Has the Disparity Between UFC 119 and WEC 51 Created a New Voice for Merger?

Is the idea that Jose Aldo is the top pound-for-pound fighter in the world helping Zuffa realize a merger is the best option? Photo by WEC

Jose Aldo's second round obliteration of former UFC lightweight fighter Manny Gamburyan has convinced many that Aldo may sit at the apex of the division for a very long time. Not only did he defeat former champion Mike Brown handily at WEC 44 to obtain the crown, but he also demolished Urijah Faber in a five-round decision at WEC 48.

The victory not only solidified Aldo's spot as one of the absolute best fighters in the sport today, but it has rekindled the idea that Zuffa needs to pounce on the opportunity to showcase the fighters of the WEC. Aldo's performance caused many media members to ask questions about whether the UFC would try to leverage Aldo's exciting skills in the Octagon, but that possibility only raises more questions.

UFC 119 certainly didn't help stifle any thoughts about a merger between the two promotions either. While some of the battles were entertaining, the event's main event was an atrocity. Three rounds of hesitant striking and hugging clinch work with no real action turned fans off, and the only savior was Frank Mir's knee in the third round to knockout Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic. Thursday night couldn't come fast enough, and the WEC delivered.

In the aftermath of WEC 51, Dana White hinted at the possibility of the WEC merging with the UFC, or should I say... that's the speculation among the media of the meaning behind White's words. Unfortunately, announcements that will "blow our mind" are an immediate sign that the news won't be as significant as we are being led to believe. But if it involves the WEC and White actually dodged questions in regards to a merger, something huge is brewing.

What are the options for Zuffa at this point? Obviously, a merger is at the top of the list, but there are other factors that hint at Zuffa keeping the WEC around as a feeder promotion. Here are a few options:

  • Merge: A merger would effectively eliminate the WEC while adding a significant roster of fighters to the UFC. The UFC would more than likely need to add events to their calendar in order to keep everyone active, but the added bonus is that the UFC could add some of these championship battles to free preliminary cards, UFC Fight Night events, or UFC on Versus cards to draw in fans. Fighters gain more lucrative sponsorship dollars, and recognition by being associated with the UFC brand directly. Logistics could become a bit trickier and larger in scope, but overall -- the UFC gains exciting fighters and fights with the merger
  • Merge and Maintain: A better idea, however, is that the UFC merges by creating featherweight and bantamweight divisions and moves the WEC's top fighters into it. There isn't a necessity to create these deep rosters under the UFC banner in those divisions because the WEC could act as the base for fighters to move into the top five of each division. Zuffa can maintain a promotion to take opportunities away from competing promotions trying to gain ground in the television industry by keeping the WEC alive, and there is the potential that up-and-coming fighters who will eventually become champions would live on Versus and in the WEC before making their way to the UFC.
  • Entertain the Fans: The UFC is built on the basis that mixed martial arts is something entertaining to watch. While merging lighter weight divisions into the promotion and having a clear cut structure in place sounds great, it isn't a necessity by any means. Picking and choosing which battles they want to feature from the WEC on a UFC pay-per-view would work just as well for Zuffa, but the major difference would be that Zuffa is actually willing to promote more lighter weight class battles on their UFC cards. Sponsorship opportunities would be there, and the best fighters within the WEC would sort of sit in a gray area between promotions. One advantage would be that a guy like Aldo could gain popularity on UFC pay-per-views, then give popularity to the WEC on Versus if he fought on a WEC card later. 
Obviously, a clear cut structure would be more beneficial to the fighters as it wouldn't leave any guessing by their agents and sponsorship companies as to who will be fighting in the UFC. It'll also boost the pay of all of the fighters within the roster significantly, whereas the fighters who sit in that holding area between promotions would be the only ones gaining the bigger dollars. 

A merger with the disbanding of the WEC seems highly unlikely at this point, and it's probably a good thing. After all, the Comcast-NBC deal has yet to begin their overhaul, and the WEC could very well be in prime position to provide some much needed entertainment to a NBC sports network derived from the folding of Versus. As John Ourand of the Sports Business Journal pointed out in August, Versus will more than likely be killed off and replaced with a channel that uses NBC's branding to gain viewers. The network, along with any other sports programming, would be headed by Dick Ebersol, and would more than likely run with the NHL, Pac-10 college football, and the Olympics along with gaining rights to NFL games. 

While this may seem like a far-fetched plan to gain access to network television by Zuffa, NBC is planning on competing with ESPN, and the prospect of having the WEC and UFC events filling time slots on that type of network should be enticing. Keeping the promotion around can ensure that no one else snatches up the opportunity.

My prediction is that Zuffa will push some of the bigger name fights on the UFC broadcast, potentially creating this transitional period for WEC fighters to gain substantially more money via bonuses and added pay for the time being. It should work as a testing phase, which I don't see a real need to do, but I imagine it'll happen to see if fans will see these fighters and then watch the WEC on Versus. If all goes well, the WEC merges into the UFC while staying alive as a feeder promotion.
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