Faber, Cruz and the 25 Best Fighters in WEC History

Dwight Wakabayashi@WakafightermmaCorrespondent IIMarch 22, 2012

Faber, Cruz and the 25 Best Fighters in WEC History

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    In its infancy from 2001 to 2006, The World Extreme Cagefighting promotion was a great minor league development tool. They showcased budding fighters and fading veterans from all the different weight classes of mixed martial arts.

    By the time it was purchased by UFC parent-company Zuffa LLC in 2006, it had become the shark-tank for the best fighters in the world at 155 pounds and under. Some of the best light fighters in the world headlined the shows and thrilled fans across the globe before the entire promotion was dissolved into the UFC in 2010.

    Many of the best fighters in WEC history are now competing as top dogs in the UFC, proving the legitimacy and relevance of the promotion's many talented performers.

    Who were the best fighters in that promotion's history? Considering number and relevance of fights, impact on the promotion and wins and titles, here are 25 of the best fighters in WEC history.

    All records and stats for this article are from WEC fights only.

25. Steve Cantwell

1 of 25

    WEC Record: 3-1

    Won Light Heavyweight Title 

    Say what you will about Steve Cantwell being a bit of a tomato can in the UFC, but he did make a small mark on the WEC. Cantwell had a two-bout feud with Brian Stann that generated one of the few "big men" rivalries in the promotion.

    He lost his first bout to Stann but gained revenge as he beat him via TKO to win the WEC Light Heavyweight title. That puts him on this list.

    Notable Wins: Brian Stann

    Notable Losses: Brian Stann

24. Rob McCullough

2 of 25

    WEC Record: 7-4

    3 Title Fights

    Won and Defended Lightweight Title

    World Muay Thai champion Rob McCullough burst on to the WEC scene in 2006 with three knockout wins in a row. It is his exciting, striking style and the fact that he won and defended a title that lands him on this list.

    His overall WEC record was not dominant, but McCullough was one of only a few champions who actually defended his title successfully. He also put it on the line against the best of the best in Varner and Cerrone. 

    Notable Wins: Ryan Healy, Kit Cope, Marcus Hicks

    Notable Losses: Jamie Varner, Donald Cerrone

23. Rani Yahya

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    WEC Record: 5-5

    1 Title Fight

    3-Submission of The Night

    Rani Yahya had ten fights in the WEC between 2007 and 2010, and gained respect by taking on some of the best fighters in the promotion. He fought for the bantamweight title in only his second fight in the promotion and lost to Chase Beebe.

    He then followed up with three first round "Submission of the Night" wins in a row before losing to Joseph Benavidez via TKO. Yahya's losses are deceiving, as they came in big fights against the best of the best in the world.

    Notable Wins: Mark Hominick, Eddie Wineland, Mike Brown

    Notable Losses: Chase Beebe, "Kid" Yamamoto, Joseph Benavidez, Chad Mendes

22. Paulo Filho

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    WEC Record: 2-1

    2 Title Fights (3rd title fight switched to non-title fight as Filho failed to make weight)

    Won and Defended Middleweight Title

    Like many of the world's top fighters over 170 pounds, Filho's time in the WEC was very brief but memorable and that's why he makes this list. The enigmatic fighter came in as a big dog from the Pride organization and defeated Joe Doerkson to win the vacant middleweight title in his first fight.

    He then defended it successfully against Chael Sonnen with a controversial submission arm bar. Sonnen did not tap out, but the ref stopped the bout due to Sonnen yelling in pain. The rematch was also supposed to be for the title, but Filho failed to make weight and clearly had some issues in his life at the time. Sonnen defeated Filho via decision.

    Notable Wins: Joe Doerkson, Chael Sonnen

    Notable Losses: Chael Sonnen

21. Antonio Banuelos

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    WEC Record: 8-5

    Antonio Banuelos has the most fights in WEC history and makes this list based on his long and loyal service rather than titles or impact.

    Unlike many others on this list who fought four or five prominent fights on their way to bigger things, Banuelos was a staple on WEC fight cards from 2002 to the end in 2010.

    Sometimes, longevity and loyal service gets you the recognition you deserve.

    Notable Wins: Cole Escovedo, Scott Jorgensen

    Notable Losses: Eddie Wineland, Manny Tapia, Scott Jorgensen

20. Gilbert Melendez

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    WEC Record: 3-0

    Won Lightweight Title

    Gilbert Melendez's time in the WEC was brief and that's why he is not higher on this list. He went undefeated at 3-0 and won the lightweight title, but he didn't stick around to defend it.

    Melendez defeated Olaf Alfonso in a title fight in his WEC debut and there is no doubt he would be higher up if he had stuck around and gone on a run.

    Notable Wins: Olaf Alfonso

19. Gabe Ruediger

7 of 25

    WEC Record: 5-2

    4 Title Fights

    Won Lightweight Title and Defended twice

    It may come as a surprise to many, as the level of competition was suspect, but Gabe Ruediger was a WEC Lightweight champion in his career. Not only did Ruediger win the title, but he defended it successfully twice.

    Four title fights in an organization is impressive for anyone and Ruediger deserves to be on this list despite his 0-3 record in the UFC.

    Notable Wins: Olaf Alfonso, Jason Maxwell,

    Notable Losses: Hermes Franca

18. Cole Escovedo

8 of 25

    WEC Record: 6-2

    3 Title Fights

    Won and Defended Featherweight Title

    Cole Escovedo's time in the WEC spanned from 2001 to 2006 and his complete WEC body of work is what lands him on this list. In WEC terms, he had a lot of fights, prominent matchups and held and defended a title in his time in the promotion. He was one of the main attractions on many early cards.

    He was also the very first featherweight champion in the promotion's history and if you take a close look at his losses, they came at the hands of two of the best to ever step in the WEC cage.

    Notable Wins: Philip Perez, Anthony Hamlet,

    Notable Losses: Urijah Faber, Antonio Banuelos

17. Chael Sonnen

9 of 25

    WEC Record: 3-1

    2 Title Fights 

    Chael Sonnen's record in the WEC should be better than it reads on paper. He was 3-1 overall but the one loss to Filho was a controversial one and many have him at 4-0 in his time in the promotion.

    In addition to that original loss, when Sonnen defeated Filho in the return match he was not awarded the title because Filho failed to make proper weight. In my world, Sonnen was undefeated in the WEC and won the middleweight title, and that earns him a place on this list.

    Notable Wins: Bryan Baker, Paulo Filho

    Notable Losses: Paulo Filho

16. Anthony Pettis

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    WEC Record: 5-1

    1 Title Fight

    Won Lightweight Title

    1 Fight Of The Night, 1 Sub Of The Night, 1 KO of The Night

    Anthony Pettis was a highlight-filled wrecking machine in the WEC with a nice combo of slick submission and knockout wins. His title fight win over Benson Henderson provided fans with a highlight kick off the cage unlike any ever seen before.

    Pettis rose to a title shot in just over a year in the promotion, and the young fighter capitalized by winning the title in fine fashion. He has lightning fast kicks and solid hands, and if you want to wrestle and put him on his back you better be ready to defend submissions all night.

    Notable Wins: Danny Castillo, Shane Roller, Benson Henderson

    Notable Losses: Bart Palaszewski

15. Brian Stann

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    WEC Record: 5-1

    2 Title Fights

    Won Light Heavyweight Title

    Brian Stann's time in the WEC is most remembered by his two-fight battle with Steve Cantwell that put the spotlight on the light heavyweights for one of the few times in the promotion's history. Stann and Cantwell gave the division some legitimacy in its final leg and that is what puts him high on this list.

    He was a title holder, but he was unable to beat Cantwell to defend it. A win in his last WEC fight would have made him the last standing light heavyweight champion. 

    Notable Wins: Steve Cantwell, Doug Marshall

    Notable Losses: Steve Cantwell

14. Leonard Garcia

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    WEC Record: 5-3-1

    1 Title Fight

    2 Fight Of The Night, 1 KO of The Night

    As usual with Leonard Garcia, the total sum of his career and the style in which he fights in the cage puts him higher on this list than his record might suggest. Garcia has to be considered one of the most entertaining fighters in the game, come hell-or-high-water.

    The late, great boxer Arturo Gatti was the same in that fans fell in love with the reckless abandon of his game and heart and that became the hallmark over simple wins and losses.

    When Garcia is in a fight, you don't look away from the screen.

    He did fight for the lightweight title in his time in the WEC but lost to Mike Brown.

    Notable Wins: Jens Pulver, Chan Sung Jung

    Notable Losses: Manny Gamburyan, Mike Brown, Mark Hominick

13. Scott Smith

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    WEC Record: 3-0

    2 Title Fights

    Won and Defended Light Heavyweight Title

    Scott Smith went undefeated in his time in the WEC and won and defended the Light Heavyweight title. Smith was another one of these fighters whose main goal was to put on a show for the fans and he was very successful doing it.

    Smith comes out guns blazing in his fights and he got himself a WEC title doing it. He also defended the title successfully before moving on to the bigger shows in his career

    Notable Wins: Tim McKenzie, Justin Levens

12. Shonie Carter

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    WEC Record: 5-4

    3 Title Fights

    Won Welterweight Title

    Shonie Carter fought in the WEC at different times throughout his career and before the promotion became known to many mainstream fight fans. Carter entertained through his flashy style and unorthodox approach, and his longevity is what lands him on this list.

    Carter had three title fights in the WEC and won the vacant welterweight title back in 2003. He was one of the original characters in this sport and should be recognized for it.

    Notable Wins: JT Taylor, Jess Liaudin

    Notable Losses: Karo Parisyan, Jorge Oliveira, Mike Pyle

11. Jamie Varner

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    WEC Record: 4-3-1

    4 Title Fights

    Won Lightweight Title and Defended it twice

    2 Fight Of The Night

    When you think of the best fighters and the best feuds in WEC history, Jamie Varner and his time in the mix with Benson Henderson and Donald Cerrone should be front and center.

    Varner was the lightweight king when the two young lions were climbing the ranks and when they all eventually fought it out amongst each other it provided the best fights in the WEC.

    Varner is one of the few title holders to defend the belt twice and his strong all around game was tough for all comers to handle. 

    Notable Wins: Rob McCullough, Marcus Hicks, Donald Cerrone

    Notable Losses: Benson Henderson, Donald Cerrone, Shane Roller

10. Carlos Condit

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    WEC Record: 5-0

    1 Title Fight

    Won Welterweight Title and defended it 3 times

    1 Fight Of The Night

    During his time in the WEC, Carlos Condit dominated his competition and was considered by many to be the best fighter outside of the UFC.

    Condit went undefeated in his time there with four fights out of five being for the WEC title. He won the title from veteran John Alessio and three fights later he left the organization still holding the belt. Condit is well known in the fight world now as the interim UFC welterweight champion.

    Condit brings an unpredictable striking style and straight ahead attitude every time he steps in the cage.

    Notable Wins: John Alessio, Carlo Prater, Brock Larson

9. Joseph Benavidez

17 of 25

    WEC Record: 5-2

    1 Title Fight

    1 Fight Of The Night, 1 Sub Of The Night

    Joseph Benavidez was a dominant fighter in his WEC career, only losing to one man in the promotion—Dominick Cruz. His well-rounded, cerebral approach in the cage helped him separate himself from the likes of Rani Yahya and Miguel Torres.

    The alpha male fighter poses problems for anyone with his southpaw stance and he uses all he has in the tool box with confidence each time he goes out. The fact that he only competed against the best and only lost to Cruz places him high on this list.

    Notable Wins: Jeff Curran, Rani Yahya, Miguel Torres

    Notable Losses: Dominick Cruz (2x)

8. Brian Bowles

18 of 25

    WEC Record: 5-1

    2 Title Fights

    Won Bantamweight Title

    2 Sub Of The Night, 1 KO of The Night

    Brian Bowles is as low key as they come in the game and not a huge star, but if you followed the WEC in its existence, you know that he can kick some ass.

    Bowles' game is built on power and he used it well to defeat all except one in his WEC career. Bowles won the bantamweight title with a beautiful knockout of Miguel Torres who seemed to be unstoppable at the time. Unfortunately for Bowles, he was unable to defend it when he came up against Dominick Cruz.

    Two "Submission of The Night" wins and a "Knockout of The Night" in his six total fights in the WEC says not only will Bowles beat you, but he will beat you in style.

    Notable Wins: Damacio Page, Will Ribeiro, Miguel Torres

    Notable Losses: Dominick Cruz

7. Donald Cerrone

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    WEC Record: 6-3, 1 NC

    3 Title Fights

    5 Fight Of The Night

    When many people think of the WEC, they think of "The Cowboy" Donald Cerrone. His trademark cowboy hat and flair, along with his relentless fighting style gained him instant star status in the WEC.

    The one void on Cerrone's resume is that he failed in every title fight he was in, but his five "Knockout of The Night" wins tell you all you need to know about why he is high on this list. Cerrone goes in to fight and put on a show every time he steps in the cage and even his title losses are deceiving.

    He avenged his controversial loss to Jamie Varner and gave Benson Henderson all he could handle in their two meetings.  

    Notable Wins: Danny Castillo, Rob McCullough, Jamie Varner, Chris Horodecki

    Notable Losses: Benson Henderson (2x), Jamie Varner

6. Mike Brown

20 of 25

    WEC Record: 6-2

    4 Title Fights

    Won Featherweight Title and defended it twice

    1 Fight Of The Night, 1 Sub Of The Night, 1 KO of The Night

    Mike Brown fought and defeated the best of the best in the WEC between 2008 and 2010. His real claim to fame are two title wins over Urijah Faber to win and defend his Featherweight crown. Brown was so tough and strong, he bounced Faber right out of his division.

    Brown is like a rock in his frame and packs power in his right hand, but he can also take you out via submission as well. Brown dominated the division until he met his match and lost the title to Jose Aldo.

    Notable Wins: Jeff Curran, Leonard Garcia, Urijah Faber (2x)

    Notable Losses: Jose Aldo, Manny Gamburyan

5. Miguel Torres

21 of 25

    WEC Record: 6-2

    5 Title Fights

    Won Bantamweight Title and Defended it three times

    2 Fight Of The Night, 1 Sub Of The Night

    At the height of his time in the WEC many placed Miguel Torres in the mix as the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world. His lanky range and aggressive style was a nightmare for his opponents to have to deal with. Torres was one of the best at mixing his strikes and keeping his opponent off balance.

    He defeated Chase Beebe for the title in only his second fight in the promotion and he went on to defend it three consecutive times. It is that impressive run that puts Torres with the best on this list. Torres proved that experience wasn't always king in defeating some of the best veterans in the game at a very young age.

    Notable Wins: Chase Beebe, Manny Tapia, Takeya Mizugaki

    Notable Losses: Brian Bowles, Joseph Benavidez

4. Dominick Cruz

22 of 25

    WEC Record: 7-1

    4 Title Fights

    Won Bantamweight Title and defended it twice

    1 Fight Of The Night

    Dominick Cruz is one of the most unorthodox and dominant fighters to ever compete in the WEC. He was thrown to the wolves in his very first fight in the promotion, with a title fight against Urijah Faber. Cruz lost that fight to Faber but it would stand as his only loss to date.

    Cruz has since avenged that loss to Faber although it was outside the WEC. Cruz has some of the most amazing footwork in the game and the constant movement is what makes him very hard to defeat. He is another fighter on this list who has defended his title multiple times and he deserves to be in the spot he is in in his career.

    Notable Wins: Ian McCall, Joseph Benavidez (2x), Brian Bowles, Scott Jorgensen

    Notable Losses: Urijah Faber

3. Benson Henderson

23 of 25

    WEC Record: 5-1

    4 Title Fights

    Won,  Unified and Defended Lightweight Title

    2 Fight Of The Night, 1 Sub Of The Night

    Benson Henderson was a part of some of the best fights in WEC history, that, along with his accomplished resume puts him at the top of this list. Henderson had two wars with Donald Cerrone to burst into the consciousness of MMA fans everywhere and beat Jamie Varner to unify the WEC title.

    Henderson lost to Anthony Pettis in a fight that featured "The Kick" but many felt he won despite being on the wrong end of Pettis' foot to end the match. He can fight forever with his endless cardio and he is extremely hard to handle and contain once the fight hits the grappling on the ground.

    Notable Wins: Donald Cerrone (2x), Shane Roller, Jamie Varner

    Notable Losses: Anthony Pettis

2. Jose Aldo

24 of 25

    WEC Record: 8-0

    3 Title Fights

    Won Featherweight Title and defended it twice

    3 KO of The Night

    Jose Aldo made his name in the WEC with an undefeated 8-0 record and some incredible knockout finishes. He is one of the few fighters on this list who had to climb his way up a bit before he got the title-shot fight.

    Aldo brings one of the most exciting striking styles to the cage and has some of the most vicious knees in the game. He was highly regarded as one of the best pound-for-pound in his time in WEC and still is today. 

    Aldo could easily be number one on this list.

    Notable Wins: Mike Brown, Urijah Faber, Manny Gamburyan

1. Urijah Faber

25 of 25

    WEC Record: 9-2

    9 Title Fights

    Won Featherweight Title and defended it six times

    1 Fight Of The Night, 3 Sub Of The Night

    Urijah Faber is the best and most accomplished fighter in WEC history. Impressive stats aside, the popularity of the promotion was built mostly on the back of Faber.

    Faber's elite all-around game and baby-face personality carried him through a dominant time in the WEC. He defended the title an amazing six times in a row and it was only when he came up against the bigger and stronger Mike Brown that Faber ran into trouble. Another title fight loss to Jose Aldo forced him down a weight where he remains today.

    Faber was the WEC's first and only real world superstar, and that along with his title reign makes him the best of all time.

    Notable Wins: Jeff Curran, Dominick Cruz, Jens Pulver (2x),

    Notable Losses: Mike Brown (2x), Jose Aldo

    Honorable Mention: John Alessio, Hermes Franca and Lavar Johnson

    Dwight Wakabayashi is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report MMA, MMA Editor at CKSN.ca and guest blogger for Sportsnet.ca

    Catch him on Facebook and Twitter at wakafightermma.