound weight class.
Figueiredo was dialed in and attacking from the outset, hurting Benavidez multiple times before ultimately putting him to sleep with a deep rear-naked choke late in the opening round. It was one of those efforts that not only highlighted what a dangerous threat the new champion was to everyone else in the division, but also that another generation had fully arrived to lord over the weight class.
Benavidez fought once more the following March before hanging up his gloves, and while he never ascended to the top of the division, he was unquestionably a cornerstone for the flyweight ranks from its inception and one of the absolute best to ever do it in the 125-pound weight class.
Brandon Moreno def. Deiveson Figueiredo (UFC 263)
Moreno and Figueiredo each earned victories at UFC 255 in November 2021 and then hustled into a championship bout three weeks later at UFC 256 that ended in a draw after the champion was docked a point in the third round for a wayward kick.
That point deduction not only produced a draw that night, but ended up resulting in the only four-fight championship series to date in UFC history.
The duo faced off for a second time exactly six months later at UFC 263, and from the outset, it was clear that Moreno was the better man on that evening. At every turn, the challenger got the better of things, his quickness and improved boxing giving the champion fits. Midway through the third round, Moreno locked onto a rear-naked choke and drew out the tap from Figueiredo, becoming the first Mexican-born UFC champion.
It was an incredible moment that not only harkened back to Moreno’s promise earlier in his career that one day he would claim UFC gold, but that also highlighted his perseverance and growth after having been released from the company just a couple years earlier.
Brandon Moreno def. Deiveson Figueiredo (UFC 283)
Figueiredo won the title back with a unanimous decision win at UFC 270, bringing the pair level at one win, one loss, and one draw between them, creating the necessity for a fourth contest.
But Figueiredo suffered an injury that forced a delay in the completion of the series and resulted in an interim title being created. Moreno finished Kai Kara-France at UFC 277 to claim the interim title and keep his final showdown with Figueiredo intact, and earlier this year in Brazil, “The Assassin Baby” once again rose to the top of the flyweight ranks.
This one was similar to the second bout, which Moreno also won, as he was the sharper, quicker, more precise man from the outset. Early in the third round, Moreno landed a thudding left hand that almost instantly caused Figueiredo’s eye to swell closed, blood seeping from a cut below it.
Following the round, the ringside physician checked on Figueiredo and he was deemed unable to continue, the bout and the series coming to a somewhat anticlimactic end. But make no mistake about it: Moreno was up 3-0 after 15 minutes and seemed well on his way to securing a victory and reclaiming the title before the fight was halted.
Alexandre Pantoja def. Brandon Moreno (UFC 290)
The last time the flyweight title was on the line was in July and it produced one of the more discussed decisions of the year.
Officially, Pantoja won the contest and the belt by split decision, with scores of 48-47 in his favor twice, and the dissenting judge seeing things 49-46 for Moreno. The two officials that saw the fight for the Brazilian scored it the exact same way, awarding him 10-9 scores in the first, third, and fifth rounds, while their contemporary that saw the fight in Moreno’s favor gave him all but the opening frame.
Everyone is entitled to their own opinions and views on how this fight should have been scored and who “deserved” to win, but what I will say is this: regardless of the final verdict and totals, this was a fascinating fight and one that serves as an excellent case study should you ever want to dive into the minutiae of how to score an MMA contest.
There weren’t many big moments; instead, it was a taught, tense battle between two evenly matched, tactical standouts, and it wouldn’t be surprising if we saw them share the Octagon with the title hanging in the balance again somewhere down the line.
For now, Pantoja is the champion, and at UFC 296, he’ll look to defend his title for the first time against streaking finisher Brandon Royval in what should be an action-packed co-main event.