Around this time last year, the rumors began flying. A few weeks later, the rumors became fact: the World Extreme Cagefighting (WEC) organization was going to be folded into the UFC, with the bantamweight and featherweight divisions making their debuts in the world’s premier MMA promotion. Also migrating over would be the top guns from the WEC’s lightweight division, bolstering one of the sport’s toughest weight classes even more.
It was big news at the time, and considering that four of the nine main events that the UFC has held from July’s UFC 132 show to the UFC 137 event later this month have included WEC alumni, it’s still big news today. And unlike the PRIDE migration that took place after the Zuffa purchase of Japan’s premier promotion, the WEC fighters have adapted perfectly to their new surroundings, with many making immediate impacts on the other side of the MMA street.
Here are 20 of those fighters…
A combined 4-0, featherweight champion Jose Aldo and bantamweight boss Dominick Cruz have been the perfect representatives for their divisions in the UFC. Aldo has defended his belt twice thus far, winning Fight of the Night honors in a decision win over Mark Hominick and then notching another five round victory last Saturday against Kenny Florian. The only thing missing from Aldo’s performances thus far is his trademark explosiveness, a trait that earned him finishes in seven of his eight WEC bouts.
As for Cruz, it’s hard to picture him being more impressive than he’s been in his UFC wins over Urijah Faber and Demetrious Johnson. Against two ultra-tough challengers, “The Dominator” has shown off his impossible to decipher standup game (Faber) and his underrated wrestling (Johnson), earning decision victories both times. If there’s been a breakout star not named Jon Jones in 2011, it’s Cruz.
NEXT IN LINE
Joseph Benavidez 2-0
Ben Henderson 2-0
Chad Mendes 2-0
Anthony Pettis 1-1
The Fab Four of bantamweight Joseph Benavidez, featherweight Chad Mendes, and lightweights Ben Henderson and Anthony Pettis has made their presence known in various ways in 2011. Pettis came in as the WEC Golden Boy after his “Showtime” kick against Henderson in the last WEC show last December, but with the UFC 125 draw between Frankie Edgar and Gray Maynard, his guaranteed title shot was delayed. Admirably, he didn’t sit around waiting for a fight; instead, he took on Clay Guida in June, but was decisioned over three rounds. Forced to regroup, Pettis got back in the race last weekend, defeating tough Jeremy Stephens. It wasn’t a win that will put him in a title fight immediately, but now he’s back in the conversation.
As for Henderson, he saw his own hype train derailed by Pettis, but with back-to-back UFC wins over Mark Bocek and Jim Miller, the former WEC lightweight champion has sailed ahead of his old rival, and he, along with Guida (who Henderson will face in November), have got to be considered frontrunners for the next shot at Edgar’s 155-pound belt.
In the bantamweight division, the only fighter more dominant than Benavidez is Cruz, and Joe-B-Wan-Kenobi’s wins over Jeff Curran, Rani Yahya, Miguel Torres, Wagnney Fabiano in the WEC, and Ian Loveland and Eddie Wineland in the UFC prove it. Unfortunately, his only two losses as a pro have come in two close battles with the UFC champ, making a third bout a tough marketing sell. But from a fighting standpoint, what fan wouldn’t want to see these two go at it again. Another big win may just seal the deal for Benavidez.
The one man who is likely to see his title shot number come up soon though is Benavidez’ teammate Chad Mendes. Unbeaten in 11 pro fights, including two in the UFC, Mendes’ wrestling could give Aldo plenty of trouble if he can close the gap and get his hands on the champion, and with each passing fight – not only his own, but Aldo’s – the Californian’s confidence that he can beat the man at the top grows.
KNOCKING ON THE DOOR
By the time UFC 139 rolls around in November, the winner of the Brian Bowles vs. Urijah Faber scrap will move up to the “Next in Line” category while the loser falls a notch on the bantamweight ladder, but high stakes is not the only beauty of this matchup. Truth is, this is a bantamweight dream matchup pitting the former featherweight champ (Faber) against the former bantamweight titleholder (Bowles), and it’s an almost impossible fight to pick. But if you’re going by UFC performances thus far, Faber has the edge due to his stellar efforts in beating Eddie Wineland and dropping a close decision to Cruz. Bowles was in his usual top-notch form in finishing Damacio Page in his UFC debut in March, but didn’t look like himself in a decision win over Takeya Mizugaki in July. But that’s why they fight the fights, and Faber-Bowles should be a classic.
And when you’re talking about nearly always delivering a classic performance, that’s the forte of lightweight contender Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone, who followed up a WEC career in which he picked up five Fight of the Night awards with a 3-0 UFC run where he’s scored a Fight of the Night bonus for beating Paul Kelly and earned a Knockout of the Night check for finishing Charles Oliveira. If he can get another win, this time over German contender Dennis Siver, at UFC 137 this month, start talking about Cerrone as being a title challenger sooner rather than later.
THE NEXT WAVE
Chan Sung Jung
Miguel Angel Torres
The next group of WEC vets to make some noise in the Octagon have either challenged for UFC gold (Demetrious Johnson), wore a WEC title belt (Miguel Angel Torres), fought for one (Scott Jorgensen), or are hot prospects ready to make their move to the next level. But wherever they’ve been or where they are now, exciting fights usually follow.
Leading off is one of the game’s top action heroes, Chan Sung Jung, or as he is commonly known, “The Korean Zombie.” Jung left quite an impression in his two WEC fights, with a war for the ages against Leonard Garcia and a loss to George Roop, but there were just as many question marks heading into his rematch with Garcia in March. So what did the Zombie do? Submit Garcia with the first Twister ever used in Octagon action. If this doesn’t get you amped up for his December battle with Mark Hominick, check your pulse.
Featherweight Pablo Garza is making some highlight reel appearances as well, as he rebounded from a short notice WEC loss to Tiequan Zhang with a frightening knockout of Fredson Paixao and a flying triangle finish of Yves Jabouin. Featherweight up and comer Erik Koch and longtime bantamweight contender Scott Jorgensen have also put their names in the hat for Top 10 KO of the Year consideration with their finishes of Raphael Assuncao and Ken Stone.
Surprisingly, Muay Thai machine Anthony Njokuani, owner of three WEC KO of the Night awards, hasn’t scored a UFC knockout yet, but it’s not from a lack of trying, as his UFC debut against Edson Barboza earned Fight of the Night honors, and his first UFC win over Andre Winner saw “The Assassin” deliver a hellacious three round pounding on the Brit.
A lightweight in the WEC, Louisiana’s Dustin Poirier found his home at 145 pounds in the UFC, and after an upset win over Josh Grispi to kick off his Octagon career in January, he proved that the victory was no fluke (pardon the pun) as he defeated England’s Jason Young at UFC 131. He will be back in action on November 12th in a surefire war against Garza.
Like the 22-year old Poirier, 20-year old bantamweight phenom Michael McDonald is wise beyond his years in the Octagon, and his exciting three round wins over Edwin Figueroa and Chris Cariaso prove it. Scheduled to return in November, McDonald is one of the top prospects to hit the sport in the last couple years.
Staying in the bantamweight division, Brazil’s Renan Barao (1-0 in the UFC) and England’s Brad Pickett (0-0) will meet up in Birmingham, England on November 5th. “One Punch” Pickett always brings it, and Barao (currently riding a 16 fight winning streak) is seen as the next brightest hope for championship honors out of the Nova Uniao camp (home to Jose Aldo), so this UFC 138 match should be a good one.
And last, but certainly not least, stand Demetrious Johnson and Miguel Angel Torres, two standouts looking to fight their way back into the title picture after recent losses. “Mighty Mouse” is coming off a competitive five round loss to Cruz in their title bout earlier this month, and a couple wins should get him right back on the contenders’ line. Torres, 1-1 in the UFC with a win over Antonio Banuelos and a close loss to Johnson, has an opportunity to get back on track when he battles Staten Island’s Nick Pace at UFC 139, but it will be how the 30-year old vet looks in November that will determine whether he’s got another title run in him.
Note – fighters who came back to the UFC after a stint in the WEC (Mike Brown, Mark Hominick, Leonard Garcia, Manny Gamburyan, etc) or who had previously migrated over (Brian Stann, Mark Munoz, Aaron Simpson, Carlos Condit, Chael Sonnen) were not included in this piece.
WEC to UFC - The Successful Experiment
One year later, how has the WEC to UFC migration panned out?