The announcement of the UFC-WEC merger is one of the biggest stories in MMA over its entire history. The dissolving of the WEC will have a profound impact on the MMA world and the way fans view the sport as a whole. By acquiring the WEC, its lighter weight classes, and its fighters, the UFC has instantly bolstered every card they will put on from this point forward. This will also allow the UFC to put on more overall events (at least twice a month most likely) and have a greater number of compelling title fights and fights with title implications.
WEC fighters are not the only ones who are being impacted by this decision. The decision to absorb the light weight classes along some additional 155 fighters will have far reaching implications in all UFC divisions. Let's take a look at each division and the effects this merger will have on the fighters.
You would think the Heavyweight division would see little impact from the acquisition of WEC and its lighter fighters. These Heavyweights are 100 lbs heavier than any of the WEC fighters we will begin to see in the UFC. However, the real impact will come from the changes that will be made to the cards that the UFC will be putting on. With the acquisition on the lighter weight classes, the UFC will not be as desperate for fighters on undercards and co-main events. This could result in a slimming of the UFC's Heavyweight class. Many fans love to see the Heavyweights because they are so big and devastating, however MMA tends to be difficult for these larger fighters. The pace is slower, the fighters get gassed easier, and this often leads to some of the more stale fights the UFC puts on. The lighter weight classes are the exact opposite. They are fast paced, often times more technical, and the fighters tend to have deeper gas tanks to go the full time at an entertaining pace. Borderline UFC Heavyweights will not have as much breathing room as they once had, and they will likely be fighting for their jobs on a more frequent occasion.
This is the one division in the UFC that I think will have little to no impact from the absorption of the WEC and its fighters. The 205 lbs division is one of the UFC deepest divisions, and not just in terms of talent. The Light Heavyweights are some of the most popular and exciting fighters in the UFC right now. Names like Forrest Griffin, Rashad Evans, and Rampage Jackson alone are usually enough to sell a Pay-Per-View. Not to mention the group of new stars like Champ Mauricio "Shogun" Rua, Lyoto Machida, Jon Jones and Ryan Bader. Light Heavyweight has never been a concern for the UFC, as some of the biggest stars in UFC history have made their mark at 205. UFC's first big star, Tito Ortiz, as well as the two biggest stars in UFC history, Chuck Liddell and Randy Couture, have called Light Heavyweight their home. The appeal of the Light Heavyweight division derives from the fact that they combine the appeals of both the heavier and lighter weight classes. These fighters are big enough that it gets peoples attention like the Heavyweights do, but they are not so big that they cannot move or keep their energy. They are big and strong, but also quick and have the endurance to keep an entertaining pace. Don't for much to change here.
Middleweight is arguably the UFC's shallowest division. However, with Chael Sonnen's recent dominating performance (albeit still in a loss) against Anderson Silva, the division seems to have some new life. For far too long, many viewed the Middleweight division as Anderson Silva and then everybody else. Silva seemed untouchable, you could not hit him on the feet, he was nearly impossible to takedown, and if you did he would either pop back up or submit you. Sonnen's performance has shown that Anderson can be beaten. The UFC will be constantly trying to groom new contenders and rising stars, however with the merger between the WEC and UFC we could start to see some of the older veterans being let go in favor of young up and comers. With fewer roster spots due to the influx of WEC fighters, the current UFC Middleweight veterans will likely be more harshly judged in their performances. We could see some of the fighters we've grown accustom to watching get let go by the UFC.
This is another deep division that will probably see very little impact amongst its stars. The big name fighters in each division will likely not be affected too much by this merger, but even more so in the Welterweight division. With such dominant, and seemingly unbeatable champ like Georges St. Pierre, the UFC will constantly be looking for a new challenge for GSP. In order to keep the matchups compelling they will likely need to focus on grooming some up and coming fighters, along with building up some of their current stars (like Fitch, Alves, and Koscheck). With a focus on grooming young studs and keeping current stars, some of the journeyman of the 170 lbs division could find themselves in search of work. We could also see less division jumping like Nate Diaz and Diego Sanchez have been doing. However, as stated above, I think the impact on this division will be minimal.
The Lightweight division is likely to see the biggest impact from the UFC-WEC merger in 2011. The main reason being that the WEC has its own Lightweight division and the UFC will likely bring some of the top WEC 155 lbs fighters into their Lightweight fold. There has been a long discussion about how the WEC's top Lightweight fighters would fair in the UFC's deep 155 division. Well, we are about to find out. The winner of the impending UFC Lightweight title fight between Frankie Edgar and Gray Maynard will likely face the winner of the compelling WEC bout between current champ Ben Henderson and Anthony Pettis. We will quickly see exactly what these WEC Lightweights are made of. Fighters like Henderson, Pettis, and Donald Cerrone will likely be given ample opportunity to prove themselves in the UFC. While at the same time, some of the UFC's 155ers will likely find themselves fighting for a roster spot each time they enter the octagon. This will be the most exciting division to watch as the merger takes place.
General public, prepare to meet Jose Aldo! The casual UFC audience is about to be introduced to one of the most exciting and skilled fighters in combat sports today. Jose Aldo is likely to gain the most from the UFC-WEC merger. Once relegated to the Versus network, Aldo has not seen the same rise in popularity that some of his fellow up and comers (Jon Jones, Cain Velasquez) have seen. With no featherweight division in the UFC, Jose has been forced to show of his skills to an audience a fraction of the size that he will now enjoy as a UFC fighter. Boxing has proven over the past decade that lighter weight fighters can be just as popular and successful as the bigger guys. The two biggest names in boxing right now, Manny Pacquioa and Floyd Mayweather, are both small fighters. Jose Aldo could enjoy similar success in the MMA world. Now, he will never be making $25 million a fight like Mayweather is able to pull, but Aldo could become one of the biggest names in the sport. Aldo is not the only one who stands to benefit, Urijah Faber, Mike Brown, and Manny Gamburyian would all finally be exposed the entire MMA fan base.
The main beneficiary of adding these lower weight classes to the UFC will be the organization and its fans. The WEC was able to consistently put on exciting and compelling cards, time after time. The main reason being that the lighter weight fighters are simply more exciting and fun to watch than their heavier counterparts. These fighters go at a frenetic pace and there is never any lack of action. You rarely see lay n pray bore fests or timid striking battles. These lighter fighter are constantly moving, constantly working and looking for a way to end the fight. Some of the most entertaining fights in MMA have gone unseen the general fan base simply because the WEC is not as well known or as readily available as the UFC. This is all about to change. The Featherweight and Bantamweight fighters are a few months away from being thrust into the spotlight where they will shine and continue the growth of MMA.