World Extreme Cagefighting kicked off an important year with a banner WEC 46 January show in Sacramento, where Ben Henderson became lightweight champion, and the company’s newest superstar, while Urijah Faber flaunted his star power on his turf. Reed Harris is frequently pestered with questions about a merger with parent promotion Ultimate Fighting Championship.
If it’s your wish to infuriate the WEC president, ask away. Harris, in sheer annoyance, shoots down any idea of a merger like Faber fires away at his opponents with alluring striking permutations. The “little guys” have a niche following, which is why Urijah Faber defends WEC as a brand that’s created a platform for a talent pool at lightweight and lower.
“I really like that we have the WEC as its own brand,” Faber said during a question-and-answer session with fans before UFC 109. “It’s still utilizing everything that Zuffa has created and it’s creating an opportunity for the top athletes in the world to perform. It’s providing another top-level promotion and really at the lightweights you have a talent pool that’s bar-none.
“We don’t have football or another outlet to have a professional sport so you have the finest lightweight athletes in the world and putting them on a pedestal and that’s what I love about it.”
It’s hard to justify WEC and UFC under one umbrella. The WEC has earned a reputation of producing a virtually guaranteed “Fight of the Year” candidate. All it needs now is to prove it can generate a significant buzz outside of the state of California. WEC’s first pay-per-view, WEC 48 in April, will be in Sac Town and is assured of a sellout. The company’s most significant challenge will be generating enough buys to turn a decent profit.
One MMA hotbed is Columbus, the host of a loaded WEC 47 show on March 6. Bantamweight champion Brian Bowles makes his first defense against Dominick Cruz and Miguel Torres, shocked by Bowles last August, returns to the cage for the first time since losing the title when he faces Joseph Benavidez.
Also on the undercard is Jens Pulver. The MMA icon had teased retirement after a 33-second submission loss to Josh Grispi last June. At the crossroads of his 10-year career where he must—fairly or not—show he can still compete up to standards, Pulver faces Javier “Showtime” Vazquez.
“People understand it but they don’t, the mortality is like dealing with the fact you’re going to die,” Pulver told me during an interview for Issue 35 of TapouT Magazine, on newsstands now. “There’s no escaping it,”
Pulver’s story has been riveting since he was a little boy, a time during which he revealed in his autobiography his alcoholic father placing a gun in his mouth before removing it, telling him “you aren’t worth the bullets.”
As an adult he faced a bout with depression. Once he defeated it he reached an epiphany, which told him to escape what he called a “sad-ass circle,” move to Idaho and open his own gym, which he named Driven. A documentary of the same title is in post-production and judging from the teaser it looks like a gripping tale and a must-see.
Pulver’s story reminds me of Jimmy Piersall, a Major League baseball player from the 1950s and ’60s famous for overcoming bipolar disorder. He put out a book in 1955 called “Fear Strikes Out,” that explains how he struck fear out of his life. Win or lose next month, Pulver is an admirable study in perseverance, having taken depression and anxiety and knocking them both out cold.
Frank Mir apologized for saying he wanted UFC heavyweight champion Brock Lesnar to be “the first person that dies due to octagon-related injuries.” Mir’s comments were out of line and I do not condone them, but like everything else that comes out of someone’s mouth (read Dana White) this will be put to bed and we’ll move on. Last year Matt Serra told me in an interview he was going to “decapitate” Matt Hughes. I don’t justify it, but in the fight game, like it or hate it, trash talk to the extreme builds hype and a greater sell. The words are wrong, but cannot be taken literally. Ninety-nine times out of 100, all is fair love and war when the fight is over.
UFC 110 thoughts: A great night in Australia for the UFC’s young guns: Cain Velasquez, George Sotiropoulos, Ryan Bader and James Te-Huna. The depth of the talent pool is a major problem in Strikeforce and one Zuffa continues to methodically build...If the Mir-Shane Carwin winner is proclaimed fit for a title shot against Lesnar, Velasquez can’t sit idle all winter. I see a matchup with the Junior dos Santos-Gabriel Gonzaga winner—Sotiropoulos’ impressive win over Joe Stevenson is more evidence that B.J. Penn hasn’t cleaned out the lightweight division, though the Prodigy continues to have that invincible aura...Bader took a gigantic step by knocking out Keith Jardine. Maybe we’ll see him fight Rich Franklin, Matt Hamill or perhaps Thiago Silva next?