UFC and WEC will merge in 2011
The world of MMA just got bigger – and smaller. UFC boss Dana White’s “big announcement” on Thursday was that the UFC will merge (i.e., absorb, swallow, consume) with its little brother, the WEC. The shuttering of the WEC will be finalized by the end of this year, with WEC 52 on November 11 and WEC 53 on December 16 the final cards for the promotion.
That means we can expect a showdown between the UFC and WEC lightweight champs, although White didn’t provide a timeline for when that clash might occur. WEC champ Ben Henderson and challenger Anthony Pettis will square off at WEC 53 while UFC belt holder Frankie Edgar faces Gray Maynard at UFC 125 on January 1. The winners of those bouts will meet in a title unification bout.
Meanwhile, the winner of WEC 53’s Dominick Cruz vs. Scott Jorgensen fight will crown the first UFC bantamweight champion and WEC featherweight champ Jose Aldo, who recently refused to move up to 155 to face the UFC’s Kenny Florian, will now be recognized as the UFC featherweight champion and will make his first title defense at UFC 125, which fills a gaping hole in a card that recently lost a heavyweight contender showdown between Shane Carwin and Roy Nelson. Aldo will likely face Canuck Mark Hominick or Josh Grispi.
The merger will also affect The Ultimate Fighter, which will see seasons devoted to the new weight classes, as well.
Of course, the merger has long been rumoured. The WEC started downsizing following a September 2008 announcement that it would no longer support light heavyweight (205-pound), middleweight (185-pound) and welterweight (170-pound) divisions, and instead shift focus on lighter – and often times more dynamic and exiting – weight classes.
The decision makes sense – outside of hardcore MMA fans, the WEC looks like a second-tier show, even though the promotion has delivered some of the most-exciting fights of the last couple of years. Now, the addition of lighter divisions will add a sense of dynamism to UFC cards and make the promotion that much deeper. It will also allow them to bolster cards that more often than not seem to run a bit thin after the top two or three bouts on the main card – particularly when injuries force fights to be scrapped at the last minute – and will add a couple of more belts (bantamweight and featherweight; eventually flyweight) to be contended for.
That’s good news given the number of cards the UFC is scheduling these days, especially in light of a new deal with Versus, the TV network that carried the WEC, to air four UFC events in 2011. (Although I have a hard time believing that the UFC will ever be broadcast into “a billion homes,” as White has promised, and even if it is, there will never be a billion viewers.)
On the downside, the UFC will have to work extra hard to promote the WEC fighters to the UFC fanbase who don’t follow anybody beyond the Brocks, GSPs, Rampages, Silvas and Machidas.
And perhaps most importantly: will WEC commentators Todd Harris and Stephan Bonnar be incorporated into the UFC tandem of Mike Goldberg and Joe Rogan, and will WEC ring card girl Brittany Palmer become the third octagon girl?