An ongoing debate among MMA fans in the last couple of weeks has been the idea that the WEC should be absorbed into the UFC as a means to give the WEC's best more exposure, more money, and a way for the UFC to fully leverage the excitement level of the WEC's stable of talent while also boosting their own brand. It has been a discussion that has went on for the last year, but it has been more recently intensified with the dropping of the Versus from DirecTV along with the comments from the WEC regarding a potential pay-per-view model in 2010.
While in the middle of heated discussions regarding the issue, the WEC further pressed the point that their stars need a larger platform as WEC 43 took place at the AT&T Center in San Antonio, Texas. The main event was easily one of the best fights within the WEC this year as Ben "Smooth" Henderson narrowly defeated Donald "Cowboy" Cerrone for the WEC's Interim Lightweight title in a five round war that saw Henderson incredibly escape "deep" submission holds while also pummeling his opponent with devastating ground and pound. It was a truly epic war of back and forth action on the ground that had any fan watching the event leaving with a smile.
The fight's decision had a bit of controversy surrounding it. Jordan Breen scored it in favor of Cerrone, 48-46, while our own Mike Fagan scored the bout 48-47 in favor of Henderson. I personally scored the bout 48-47 in favor of Donald Cerrone, but this fight could have easily went 48-47 in favor of either fighter. It was that close, and FightMetric only further solidified how close this fight was by coming up with an outcome of a draw. The FightMetric scoring actually calculated the bout a dead even draw, a rarity in any five round championship battle.
Regardless of how you may have scored this bout, the battle between Henderson and Cerrone has brought some excitement to the WEC lightweight division that wasn't necessarily there following the Varner-Cerrone title bout. While the lightweights are one of the more exciting divisions within the UFC, the WEC has both the Bantamweight and Featherweight divisions underneath the Lightweights to produce explosive action. It was definitely nice to see the Lightweights add to the global aura of excitement within the promotion.
What can we take away from this bout? Henderson's huge strengths are obviously his conditioning and wrestling ability. He has some power in his hands, but I think the portrayal of his conditioning from the commentary team was a bit over-the-top. While he didn't visibly look deterred by his gas tank late, his actions were fairly lethargic in the late rounds. Submission defense should probably be one of his priorities in the future, but I'm sure striking will ultimately be what he'll focus on for a showdown with Jamie Varner.
Cerrone's stand-up was atrocious in this fight, and he never seemed to get into any sort of rhythm that allowed him to land his heavy leg kicks and use his length to keep Henderson at bay. His takedown defense was nearly non-existent as he focused more on striking than actually burying his weight on top of Henderson when he shot in for the takedown. He'll need to work on the takedown defense instead of relying on his jiu-jitsu transitions to win him bouts in the future, although he had a few submissions that should have been finished. It's beyond me how Henderson didn't tap out.
In other action, Rich Crunkilton was defeated soundly by Dave Jansen in what came down to a striking vs. wrestling bout that saw both men gas incredibly in the third round. I'll be the first to admit when I'm wrong, and Jansen definitely displayed a better wrestling base for MMA as the fight went on. Crunkilton displayed his classic Greco-Roman tosses early, but it was evident that Crunkilton's takedown defense was lackluster in defending Jansen's takedowns. Crunkilton's striking was amazingly effective, despite being slow and loopy, but it wasn't enough to finish off Jansen. Jansen simply took down Crunkilton at every opportunity and punished him.
Crunkilton has a huge conditioning problem, and his takedown defense is definitely lacking for such an accomplished wrestler. While he had success in the striking department, I'm a bit surprised at how battered Jansen was on the feet. While he is by no means incredible in the stand-up game, his defense was ineffective and just plain bad. Jansen also needs some work in the conditioning department, but he'll need to work on his stand-up game immensely if he wants to be anything for fans to be drawn toward.
The most surprising bout of the evening featured potential featherweight contender in Wagnney Fabiano against WEC newcomer Mackens Semerzier. Instead of the squash match that everyone had anticipated, the Miguel Torres-trained Semerzier caught Fabiano early in a triangle choke, held onto it through Fabiano's various attempts to escape, and wow'd the crowd with an upset submission victory over the Nova Uniao Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt.
Fabiano's loss might actually give the WEC a deep sigh of relief as it was evident with the "easy" match-ups that they were hoping Wagnney would pull off some impressive finishes to help sell him as the next contender. Unfortunately, one of the WEC newcomers actually pulled off this upset and released Wagnney from the Yushin Okami treatment as a WEC undercard fighter who isn't exciting enough to be put on the main card or into contention. Fabiano will need to comeback with impressive performances to get back into the hunt, but if Jose Aldo defeats Mike Brown and takes the title; Fabiano may switch weight classes to avoid a camp conflict at the top of the division.
Rafael Assuncao showed solid striking and good ground ability in his win over Yves Jabouin, but Jabouin was probably more of the surprise between the two fighters. He was able to give Assuncao a run for his money in the striking department, but Assuncao was easily the better fighter on the ground. Assuncao will likely move into a potential battle with Urijah Faber while Jabouin could garner some opponents willing to stand in front of his spinning attacks to produce some highlight reels. The loss doesn't necessarily hurt Jabouin's options for a paycheck in this case. BTW, 30-27 Jabouin should be considered "robbery".
Damacio Page vs. Will Campuzano came down to who had more power. Most of the video I saw on Campuzano showed a patient stand-up game under the foundation of boxing, which went completely out the door when Page came hard with an aggressive gameplan of laying power on Campuzano's chin. In the brief exchanges, Campuzano began looping his shots along with Page, and he ultimately lost to Page's more powerful blows. He eventuall succumbed to the rear naked choke as a result of the brutal power Page once again displayed.
- Noah Thomas was as stiff as one could be in the stand-up game, and Scott Jorgensen picked him apart as he countered Thomas' uppercuts with mean overhand rights that put Thomas down a number of times. Jorgensen's powerful striking coupled with his top control game was easily too much for Thomas in this bout. Look for Jorgensen to begin ascending up the ranks in the Bantamweight division as he looks to be improving.
- Anthony Njokuani will likely be set to ascend into a more exposed role in the Lightweight division following his TKO victory of Muhsin Corbrrey in the second round of their tilt. The only two losses on his record are to Ben Henderson and Donald Cerrone, and his ground game continues to improve enough to give both men some trouble in a second match-up. His technical striking is solid and powerful enough to give Cerrone, Varner, or Henderson some trouble, and if he can improve his takedown defense and ground tactics, he'll eventually become a major player in the WEC's lightweight division.
As Michael Rome stated, the WEC is great for giving guys like Ben Henderson, who would undoubtedly fail against the UFC's lightweights, some exposure to a national audience while also grabbing bigger paychecks than they would on the regional circuits. While I love seeing a great free show, I'm more interested in seeing the fighters within the WEC succeed on a bigger level and make the UFC a much more profitable show while also helping them profit themselves.
While fighters such as Donald Cerrone, Jamie Varner, and Ben Henderson can benefit from the WEC, Urijah Faber, Mike Brown, Jose Aldo, Miguel Torres, and Brian Bowles will benefit greatly from a merge with the UFC. WEC 43 didn't prove that the WEC can stand alone and continue to give these guys a place to fight. It proved that these fighters sell their own weight class and sell themselves. The action is insanely addictive to watch when it comes to the featherweight and bantamweight divisions, and I have no doubt in my mind that pushing these divisions into the UFC and feeding them to UFC fans on free SpikeTV cards such as Finale or UFN cards would easily sell them to the casual fanbase.
Fighters like Cerrone, Varner, and Henderson will simply need to get better to break into the UFC, and in the WEC absence... another promotional will likely fill the void and give some of those lightweights the exposure and paychecks they deserve at the level in which they compete. Fighters like Brown, Faber, and Torres deserve the pay boost and exposure that the UFC offers. The PPV model of 2010 is only going to confirm that the WEC needs to be absorbed.