(Assuncao tangles with Faber at WEC 46. Check out the full gallery here.)
There’s an old saying in sports that speed kills and that axiom was on display in both main events Sunday night at WEC 46.
Urijah Faber came into his fight with a very dangerous Raphael Assuncao with questions to answer and, perhaps, the main event at the WEC’s first ever Pay-Per-View hanging in the balance. How would the two broken hands he suffered in his most recent five-round title fight war with Mike Brown stand up to the heat of battle in the cage? How would the extra muscle and strength he was rumored to have built in his seven months out of action affect his signature cage speed? And, perhaps most importantly and most simply, would he get a much needed victory against the 14-1 Assuncao, ranked fifth in the world.
The California Kid answered every question exactly the way the most die-hard Faber fan hoped he would. After an opening round that saw several clinches against the cage and no real damage to either fighter, Faber found the zone. Faber’s signature speed went on display, both in his ability to shoot on Assuncao and take him down with ease and in his hand speed. Faber floored Raphael in both the second and the third with big overhand rights thrown with the authority and explosiveness of someone who has already answered the question for themselves as to whether that hand can be trusted to withstand a high velocity meeting with a hard skull. And yes, this was the same Assuncao who repeatedly got hit with huge strikes against uber-athletic Yves Jabouin and didn’t flinch, so don’t underestimate Faber’s accomplishment.
That second right hand knocked Raphael down in the third round and was the beginning of the end. Faber got on top of the Brazilian and controlled him while landing explosive elbows from inside the guard. Because of his rare combination of speed and athleticism, Urijah has a unique ability to inflict the type of ground and pound damage from in close that other fighters have to posture up to duplicate. That played a big role against an opponent who has phenomenal submissions off his back as Faber gave the dangerous Assuncao no room to work with in the final sequence. When Raphael had enough California ground and pound, he scrambled to get up and Faber quickly took his back, sunk in a rear naked choke and submitted the BJJ black belt in what seemed like a second.
Faber’s impressive and dominant victory is a promoter’s dream. Not only is Urijah the WEC’s most popular fighter and biggest draw, he is the fighter that every MMA fan wants to see take on 2009 Fighter of the Year and division champion, the lightening fast Jose Aldo. (I told you speed kills.) The WEC has maintained that they are going to put on a Pay Per View in the first half of 2010 and a Faber loss could have derailed that goal and, along with it, the most exciting matchup we’ve seen in the featherweight division. The promotion has already begun with Aldo coming into the cage to say, “I respect Urijah, but no one is going to take my belt.” The former champion’s response was quick and to the point. “In my mind, that’s always been my belt.” Game on.
Henderson Unifies Belts
In the main event of the evening, Benson Henderson unified the WEC Lightweight Division belts by submitting former champ Jamie Varner in the third round. Varner, fighting after a 350-day layoff due to multiple injuries, won the first two rounds in a relatively close fight. A patient Henderson caught Varner with a knee to the midsection as he went for a takedown, slowing him just enough to allow Ben to get his arms around Jamie’s neck for a fight-ending guillotine. The new champ was catlike in sinking in the choke and getting his legs around Varner’s body as if he were climbing a tree that was on fire. And just like that, the fight was over.
There are rumors that Cowboy Cerrone will get the first shot at Henderson in what would be a rematch of one of the top three fights of 2009, perhaps on that PPV that the WEC is building towards. General Manager Reed Harris is well aware that the marketability of the promotion’s first trip into PPV waters must be a stacked card, and I couldn’t agree more. However, Jamie Varner should be Cowboy’s opponent on that card, not Henderson. Donald, who I wrote was the fighter in more exciting fights in 2009 than other mixed martial artist, has fought in two title fights in his last four fights, losing both. The most recent was a unanimous decision loss to Henderson in October, just three months ago. Not exactly unfinished business. Do we want to see them fight again? Absolutely. I’d watch them go at it on a convenience store security video. Will it happen again? Of course. Their fight was too good to pass up an encore. But what’s the rush?
Varner/Cerrone, on the other hand, took place a full year ago and ended in a split decision. The end of their title fight was enveloped in controversy that left Cerrone saying Varner had no heart and looked for a way out of the fight. More importantly, it’s no secret that Varner and Cerrone couldn’t stand each other before that fight and the year that has transpired since hasn’t changed things. They can’t stand to be in the same room for two minutes. MMA marketing 101 says that bad blood sells (how else could you sell Ortiz/Shamrock II and III?) and these two have more of it than any two fighters in recent WEC memory. Marketing a PPV with a main event where the champ (Aldo) doesn’t speak English carries some challenges. Having Cerrone and Henderson express mutual admiration for one another just one fight removed from when they fought each other can’t match the intrigue of the unfinished business and disdain that is Cerrone/Varner. While C-4 and Cowboy settle their score, Anthony Njokuani would be an interesting contender. Ben welcomed Anthony to the WEC with a second round submission. Since then, the KO specialist has gone 3-0, earning Knockout of the Night in all three fights.
Welcome to the WEC…Mike Brown apparently doesn’t like “Cheesesteak” as he choked the luxury of breathing right out of Anthony Morrison in the very first round. Morrison had the line of the night in his pre-fight interview. “I’m a mirror image of him, just black.” OK, maybe not quite a mirror image, but debuting against former division champ Mike Brown is a tall order for anyone at 145.
The 0 Had to Go…Dave Jansen (14-0) and Kamal Shalorus (5-0) both came into their fight undefeated and claiming to be the better wrestler. Shalorus, a world class wrestler, dominated Jansen on the feet with powerful standup that left “The Fugutive” bloody and battered. He was the superior wrestler, taking Jansen down at will and effortlessly frustrating every takedown he attempted. If the Prince of Persia, now 6-0, can work on the technical aspects of his striking, he could be a scary addition to the list of contenders at 155.
“Da Mack” Down…Deividas Taurosevicius dominated the first two rounds of his fight with Mackens Semerzier with superior wrestling and control. Mackens did his best to lock in submissions from his back, but, unlike BJJ black belt Wagney Fabiano, brown belt Taurosevicius would have none of it. Semerzier had too little too late, winning the third but losing the fight 29-28.