September 12, 2009

World Extreme Cagefighting: The AAA Affiliate of the UFC?

By E. Spencer Kyte (espencerkyte@mmaratings.net)

A few weeks back we discussed the merits of a merger between the UFC and the WEC.

Since then, UFC President Dana White has gone on record saying that the bantamweight and featherweight divisions of the WEC would be brought over to the big stage, providing champions like Mike Thomas Brown and Brian Bowles with a chance to perform on an even bigger stage.

Over this past week, MMA Junkie ran a poll to gauge fans interest in such a move, with roughly 60% voting in favor of the two companies pooling their resources.

But an all-or-nothing move isn't the only solution.

Every major sport has a minor league system of one kind or another, so why should Mixed Martial Arts be any different?

Though it wasn't all that long ago that the welterweight through light heavyweight divisions of the WEC were eliminated, perhaps a return to the ways of old makes the most sense moving forward.

Young and inexperienced baseball players work their way up the ladder, proving themselves at various levels of competition before being given the opportunity to play in the big leagues.

Returning the WEC to "minor league status" would afford the UFC the time to let young fighters grow and develop without the immense pressure that comes with competing on the biggest stage of them all.

Such a move would also give the UFC a destination for struggling established fighters as well. Instead of having to severe ties with someone like Thales Leites, a stint in the WEC to rebuild his confidence would be available in the same way an NHL team might send a player on an AHL vacation when they're struggling with the big club.

Furthermore, this type of move would eliminate one of the chief concerns of those opposed to the idea of a merger, the need for the UFC to trim their roster.

No one likes to see people given the pink slip, and while a full merger would inevitably result in a number of fighters being shown the door, re-introducing a full compliment of weight classes to the WEC would actually create more jobs.

Returning the WEC to a complete collection of weight classes would also create more championship belts, as well as some interesting promotional and scheduling opportunities.

With a new collection of titles to showcase, Fight Night cards could become a joint venture between the UFC and WEC, with WEC title fights serving as headliners, instead of being forced to accept Nathan Diaz versus Melvin Guillard atop the marquee.

This would give the UFC the opportunity to showcase the top competitors in the WEC before bringing them over to compete on the big stage.

Instead of bringing in complete unknowns and needing to build them up to the viewing public, fans would already be familiar with the fighters, making the Dana White's job of selling the fighters as legitimate contenders far easier.

The fighters would not be the only people with increased opportunities.

More fighters would mean more fights, and more fights require more referees and judges.

Just as players work their way up the ranks in other sports, so too do officials and move of this nature would provide a smaller stage that can be used to further train the non-fighting fight participants as well.

There is no substitute for experience, for both fighters and officials alike, and being able to gain said experience out from under the spotlight of the UFC could prove beneficial in the future.

Instead of throwing fighters fresh off The Ultimate Fighter into the shark-infested waters of the UFC, many could be given an opportunity to establish themselves in the WEC.

Fans would have household names they recognize and a reason to tune it to events, while the fighters themselves could compete against opponents of similar skills and abilities, unlike the tough tasks facing some of the recent TUF tournament winners.

Season 9 lightweight winner Ross Pearson faces Aaron Riley, a veteran with 40 professional fights under his belt.

Honestly, can anyone see "The British Bulldog" coming away victorious against his more-seasoned counterpart?

If a move like the one proposed here were to take place, the young and inexperienced Brit could face the likes of Shane Roller, Marcus Hicks or Phil Cardella by beginning in the WEC.

While all three are still stiff tests in their own right, Pearson would surely have a greater chance at emerging with a win than he currently has now heading into UFC 105.

The same goes for Season 8 lightweight winner Efrain Escudero, who makes his debut in seven days time against American Top Team veteran Cole Miller.

As Junie Browning found out, scoring a win over Miller is much more difficult than defeating "Diamond" Dave Kaplan.

With the amalgamation of the bantamweight and featherweight divisions into the UFC etched in stone, the question of what to do with the WEC as a whole remains.

Should the company be completely combined with the existing organization or would a return to the WEC of old make more sense moving forward?

Both choices have merit, and only time will tell which path Dana White and company will go down.

My opinion is outlined above, now I want you to tell me what you think.


4 comments:

  1. I tend to think this type of merger would have lots of logistical problems centered around the limited pay scales available to the WEC.

    The whole reason to merge the promotions is to 1) make more money off the talents of the lighter weight fighters, and 2) like-wise pay same fighters more money thus solidifying Zuffa as the place to be for lighter weight fighters.

    If they don't pursue this course, it will only be a matter of time before promotions such as Strikeforce and Bellator FC are offering feather and bantam weights more money than the WEC can afford.

    So while a merger makes sense, keeping the WEC around as a feeder promotions only has one-way limited potential. Fighters like Thales Leites will never take the pay cuts necessary to fight in the WEC. They will be better off moving to Strikeforce ala Fabricio Werdum. Similarly TUF veterans will not find the WEC as appealing as taking their new found fame elsewhere.

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  2. I don't necessarily understand the "more money than the WEC can afford" angle, as the WEC is owned by Zuffa they have the deepest pockets in the business.

    Would they be willing to up the pay scales is another question altogether.

    For me, I see the potential of two-way contracts like they have in many sports; you make X if you fight in the WEC and Y if you fight in the UFC.

    I don't think the only reason to merge the two should be about making more money off the already established talents the WEC has.

    For me, this move would be about creating a place for fighters to grow and develop as much as it would be about cashing in on the names of guys like Brown and Faber right now.

    If I were coming of TUF and had the choice between a two-way contract with the Zuffa organizations or a little more money with Strikeforce or Bellator, I take the Zuffa deal, as it's they're the best in the business.

    But that's just me...

    Additionally, this is exactly what I was hoping for in writing this piece... discussion!

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  3. My understanding is that the financials are handled separately. The WEC has to make enough money to pay it's fighters and can't borrow from the profits of the UFC.

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  4. Yes, the two run separately financially, but if Zuffa decides to make a move such as the one I'm suggesting, including the inclusion of WEC fighters on Fight Nights and Spike programming, more money will be available to the WEC.

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