Shortly after Rampage Jackson bids a bitter farewell to the UFC on Saturday night, flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson and challenger John Dodson will introduce themselves to a national audience.
Chicago's United Center will be a crossroads for several fighters getting together in the UFC's latest show on Fox.
Johnson's first title defence against Dodson is the main event, but the 125-pounders realize they could be upstaged by bigger guys. Jackson is making what he says is his final UFC appearance against Brazil's feared Glover Teixeira, while crowd-pleasing lightweight contenders Donald Cerrone and Anthony Pettis meet on the televised undercard.
Johnson (16-2-1), better known as Mighty Mouse, believes the flyweights still will put on a show worth watching.
"With the UFC giving us the spotlight as the headliner, it's going to give me and John Dodson a chance to show the world what the flyweight division can do," said Johnson, who beat Joseph Benavidez by split decision last fall to claim the UFC's first flyweight belt. "If you want to be educated, this is the division to watch, because we bring everything — good conditioning, good speed, good footwork, everything."
Still, all eyes are likely to be on Jackson (32-9), who is fed up with the UFC after six years with mixed martial arts' dominant promotion.
The 34-year-old former light heavyweight champion still is among the UFC's biggest stars, even after delaying his fighting career while shooting for Hollywood celebrity in the film version of "The A-Team." The temperamental bruiser also threatened retirement three years ago, and he has sparred with UFC President Dana White repeatedly in recent years over money, matchups and sponsorships.
After tangling with Teixeira (19-2), who hasn't lost in 17 straight fights since March 2005, Jackson says he'll likely move on to a smaller-time promotion, or even a boxing career.
"I plan on being still involved in MMA," said Jackson, who has lost his last two fights to Jon Jones and Ryan Bader. "I just want to get this last UFC fight out of the way and then enjoy myself as a free agent and see who's interested in me.
"I think that the UFC doesn't know how to treat their athletes," added Jackson, whose most recent UFC complaint surrounds his desire to wear Reebok gear in the octagon. "I feel like we do a lot for this sport, and I just feel like we're just not taken care of well enough. I feel like they're getting rich off all of us. ... I don't want to be a part of this sport like this. It's just bad. I don't want to be a part. I want to go somewhere where they take care of their fighters and they treat us like human beings. I'm telling you I've been fighting for a long time, and I'm standing up for myself."
The young flyweight division's recent history of fast-paced, technical fights suggests the sixth Fox show won't end in a knockout when Johnson takes on Dodson. The matchup most likely to produce fireworks is Cerrone (19-4) against Pettis (13-2), two charismatic brawlers with style to spare.
"The fight is going to be exactly what all the fans think it will be," Cerrone said. "We're going to go and throw down. It's going to be a fight that everybody is excited to see."
Pettis is returning from an 11-month injury absence that set back his progress to a title shot.
"I feel like I was on the outside looking in," Pettis said. "But I do feel like I'm one of the best in the lightweight division. I'm going to go out there and prove that. Against a guy like Cerrone, it's the best guy to prove it against. I mean, he's been dominating guys all last year."
When the big names on the undercard are finished, the little guys will get a shot at making a memorable impression on MMA fans who still haven't embraced the flyweight division.
The 5-foot-3 Dodson (15-5) entertained and annoyed fans of "The Ultimate Fighter," the UFC's reality-show competition, with his ever-present grin and oddball sense of humour. He realizes the flyweight division typically features fewer stoppage victories, but he echoes White's belief that only uneducated MMA fans don't appreciate their style.
"I'm not going to sit there and say I'm going to be mad if they start booing because of all the great fights underneath us," Dodson said. "Look at the Rampage fight. You got Anthony Pettis and Cowboy. You got (Clay Guida) fighting on this, man. You got all these guys going to go out there and just bang, and that's what me and Demetrious Johnson are just going to go out there and do. I don't care if they're going to boo. Shoot, they can boo throughout the whole thing. I'm still going to fight."