WEC from the Palace to the Palms: The Defining Moments in Its History

Justin FauxCorrespondent IMarch 23, 2017

 World Extreme Cagefighting was founded in 2001 for one solid purpose—to make money.

However, unlike other MMA organizations, their primary focus wasn’t to make money from ticket sales, DVD sales or pay-per-view revenue; their focus was to make money for the The Palace Indian Gaming Center in Lemoore, California.

Nine years on, WEC will be remembered as one of the most exciting MMA promotions of all time and in this piece, I will look at the defining moments in the organization's history.


Where it all began

WEC hosted their first event on June 30, 2001 entitled "Princes of Pain." The event was headlined by MMA pioneer, Dan Severn, defeating the veteran of over 100 professional bouts, Travis Fulton.

The fight would prove to be a stalemate, with Severn using his superior wrestling ability to collect a Unanimous Decision in a less-than-thrilling affair.


The return of a legend

In 2003, Scott Adams and Reid Harris made the announcement that Frank Shamrock would make his return to mixed martial arts action at WEC 6 against Bryan Pardoe to crown the first WEC Light-Heavyweight Champion.

Shamrock had competed all over the world for many years, defeating a who’s who of the MMA world at the time, before his retirement in 2000.

Having a legend of the sport return to action on a WEC event got all eyeballs looking in their direction, and since they did not have television syndication at this stage, fans were fighting to get inside the Tacichi Palace.

Although the fight wasn’t much, with Shamrock overwhelming the inexperienced Pardoe before collecting an armbar, this serves as one of the most important events in WEC history, because it was their first time of getting their name out there on a larger scale.


World War III between Olaf Alforno and John Polakowski

For their first venture onto television, WEC brought out their very best with names like Chris Leben, Mike Kyle, Shonie Carter, Joe Riggs, Mike Swick and Yves Edwards, but it was two men trapped in the middle of the card that stole the show.

When John Polaowski agreed to a bout with Olaf Alfonso on merely two hours notice, he had no idea what he just signed up for. These two men swung heavy leather for 15 minutes, resulting in large amounts of blood loss and broken noses.

This is widely considered by many to be when WEC developed their reputation as one of the most exciting MMA organizations in the world, who will entertain their fans and leave you screaming for more.

Polakowski and Alfonso would go on to fight twice more against one another but were never able to bring the magic like they did on that fateful January night.


Zuffa buys WEC

When WEC officials hosted their 24th event featuring a Lightweight Championship bout between Hermes Franca and Nate Diaz, and the final chapter of the John Polakowski-Olaf Alfonso trilogy, little did they know it would be their last event before being purchased by Zuffa LLC.

WEC 24 proved to be an appropriate way to sum up what WEC was—a range of weight classes with young, talented fighters trying to get noticed.

Two months later, in December of 2006, Zuffa officially purchased WEC. Almost immediately, changes were apparent.

WEC 25 found itself a new home in Las Vegas, as well as losing their heavyweight and super-heavyweight divisions, which would be a sign of things to come.


Mike Brown does the unthinkable

In November of 2008, Urijah Faber was considered to be the best featherweight fighter in the world after 13 straight victories over the likes of Jens Pulver, Bibiano Fernandes and Dominick Cruz.

Then he got paired up with Mike Thomas Brown. At the time, Brown had one victory in the WEC and was expected to be just another notch in the belt of “The California Kid.”

Minutes into their bout Brown caught Faber right on the chin as he spun around in an attempted spinning back fist; some hammer fists later and we had a new featherweight kingpin.


The epic rematch takes WEC mainstream

Urijah Faber recovered well from his first defeat in three years with a quick submission of rival Jens Pulver which gave him the opportunity to face Mike Brown who made quick work of Leonard Garcia.

WEC 41 was where it all came together, Zuffa heavily promoted the event, which turned out to be one of the most successful in WEC history.

13,027 fans packed the Arco Arena in Faber’s home town hoping to see their hero re-capture the gold.

Unfortunately for the fans in Sacramento, California Faber would break his right hand and later dislocate his left thumb during the bout and fall short to the American Top Team stand out after five rounds of action.


The last king falls at the hands of Brian Bowles

While Urijah Faber ruled over the featherweight division in the WEC, Miguel Torres had the same level of dominance over the bantamweight division.

Torres had suffered defeat once in his career and was widely considered to be the best at 135 pounds, following dominating victories over the likes of Takeya Mizugaki, Yoshiro Maeda and Chase Beebe.

At WEC 42, he got the challenge of an undefeated prospect, Brian Bowles, which many considered to be a fairly one-sided affair.

Bowles had only eight fights under his belt and had looked impressive, but with the high skill level of the Champion, coupled with his experience level, it was meant to be a long night for Bowles.

Torres felt out the rookie to begin with, looking intent to pick his shots and move in and out before Bowles tagged him with an overhand right that woke him up.

Minutes later, Torres charged towards Bowles with a flurry of strikes, looking to put him away in exciting fashion, but Bowles caught him with a right while on the defensive, followed by some hammer fists to a downed Torres to shock the world.

This would prove to be the final changing of the guard in WEC; it gave the organization the feeling that anything could happen and nobody was untouchable.


Henderson and Cerrone put on one for the ages

When we look back on the best fights in the WEC’s history, you can’t go past the first encounter between Ben Henderson and Donald Cerrone for the interim WEC Lightweight Championship.

Jamie Varner was the current ruler of WEC’s lightweight division, but was on the shelf with an injury so an interim title was put in place for these two dogs to fight over.

Henderson and Cerrone put on a fight-of-the-year winning performance, with Henderson showing an inspiring display of grit and determination, while escaping several deep submission attempts and countless exciting striking exchanges.


WEC goes to pay-per-view

WEC 48 was one of the last, but surely one of the biggest events in the promotion’s history. This was their first endeavour into the land of pay-per-view following years of exciting bouts on the Versus network.

The event was headlined by WEC poster boy Urijah Faber facing WEC Featherweight Champion Jose Aldo and Donald Cerrone rematching Ben Henderson for the WEC Lightweight Championship.

Although there were no WEC logos to be seen during the broadcast due to intricacies of the organization's television deal with Versus, and Joe Rogan and Mike Goldberg were on the announce team, it was still a WEC show.

WEC 48 will go down in history as one of the most entertaining fight cards, not only in the promotion’s history, but of all time.


The Swan Song

WEC 53 would be it, the final chapter in the promotion’s history and they had one great way to go out.

WEC delivered with what Sherdog.com called the Event of The Year 2010, with exciting performances from some of the biggest names in the promotion, including Donald Cerrone, Dominick Cruz and Scott Jorgensen.

But the main event is what everybody was left talking about: a Lightweight Championship bout between current title holder Ben Henderson and Anthony Pettis.

Henderson and Pettis put on what many consider to be the fight of the year in 2010, with 25 minutes of exciting action which was topped off by “Showtime” Pettis living up to his name.

With under a minute left on the clock in the final round and two rounds apiece on the judges score cards, Pettis leapt into the side of the cage, springboarding off and kicking Henderson in the face.

Throughout the organization’s history, the WEC was known for having outstanding fights and featuring new and emerging talent. Therefore, it only seems fitting that this was the way that the promotion would come to a close.


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