Photo Credit: Mary Ann Owen
This week, UFC president Dana White announced that the WEC would be merging with the UFC. The UFC would take on it’s fighters (most of it’s fighters, anyway), it’s weight divisions, and it’s champions (with the exception of the lightweight title which will be decided in a pseudo-tournament between Frankie Edgar, Gray Maynard, Ben Henderson, and Anthony Pettis. The announcement has come as a surprise to many, and is leading to a great deal of excitement. UFC execs are excited, the WEC fighters are excited, most MMA fans are excited. Hell, who wouldn’t be excited?
Me, that’s who.
For years, WEC has been my favorite promotion. The company that was once predominantly known as the “minor leagues” for up-and-coming, or down-and-going fighters, made the decision to cut its heavier weight classes and focus solely on fights at 170 and below. In doing this, WEC became THE promotion to watch virtually overnight. The fast paced, balls-to-the-wall action you would see virtually every fight on the free WEC broadcasts would frequently shame the “Superstars” of the UFC that you paid fifty bucks to see each month.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m glad that the WEC fighters are finally going to be recognized as being as important as the UFC fighters, I’m happy that we’re going to get much deeper and more exciting pay per view events, and I’m jazzed up about the idea of featherweight and bantamweight seasons of The Ultimate Fighter, but I just can’t help but feel like I’ve lost a friend. WEC had a vibe all its own, both in the production and the roster, and I’m scared that some of the great young fighters that I had the privilege of watching on the Versus cards will be relegated to the undercard in UFC, where I’ll only get to read about their performances in post-fight reports.
There is one big question that has come out of all of this: “Will this positively affect MMA?” Dana White has responded to that with an emphatic “Yes”. I, myself have my reservations. I’m sure it’s going to do Dana’s wallet plenty of good, but I fail to see how depriving people of free MMA (WEC put on nine free cards last year) is going to positively affect the sport. Sure, the Pay Per View cards are going to be much stronger, but now the people who aren’t turned on to MMA won’t have as many options to discover it (and let me tell you, WEC was a great promotion to use if you wanted to hook people on MMA). Now, the options of free MMA are limited to re-runs of UFC Unleashed, the chicanery of The Ultimate Fighter, and Bellator FC if you’re lucky enough to be in a market that carries it.
WEC is planning on going out with a bang. The November card in Las Vegas is headlined by WEC poster child Urijah Faber vs. Takeya Mizugaki, and while there may not be a ton of “big names” on the card, it is full of solid fighters that are going to put on a great show. I am fortunate enough to be attending this card, and I am very glad that I will get to see my favorite promotion live before it closes its doors. The final WEC card in Arizona is set to be a blowout. Ben Henderson will be taking on Anthony Pettis for the WEC Lightweight Title (and a shot at the UFC Lightweight Title), Scott Jorgensen will be taking on Dominic Cruz for the WEC Bantamweight title (soon to be the UFC Bantamweight Title), WEC Lightweight contender Kamal Shalarous will be taking on Bart Palaszewski, Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone will be demolishing facing Chris Horodecki, and other fights are still to be announced. This card is shaping up to be card-of-the-year material.
When the book is written on MMA, I really, really hope WEC isn’t a lost chapter. It was the first televised promotion in the US to showcase the excitement of the lighter weight classes, and they were a prime example of what you can do with a roster of talented, hungry fighters with something to prove, and should go down as one of the all time great promotions right along side The UFC, and Pride. WEC, soon you will be gone, but you will never be forgotten, not in the eyes of this fan, anyways.