The Futile Nature of the Merger


The World Extreme Cagefighting promotion blew its last breath on December 16th. That night will go down in history as one of the most spectacular, unpredictable and brutal evenings of mixed martial arts. The undercard saw Brazilian veteran Yuri Alcantara, Team Alpha Male Danny Castillo and ex-Bantamweight king Eddie Wineland all get knockouts that would have got them bonuses on a normal night. Ivan Menjivar and Brad Pickett gave Anthony Pettis and Ben Henderson a run for their money for Fight of the Night and let’s not forget Donald Cerrone’s clinic on how to finish a Triangle Choke.  It was a wild night.

The small man haven that Scott Adams and Reed Harris created in 2001 will be deeply missed. The UFC-WEC merger will have its positive effects. The athletes will get bigger pay cheques and better exposure. Jose Aldo will finally get the adoration he deserves. Another direct effect of the merger (and the principal reason behind such a bold move) is the new life it’s going to blow on the UFC cards.

Before UFC 123 happened in November, where Phil Davis reinvented the Kimura, B.J Penn shocked the world again and Maiquel Falcao lived up to his “Big Rigs” moniker, Dana White and the Fertitta Brothers were trying to shake their Superbowl of MMA from a streak of stagnant spectacles. Aging icons worrying about the security of their employment and their post-MMA career dragged the product down for a part of 2010. Redundancy and lack of motivation took Pride down. The UFC learned from that.

The solution to a stagnant promotion in MMA is very simple. Inject new talent. Bring in some prospect and watch them forge their way up the ladder of your promotion, pushing aside known names. By absorbing the WEC, the UFC takes three full weight classes into its ranks. An immediate impact of this merger will be to have bloated Lightweights cut weight and furnish the lower weight classes and to make space for the WEC standouts: Pettis, Njokuani, Roller, Henderson, Cerrone… It is not one stacked weight class that the UFC inherits, it’s three fully stacked weight classes, ready to delight the fans in the big show.

The merger is not going to be a permanent solution though. I’m even questioning the reach of its impact over 2011 alone. What made the WEC so great in the first place was the sheer concentration of talent. The more Zuffa LLC shaved weight classes off the promotion, the better it got. When it was down to three weight classes, the WEC gave its best shows. An all-around concentrated dose of Lightweights, Featherweights and Bantamweights, ready to give the fans some fast paced action, pulling off moves with a speed, technique and imagination that the bigger guys can only wish to show.

Fans will not get this program in the UFC. WEC starts will be dispersed over many UFC and UFN cards and lighter weight classes will have only a fraction of the attention that the WEC gave them. Bantamweight fights will find themselves in the preliminaries more often than not, except for title fights and marquee names like Miguel Torres and Urijah Faber. Same thing for the Featherweights who will live in the shadow of Jose Aldo and a handful of cherry picked newcomers like Chad Mendes.

By closing up shop in the WEC and move in its fighters, the UFC has found a terrific patch to a short-term problem, but it also closed the best show in town. I am already missing the WEC and the crazy moments it gave us in the last few years. The rise to the top of Jose Aldo, the emergence of Anthony Pettis who was once seen as a very rough prospect), the unlikely champion Dominick Cruz, the Lightweight battles  between Ben Henderson, Donald Cerrone and Jamie Varner…

All these gifted athletes are going to land in the UFC just fine (except Varner who was recently cut). Joe Silva will shuffle his roster quicker and there will be a period of adaptation where many fighters will receive their pink slips, but the WEC was way too full of talented fighters to be a fluke. Fans might give the cold shoulder first, but they will learn to love the small guys. It’s going to take some time because they will not get two hours of in-your-face small man action at every card, but it is going to be survival of the fittest for the WEC’s brightest stars. Only the toughest will rise above and become UFC stars on their own.

What pains me about the merger is that the UFC pulled the plug on the best show in town to patch a problem that will keep coming back. Yes, with seven weight classes instead of five, the rotation of talent is going to last longer and the potential for exciting fights is a lot bigger, but it is ultimately not the solution to the UFC’s heavy roster problem. They will have boring cards with only one Featherweight fight on the bill. They will have UFN’s with two Bantamweight fights where both fighters will not be able to finish each other. I can not help thinking that the best show in town was closed and that on a long enough time scale, nothing of it will remain.

Other Posts by Benoit Lelievre

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