Top Five WEC Moments of the Zuffa Era
Five main-card bouts, each of which would headline (or close to it) any WEC event. Two prelim bouts to air on Spike as a UFC production complete with announcers Mike Goldberg and Joe Rogan calling the blow-by-blow.
WEC 48 is World Extreme Cagefighting’s first foray into pay-per-view. The $44.99 price tag is a tough sell to fans accustomed to seeing shows free on Versus, which is why Zuffa is bringing out the heavy artillery. If the event can equal the hype, the fighters participating could end up being part of a landmark show that will showcase athletes at and below 155 pounds before their largest audience.
“That’s an honor that they think highly of us,” said Scott Jorgensen, competing on pay-per-view against Antonio Banuelos in a fight that could determine the No. 1 contender in the bantamweight division. “By far one of the most insane fight cards I’ve ever seen put together. When you got Takeya Mizugaki and Rani Yahya kicking off the live card, you typically see the stands full at those fights. There are empty seats and people still filtering in but I think you’re going to see a packed house from start to finish. That’s something to be thoroughly proud of, to being involved in something that great and that groundbreaking for the WEC and its fighters.
“We’re being given a little bit more clout in the world of MMA, showing that we are the fastest, most exciting fighters out there.”
Actually, there are five of many memorable examples that have proven the WEC is enough of a hook to draw a large audience around a television set and produce endless water-cooler discussions the next day. Five important bouts have created a precedent and time will tell if that will translate into a large buy rate.
The linchpin who opened the door for the little fighters, and the featherweight prodigy possessing the skill and sex appeal to center any marketing campaign, wanted to compete against each other and got their wish at WEC 34. The fight itself – which shared “Fight of the Night” honors with Miguel Torres and Yoshiro Maeda – was a landmark event. Both Urijah Faber and Jens Pulver went the distance for the first time in Faber’s WEC career and Pulver’s as a featherweight, with “The California Kid” earning a unanimous decision win that handed “Lil’ Evil” his first loss at that weight class. The show holds the record as the WEC on Versus’ most-watched show with 1.6 million viewers.
One punch from Mike Brown shocked Faber to end their first fight in Round 1 and ended Faber’s reign as featherweight champion. Their rematch is nearly uncontested in terms of guts, drama and great theatre. Faber broke his right hand in the first round and later dislocated his left, which left him to combat the champion with primarily elbows and kicks. Even with Brown winning the fight and Faber somehow taking the pain, Faber still threw and landed many of 15 left hooks or jabs in the final round.
Despite the loss, Faber remained a top contender in the featherweight division and tag-teamed with Brown to draw 1.2 million viewers on Versus that helped make it the top cable network in the country among key male demographics.
Miguel Torres carried the same aura of invincibility in the bantamweight division owned by Georges St. Pierre (welterweight) and previously B.J. Penn (lightweight). Fresh off a five-round war against Takeya Mizugaki, Torres’ next defense was against the undefeated Brian Bowles. Torres stunned the challenger with a one-two combination and his 18th consecutive win seemed inevitable before he rushed in, got caught and pounded into the ground. The stunning upset earned Bowles mainstream attention and reinforced the old mantra that anything can happen, anytime, anyplace, anywhere – especially in MMA.
Benson Henderson didn’t just defeat Donald Cerrone in five rounds to become WEC interim lightweight champion. He put on a prodigious clinic true to the definition of mixed martial arts that was awarded 2009 Fight of the Year and will long be considered as one of the finest clinics in MMA history. If Cerrone were fighting a lesser man the fight would have ended a lot sooner. Henderson, bent like a pretzel, survived each of the Cowboy’s submission attempts as if he were chilling out on South Beach.
The metamorphosis of Jose Aldo from MMA phenom to a champion. His TKO of Brown earned him his ninth straight win and six consecutive by TKO or knockout – one that came in under a minute (Jonathan Bookins) and another a mercy killing of eight seconds (Cub Swanson). The reigning featherweight champion is also the 2009 Fighter of the Year and a three-time Knockout of the Night Honors recipient who will make his first defense against Faber at WEC 48.