Jose Aldo and the other WEC superstars are taking their act to the UFC. (photo courtesy of Karl Gehring/The Denver Post)
There have been rare instances in American sporting history where visionaries successfully started a rival operation to the established brand.
Mark down Thursday, Oct. 28, 2010 as one of those days.
World Extreme Cagefighting (WEC) finally achieved what had become inevitable when its parent company, Zuffa, announced Thursday that it was merging it into the UFC.
The WEC will hold its 52nd and 53rd shows, respectively, on Nov. 11 and Dec. 16. By the time the last fight of WEC 53 finishes, either reigning belt-holder Ben Henderson or Anthony Pettis will become the erstwhile promotion’s lightweight champion emeritus, at the same time earning a direct shot at the winner of the UFC lightweight title fight between champion Frankie Edgar and Gray Maynard. Edgar and Maynard headline UFC 125 on New Year’s Day.
Featherweight champion Jose Aldo instantly became UFC champion upon the announcement, as he did not have fights immediately scheduled. That quickly put to rest recent speculation about why Aldo might have turned down a UFC lightweight fight with the highly ranked Kenny Florian.
“As the UFC continues to evolve and grow globally, we want to be able to give fans title fights in every weight division,” said UFC president Dana White. “This is a big day for the sport and the athletes who will have the opportunity to fight on the biggest stage in the world.”
Bantamweight champ Dominick Cruz will put the “forever” WEC title on the line Dec. 16 against Scott Jorgensen. Since there is no existing bantamweight division, the winner will, like Aldo, gain immediate recognition as the UFC champion.
The WEC has featured the lightweight (155 pounds), featherweight (145) and bantamweight (135) divisions, with the champions in the latter two normally considered for the top spot in the world in his class. Higher weight classes were dissolved in recent years, with some fighters, most notably Chael Sonnen, rolling into the UFC.
The television home of the WEC has been Versus, and the UFC laid the groundwork for the merge by running two of its own shows on the network in 2010. That number will double in 2011, and apparently has no bearing on the UFC’s popular Fight Night broadcasts on Spike TV, which also carries the popular reality series The Ultimate Fighter.
“We have a great relationship with the Versus network, and we look forward to working with them to give UFC fans even more free fights in 2011,” White said.
The WEC was a regional promotion in California whose production value made it attractive enough for the UFC’s parent company to purchase. Unlike PRIDE, which Zuffa bought and then shut down, it mainly left alone the WEC, which flourished with the association.
Throughout the history of the four major American sports, it has been rare for the upstart to gain entry into the top ranks, although it has happened in each.
In baseball, the National League is called the Senior Circuit because it existed before the American League. The joint effort of the World Series at the beginning of the 20th century was not without incident, as the NL champion New York (now San Francisco) Giants refused to play the AL kings, the Boston Americans (now Red Sox) in 1904. By the next year, the current framework of the World Series format was established.
In football, the popular battle between the NFL and the upstart AFL ended with a merger in the late 1960s. The remnants of the AFL, for the most part, remain established as the American Football Conference (AFC). The NFL has had other mergers, including the All-America Football Conference (AAFC) in the late 1940s.
More recently, the NFL fought off a challenge from the United States Football League in the mid-1980s.
In basketball, the National Basketball Association (NBA) could not hold off the American Basketball Association (ABA), which sent the Denver Nuggets, Indiana Pacers, New York (now New Jersey) Nets and San Antonio Spurs to the legacy league in 1976.
Hockey saw a similar happening in 1979, as the World Hockey Association (WHA) sent the Quebec Nordiques (now Colorado Avalanche), New England Whalers, Winnipeg Jets and Wayne Gretzky’s Edmonton Oilers to the NHL.
On Thursday, the WEC joined an elite club.