By now, just about everyone knows my stance on the WEC.
For those who don't, the quick version is this: World Extreme Cagefighting routinely puts on the best night of fights the industry has to offer, making them nothing short of awesome.
Somehow, the live gate numbers and television viewership continues to slide, but all of that could—nay, should—change this weekend, as WEC 46 hits the Arco Arena in Sacramento, featuring the Lightweight Title Unification bout between Jamie Varner and Ben "Smooth" Henderson.
While that fight alone should be enough to get fans interested, the card also features the return of hometown hero Urijah Faber, a speedy return to the cage for former Feathwerweight champ Mike Brown, and a number of other intriguing matchups.
Additionally, this card marks the debut of the WEC on The Score in Canada, giving my fellow Canucks no excuse for missing this loaded lineup of fights.
Coty "Ox" Wheeler (10-2-0) vs. Will Campuzano (6-1-0)
Both fighters enter off losses from October's WEC 43 in San Antonio, Texas. Wheeler dropped an unanimous decision to veteran Charlie Valencia, while Campuzano was quickly submitted by Greg Jackson-trainee Damacio Page in his debut with the company.
This matchup suits both fighters far better.
Wheeler is a submission specialist who was simply outclassed against Valencia, a strong wrestler who has faced some of the WEC elite over the years. The second time under the bright lights should be an easier night for Campuzano as well, who will be motivated to quickly bounce back from the first loss of his career.
Eddie Wineland (15-6-1) vs. George Roop (10-5-0)
While Roop is the more recognizable name thanks to his time on Season Eight of The Ultimate Fighter, Wineland is the more experienced of the two.
The first Bantamweight champion in WEC history, Wineland is looking to build on his decision victory over Manny Tapia at WEC 43 and put himself back into consideration at 135 pounds. Originally scheduled to face the oft-injured Rafael Rebello, the Indiana native will instead have to contend with the debuting former member of Team Mir.
After getting cut by the UFC, Roop earned the Rage in the Cage Featherweight title, and drops to 135 for the first time. Standing 6'0", the Team Tompkins fighter will certainly pose an difficult task in the Bantamweight division, a place where Miguel Torres is viewed as "big for the division."
Torres stands 5'10".
Mark Hominick (16-8-0) vs. Bryan Caraway (14-3-0)
"The Machine" returns to the cage for the first time since defeating Savant Young all the way back at Affliction: Banned in July 2008.
Since then, he was forced to withdraw from a fight with Deividas Taurosevicius earlier in the year—you guessed it, WEC 43—and now faces a late replacement for fellow Canadian Yves Jabouin in the debuting Caraway.
Though making his maiden voyage into the WEC waters, Caraway comes from a solid camp—Victory Athletics—and is riding a three-fight winning streak. His last lost came at the hands of Wilson Reis, the highly-regarded Bellator competitor who needed the full 15 minutes to secure the win.
Of his 14 career wins, 12 came by way of submission, something Hominick has had trouble with in the past.
Wagnney Fabiano (12-2-0) vs. Clint Godfrey (11-1-0)
Fabiano makes his debut in the Bantamweight division after teammate and close friend Jose Aldo earned gold at 145 in November.
Additionally, the former IFL Featherweight champion suffered just the second loss of his career last time out, tapping to a triangle choke from the ground courtesy of Mackens Semerzier. The combination of a loss and looking to make an immediate impression in a new division doesn't bode well for late replacement Clint Godfrey.
Anyone who can put together an eight-fight winning streak certainly has talent, regardless of where they are competing. The key for Godfrey will be getting settled early, and Fabiano should afford him that time, provided the newcomer doesn't offer up a limb to the BJJ black belt.
Charlie Valencia (11-5-0) vs. Akitoshi Tamura (14-7-2)
Two battle-tested veterans of the WEC Bantamweight division meet for the first time. Over their careers, the two have faced a laundry list of top competitors in the lighter ranks, including Urijah Faber, Brian Bowles, "Lion" Takeshi Inoue, Dominick Cruz, and Rumina Sato.
Both come in off hard-fought wins, Valencia as mentioned before over Coty Wheeler, and Tamura over Manny Tapia in his debut at 135 pounds in April of last year.
Expect this to be a serious grappling match with Tamura looking for submissions at every opportunity. The winner of this bout will get a bump up the ladder and inch closer to contender status in the deep Bantamweight division.
Mackens Semerzier (5-0-0) vs. Deividas Taurosevicius (11-3-0)
"Mack da Menace" pulled off one of the bigger upsets of the year in his WEC debut, submitting Wagnney Fabiano via triangle from his back.
Now, former Bantamweight champion Miguel Torres' training partner has to live up to the inflated expectations that come with such an impressive and unexpected win, and he'll have to do it against a tough challenger in Taurosevicius.
In addition to being a hard name to say and spell, the Lithuanian former IFL fighter is a tough man to beat, as only Ryan Schultz and Frankie Edgar have been able to accomplish the task in the last three-plus years.
A veteran of the tough New Jersey fight scene, Taurosevicius is a Renzo Gracie protegee and managed to shake off the ring rust to claim a split decision win over Javier Vasquez in his WEC debut.
Dave Jansen (14-0-0) vs. Kamal Shalorus (5-0-1)
Two undefeated wrestlers go head-to-head in this one, and you know what that means: Stand-up War!
While it doesn't always come to pass, Jansen will need to be careful if it does, as the 32-year-old Iranian Shalorus dropped Will Kerr with a series of punches in his WEC debut just two months ago.
That said, Jansen, a Team Quest fighter, was equally impressive in his first appearance with the company, earning a hard-fought decision over veteran Richard "Cleat" Crunkilton in October to run his record to a perfect 14-0.
Shalorus is a former Olympian with great freestyle wrestling, and while his striking is somewhat erratic and sloppy, he clearly has the power to put people away. Just ask Will Kerr.
Mike Brown (22-5-0) vs. Anthony Morrison (15-7-0)
Anthony "Cheesesteak" Morrison is a tough fighter out of Richmond, Virginia, and comes into this fight off a win over former UFC competitor Alvin Robertson.
In addition to Robertson, Morrison has faced Micah Miller, Jim Miller, and fellow WEC 46 competitor Deividas Taurosevicius during his career.
All that said, I wouldn't want to be Anthony Morrison for one minute on Saturday night.
The idea of facing an angry, eager-to-return Mike Brown fresh off losing his WEC Featherweight title isn't exactly an enjoyable Sunday night.
His loss to Jose Aldo was the first in four years for the American Top Team front desk clerk, and the fact that he approached Reed Harris to get on this card should signal to everyone that the blue-collar Brown will be looking to remind everyone why he was very recently considered the best 145-pound fighter in the world.
Urijah Faber (22-3-0) vs. Raphael Assuncao (14-1-0)
"The California Kid" makes his long-awaited return, and in his backyard nonetheless.
Despite having lost two of his last three fights, and only faced two opponents in the last two years, Faber is still the biggest draw and biggest name in the WEC, though Jose Aldo is poised to eclipse him in 2010.
While Faber is certainly the favorite heading into this bout, does he deserve to be? Not to disrespect the former champ—or Jens Pulver—but he's 2-2 over the last two years and both wins came over a fighter (Pulver) many have written off for dead.
Saturday night, Raphael Assuncao will be standing across from him and the Atlanta-based Brazilian is no joke.
The lone loss of his career came to well-respected veteran Jeff Curran and was more than three years ago. Since then, Assuncao has six-straight wins, including back-to-back decision victories in the WEC.
As recently as October, Assuncao showed he has the gas tank to go 15 minutes with a quick and dynamic striker, outpointing Yves Jabouin. Meanwhile, Faber has been on the shelf since June and no matter what the leader of Team Alpha Male says, there is no replacement for being in the cage in a real fight.
Jamie "C-4" Varner (16-2-0) vs. Ben "Smooth" Henderson (10-1-0)
Two men enter with belts and only one will walk out wearing the unified WEC Lightweight strap.
After a full year out of action, Varner returns, finally healthy and ready to defend the title he's held since defeating "Razor" Rob McCullough in February 2008.
The Arizona Combat Sports product is a gritty, hard-working competitor who uses a wrestling base to set up his game. Though more of his victories have come by way of submission, Varner had been on a TKO tear before the Cerrone fight, stopping three-straight opponents with strikes.
All that said, stepping into the cage after a year off to face Ben Henderson is a tall order.
A two-time former NAIA All-American wrestler, Henderson has an endless supply of energy, as witnessed in his Fight of the Year with Donald Cerrone, and enters this fight running as hot as a fighter can, having earned nine-straight wins.
Amongst those victories are stoppages against rising star Anthony Njokuani, standout wrestler Shane Roller, and the split decision win over Cerrone that earned him the Interim Lightweight title.
While Varner has been resting and recuperating, Henderson earned three victories in 2009 and should be considered the favorite heading into Sunday Night's Main Event.