The WEC is having their marquee event tonight on pay-per-view. It's billed as the biggest fight in the WEC's history, pitting newly minted champ, and featherweight wrecking machine, Jose Aldo, against the former featherweight king, and arguably the WEC's only major draw, Urijah Faber. There has been a lot of talk over the past year about merging the WEC's lighter divisions into the UFC. There are a plethora of reasons for why this should and shouldn't happen, but the focus here is on one aspect: the fighters, and the need to make them famous now, instead of later.
The reality is, no one is really watching the WEC beyond hardcore fans. WEC ratings, beyond a few big matchups, have been going down lately. During the last few years, guys like Faber have been carrying the promotion on their backs, putting on amazing fights. The problem is, who knows about Faber? Hardcores and the Sacramento crowd. I don't believe his appeal is widespread, mostly because most people don't know, or haven't seen him fight. This, when he was the most dominant featherweight champ. If a fighter is the champ, and no one notices, does it even matter?
Then you have the case of Jose Aldo. He's been destroying guys at his level for a while now, yet no one knows about him. How much of a shame would it be if he went on a long title run, only to have his achievements go largely unnoticed by the casual fanbase?
Dana White says he has a three year plan for the WEC. That's all well and good, and I am the last person to tell a guy like White how to run his business. However, to play devil's advocate for a second: White has said in the past that fighters have a small window of opportunity to make money. Big money. He used that argument back when he and Quentin "Rampage" Jackson were having their dispute due to the A-Team movie. Well, let's turn this around on him. If you're a guy like Faber or Aldo, you take this kind of comment to heart. White is right: there is a very small window of opportunity. Three years from now, the WEC could be huge, and Faber and Aldo could be mega stars. I don't know. But what I do know is, Zuffa has the ability to make them stars right now. Not three years from now. To quote a fellow Bloody Elbow community member:
If the Aldo massacre series were all done in a UFC event, Aldo could be a decent PPV draw by now. - vivero
This isn't like 2001 when the Fertittas first purchased the UFC, when no one wanted anything to do with mixed martial arts in North America. This is 2010, where the WEC is owned by Zuffa, who ownes the biggest and arguably the best MMA organization in the world. It would be so simple for Zuffa to pull the switch. Give it six months of Zuffa promotional know-how, and one or two big PPV's later, guys like Aldo and Faber would be able to carry their own card. A fighter like Aldo, who has that "holy shit!" factor, deserves to be on the big show, and deserves to get paid well. We all know the WEC fighters always deliver fast paced, exciting fights with devastating KO's and sick submissions. And in a promotion like the UFC, where fighters are expected to perform right from the get-go, without any build-up (unless you're a TUF winner of course), it's interesting that Zuffa wants to take this slow approach to building stars. These guys are already stars. The rest of the world just doesn't know it yet.
This coming PPV may change things. Maybe White pulls it off and things go very well. If that's the case, I'll be the first to admit it. I guess we'll see soon enough.