UFC/WEC Merger: An Ultimate Display of Patience, Perfect Timing
Rarely in today's sports scene do things make sense: the talk of expanding the baseball playoffs, the media's obsession with Brett Favre and the whole sport of golf being prime examples.
But Thursday's announcement that Zuffa will merge the WEC into the UFC makes sense for all the right financial and competitive reasons while also being a win-win for fans.
(Yes, major sports commissioners/owners/unions, it's possible to do all three at the same time.)
It's All In the Name
While the WEC brand had a certain cache for MMA fans, the UFC mainstream viewer never did fully migrate over and adopt the organization like they did with the big boys.
It goes back to what long-time wrestling personality and budding MMA businessperson Paul Heyman told reporter Ariel Helwani earlier this year: "MMA isn't cool. The UFC is cool." As much as we'd like to think other organizations matter, they simply don't in the public eye.
Look no further than the April 2010 pay-per-view (PPV) featuring Jose Aldo vs. Urijah Faber, the biggest fight in the WEC's history. In the advertising, nary a mention of the WEC was made and the production value made it clear that it was a UFC joint.
This also eliminates the question of when guys were going to get "called up" to the UFC, most notably in the lightweight division. At what point would WEC lightweight champion Ben Henderson earn the right to fight a guy like UFC lightweight champion Frankie Edgar? If so, wouldn't that hurt the WEC by losing one of its most affable stars?
Those questions exist no longer. The best in the WEC will now have their chance to be the best in the UFC, period.
More Events, More Quality
One of the biggest complaints from fans and media is the lack of quality on some of the UFC cards. Many groaned about the UFC 119 event from Indianapolis and are equally as disenchanted with the upcoming UFC 122 event in Germany.
While UFC president Dana White is usually quick to dismiss the critics, many of them are UFC consumers that are justified in voicing their opinions. It just comes with the territory of running a business that needs fan interest to survive.
You rarely, if ever, heard fans taking umbrage with a WEC event, often applauding the organization for putting on exciting fights they wish they could see more of. Absorbing these talents under the UFC banner gives White and matchmaker Joe Silva more to work with in assembling strong 11-fight cards with fighters that deserve to be there.
And yes, it would be naive to think this absorption of talent is the end-all answer to the issue of bland events but it's at least an awesome start.
Hopefully, this will also signal an era when the truly best are in the UFC, not just those who are there to fill spots. There will definitely be some cuts from the bottom ends of the rosters, but that's a good thing. The UFC should represent the top echelon of the sport and those competing there should be the best possible collection of MMA talent available.
I'd love to see them adopt a certain roster limit like other sports that would help further ensure this, but that's an argument for another day.
A Fighter's Paradise
Because the WEC was run on smaller budgets to smaller crowds, the fighter pay and bonuses were also quite paltry compared to their brothers in the UFC. That seemed to be a sticking point with the fighters and a major reason why so many were excited about the aforementioned WEC PPV.
But now these talents will be treated like any other UFC fighter: eligible for the same life-altering bonuses and pay scales they've rightfully earned to make. For fighters like Aldo especially, this is perfect timing as he comes into his own as one of the best in the world.
The exposure will obviously be that much better as well. With these talents now populating UFC cards, they'll be seen and recognized by those who only knew of the WEC by name. Guys like Urijah Faber, Scott Jorgensen, Ben Henderson, Donald Cerrone and Miguel Torres will be seen as 'UFC guys' and treated as such.
I do feel slightly bad for Faber as he would have made a ton more money had this move happened three years ago. While still a good fighter, that run as featherweight champion would have made some mucho bucks headlining or co-main eventing some UFC shows. However, his personality and what he's got left in the tank will carry him to some good paydays the rest of his career.
The Captains of the Ship Remain Strong
The UFC brass could have made this call years ago when they first purchased the WEC, but they waited. They were patient and let the organization run its course, develop its own stars and be known for putting on tremendous events with weight classes you couldn't see in the UFC.
There is always a reason for their decisions and why questions like "When is Aldo going to get his shot?" and "What about Henderson vs. Edgar?" were artfully dodged. For the better of the sport, these guys know what they are doing even if some of their decisions aren't treated with such reverence.
It's tough to find a negative comment about this merger and that's quite incredible.
It Just Made Too Much Sense
The bottom line is that looking back on everything, this simply made too much sense to hold off any longer. There was no good way to explain why two organizations owned by the same company had the same weight class, why one of the world's best wasn't getting the best possible competition and why they were afraid to use 'WEC' in promoting the group's only foray into PPV.
Even in a sports universe that increasingly becomes more head-scratching by the day, the merger of the UFC and WEC brands is simply a perfect move that's time has come.
Josh Nason is a New England-based freelance MMA journalist that covers live events, has written for FIGHT! Magazine and frequently does radio/podcast appearances. Follow him on Twitter, will ya?