This past Thursday, UFC President Dana White sent shockwaves across the MMA world— by making a "major announcement" that actually lived up to the hype.
So for all you fans eagerly anticipating the new line of UFC-themed credit cards or clarification on the status of vuvuzelas at live events, you're going to have to wait a bit longer. On the other hand, if you're one of those fans who have been waiting for the lighter weight stars of the WEC to finally earn the pay, fame and prestige of their larger UFC brethren—and if you're reading this, I'm thinking you are—you're ship has come in.
Starting in 2011, the WEC will be folded into the UFC in a move long anticipated by fans and pundits. Nevertheless, it's a big move by Zuffa that even more solidly establishes them as the MMA monopoly in North America—maybe even the world.
Still, like any business deal there were winners and losers. Some of these are obvious, some of them harder to see. Here are the top winners and losers of the biggest merger in MMA since the purchase of PRIDE.
Lighter Weight Fighters: Wow, tough to get any more obvious than this. Still, I'd be remiss in my journalistic duties if I didn't mention the easily apparent and obvious first off. If you are a 145 or 135 lb fighter—or you represent one, or manage one, train one or sponsor one—you had a very good day Thursday.
This merger means the lighter guys, long known for being the most exciting fighters in the sport, will finally earn the pay and respect equal to their talent. With UFC money and prestige now available for feather and bantam weight competitors, look for Joe Silva and Co. to build impressive stables in either division and for the top athletes in either division to finally earn the big bucks and PPV headlining spots they've deserved for some time.
Jose Aldo: Speaking of top fighters at lighter weight classes, the top of the top is soft-spoken Brazilian Jose Aldo. For a long time now, the Nova Uniao product has been one of the most exciting fighters in the sport, a deadly, well-rounded killer and a staple of the P4P Top Five. All he's lacked is the recognition of the TapouT wearing, Bud Light drinking, Spike TV watching "casual" MMA fanbase. All of that is about to change.
The UFC brass has chosen Aldo to be their leadoff guy for the new merger, slotting him into their New Years Day PPV against Josh Grispi in the co-main event of the evening. It's a clear recognition of Aldo's elite level status and the best possible way to kick off the era of the WEC/UFC merger. Aldo wins, Zuffa wins, fans win and plastic surgeons will experience the biggest uptick in business since Anderson Silva circa 2006.
The Ultimate Fighter: For months now, we've heard the complaints of fans regarding Spike TV's reality juggernaut. It's overdone, jumped the shark, mega-saturated, growing stale and ran its course. In short, the concept seems to have pretty much run out of gas.
Failing another season of Kimbo Slice, the best way to reinvigorate the TUF franchise is to bring in the WEC's hell-bent-for-leather lighter guys.
Picture this: Uriah Faber and Miguel Torres as coaches of a 135 and 145 lb season featuring the stars of those two WEC divisions in a "comeback" type situation. Great way to introduce these guys to the casual audience, have some tremendous scraps and build to a Faber-Torres bout that would be the first 135 lb superfight of the new era. Thank me later, Dana.
The "Just Bleed" Guy: Been a little bored with the UFC lately?
Did the epic Mir/Cro Cop match turn out to be not too epic after all? Are you still having nightmares about Lentz/Winner? Angry that Rashad Evans/Frankie Edgar/GSP beat your favourite fighter by refusing to stand there with his chin out winging punches—like a man, damnit!
If you answered yes to any of those questions, this merger was a big day for you. It means less point-sparring sessions, collegiate wrestling matches and heavyweight hyperventilating sessions. It means more exciting, balls-to-the-wall scraps to satisfy your violent appetite. Stand and bang, stand and bang! Just Bleed! INTO PIECES!
Joe Martinez: Joe who?
Let's flash back a bit, shall we? To the old school WEC days, the "glory days" so to speak. Uriah Faber is the unstoppable champion, Frank Mir leads the Miguel Torres fan club, Jens Pulver is ranked top 5 in the world...and Joe Martinez is the announcer.
It's a job he no longer holds, mainly because he's not "the veteran voice of the Octagon". His firing actually preceded the merger by a few months and gave fans a clue as to what Zuffa's plans were. It's a shame, because Martinez was a fine announcer, and a nice change of pace from the ol' Buffer. I know no announcer can belt out "The California Kid!" with as much energy or gusto as Martinez did. I hope he lands on his feet in Bellator, Strikeforce or the like.
Chandella Powell: How does Chandella Powell lose in this deal, exactly? Because WEC ring girl Britney Palmer has been confirmed as added to the booty shorts wearing, number carrying roster of UFC ring girls. And judging from past turnover rates among the Octagon girls, Chandella should be worrying what this move means for her job security.
Now don't get me wrong, I'm not one of those Chandella hatin' fans by any stretch. Personally, I think she gets wayyyy more guff than she deserves. She's hotter than 95 percent of girls most fans have bagged in their time I'm sure. Comparisons to a horse, Din Thomas or Detective Murtaugh are insulting and uncalled for.
Still, there's no denying she's the least popular of the UFC ring girls, and with another fit body with a winning smile and, uh, "enhanced" chest appeal, it's not crazy to wonder if Chandella could be the next ring girl to be looking at unemployment.
The WEC Lightweight Champ: We won't know, until Ben Henderson and Anthony Pettis throw down on December 16, who this champion will be, but whoever it is, they're in for a nasty surprise. And by that, I mean their being fed into a meat grinder like a blind, 'roided chicken on a factory farm. Think England on the first day of the Somme. Think Pickett's Charge at the Battle of Gettysburg. Think Shamrock—Ortiz 1...or 2...or 3.
That's cause Dana White has promised a title shot to the winner of this fight. A UFC title shot. That means that one of these guys—neither of whom will likely be ranked top 10 in the world, even with a win—is getting thrown in with the No. 1 lightweight fighter in the world.
Now don't get me wrong, Henderson and Pettis are fine fighters, exciting prospects with loads of potential. But against Egdar or Maynard, they're lambs being led to a slaughter. I get why this fight makes sense from a business standpoint, and it'll add some much needed pizzazz to the lightweight title picture. But I just can't imagine a scenario where the WEC champ doesn't fall off a cliff hard in his major league debut and make himself and his (former) organization look bad in the process.
Japanese MMA: When you combine the fact that the payscale and exposure level for smaller fighters stateside just went way up with the fact that both DREAM and Sengoku are reported to be in financial straits, the result is a possible death knell to Japanese MMA, the traditional home of the lighter weight fighter.
Now I'm not standing here with my "the end is nigh" sign trying to convince you the sky is about to fall on all of Japanese MMA. There's way more factors to consider there than just this recent merger. What's certain, however, is this will mean Japanese promotions are going to have to work way harder to hold onto their lighter weight stars.
With DREAM reportedly not paying their fighters and Sengoku perpetually on the verge of folding, look for the flush with capital Zuffa to make serious grabs at stars like Michihiro Omigawa, Bibiano Fernandes and Masakatsu Ueda. If they can succeed in stealing these stars away from the land of the rising sun, there may be nothing left for Japanese MMA except Minowaman freak show matches—not necessarily a bad thing, but not exactly what long term success is built on.
By Elton Hobson