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UFC/WEC Merger a Win-Win

By on October 28, 2010

When Dana White made the old “announcement that he’s making an announcement” statement, a lot of fans on MMA forums scoffed. Previous announcements have often been underwhelming in the fans eyes, but this definitely lived up to the hype.

As of January 1st, 2011, the WEC will be no more. The UFC will absorb the WEC’s featherweight and bantamweight classes, while they will also take in the WEC’s lightweight roster, too. This won’t be like when the UFC took in select WEC fighters from the welterweight, middleweight and light heavyweight classes, either. They will be actually unifying the lightweight titles with a fight between the WEC champion and UFC champion in 2011. To make it all work, they are expanding the number of UFC events on Versus from two to four next year.

There’s a lot to digest there. However, what I immediately take away from the move is that it’s a win-win for everybody. Let’s break it down:

WEC Fighters– They move to an organization with much better visibility and brand recognition, which will in turn lead to better sponsorships. Then there are the salary increases that are sure to come from becoming UFC fighters, and the much heftier bonuses that are available in the UFC, too (WEC bonuses for fight, submission and KO of the night were $10k, while their UFC counterparts were $70k at UFC 121).

Furthermore, WEC lightweights will have the chance to be legitimized by being immersed in the UFC’s deepest division. As of today, only one WEC lightweight is ranked in many top ten lists: division champion Ben Henderson. Other top lightweights, such as Anthony Pettis, Donald Cerrone and even Jamie Varner will have the opportunity to fight ranked fighters as part of the UFC. Henderson, for his part, will have the chance to become UFC champion if he can beat Pettis in his upcoming (and final) WEC appearance.

The UFC– Meanwhile, the UFC gains two full weight classes stacked with world-class talent, as well as even more lightweight contenders to throw into a division that has been simultaneously scattered and revitalized by the dethroning of BJ Penn. Dana White explained in his conference call that the UFC is running more shows and can accommodate the additional talent. Well, conversely, all this new talent will allow the UFC to run more shows.

Furthermore, in times like last winter when so many marquee fighters and champions were injured, the additional champions provide more main event-caliber fights, too. Also, while many fans inexplicably avoided the WEC for who knows what reason (lack of awareness?), the addition of lighter fighters will lead to more exciting cards. Which brings us to…

The Fans– Besides the WEC fighters, the real winners here are the fans. Many fans have been disappointed with some recent cards, where it is viewed that talent has been spread too thin. After all, while the UFC is running more cards than ever, top fighters are fighting less often than ever, often only competing two to three times per year. That’s without taking into account injuries, too.

With seven titles in the organization starting January 1st, the majority of UFC events should have title defenses, or at least number one contender bouts, for us to look forward to. Furthermore, WEC events were well-known for always having at least a few excellent fights due to the fast pace and high skill levels of the fighters involved. UFC fans who were foolish enough to miss out on watching WEC events will be pleasantly surprised by the influx of new talent.

There really is no drawback to this announcement. Even for non-fighter employees of the WEC the news isn’t awful, as White says they will all retain their employment by assuming roles in the UFC. Versus, which is the network that aired WEC events, will obviously lose those as we move forward, but will be compensated with additional UFC events, which will draw much higher ratings than what the WEC was bringing in.

The change will take place very quickly. When Jose Aldo appears next, it will apparently be at UFC 125 on January 1st, 2011, where he will defend not the WEC Featherweight Championship, but the UFC Featherweight Championship. Meanwhile, the winner between Dominick Cruz and Scott Jorgensen at WEC 53 (the last WEC event) will be the UFC Bantamweight Champion when 2011 begins.

Then, there’s the lightweight title situation. I definitely have to give the UFC props for doing the right thing and not simply tossing the winner of WEC Lightweight Champion Ben Henderson and Anthony Pettis into the contender pool. The idea of the winner of that fight and the winner of the UFC Lightweight Championship fight between Frankie Edgar and Gray Maynard facing off is a much more exciting proposition, and one that legitimizes the WEC’s fighters, regardless of the result.

Also, you may see more fighters moving between 145 pounds and 155 pounds in the future, which could be a good thing. Fights like a potential superfight down the line between Edgar and Aldo are possible, and fighters who are a bit too small for 155 can drop down without having to worry about being relegated to a promotion that (wrongfully) is seen as second-tier.

As for further expansion, White did comment that he would like to add a 125 pound division at some point in the future, which would be good to see. The point is that with all of the events that the UFC is running these days, there will be a need for additional talent in order to keep the cards from becoming diluted.

Let’s face it, the UFC is going to expand, anyway. It was silly to have so many world-class fighters fighting under another banner, especially one that is also run by Zuffa. The merger fixes everything. Featherweights and bantamweights get their due, we’ll see how good the WEC lightweights really are, and UFC cards will be stacked with a lot more talent as we go into the new year. What’s not to like about that?

E-Mail Jon Hartley

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