Last weekend the promotion formerly known as the WEC co-main evented a $45 pay per view with a matchup between Ben Henderson and Donald Cerrone. Think about that for a second. It should boggle your mind. Yes, the two men went back and forth in a very competitive five round fight last year. There was an excellent chance that it could have been an excellent fight (it turned out to be a one-sided dud. Who can predict these things?) But the co-main of a PPV? MMA fans should, but seemingly don't, feel cheated. Henderson and Cerrone are prospects. And not particularly high level prospects.
They are the lightweight equivalents of Steve Cantwell, Brian Stann, and Carlos Condit. You remember those fine gentlemen right? These were Henderson's WEC counterparts at 170 and 205 pounds. They were all sold as "world" champions, just like Henderson. And then they went to the UFC and quickly faded from the scene. Condit, at one point, was considered a top-10 fighter based on his WEC pedigree. That illusion quickly disappeared as Condit fell back to the middle of the pack. Stann and Cantwell seem to racing each other out of the promotion all together. None of them seem like potential prospects any more. The WEC illusion has washed away. Or it should have.
You'd think the examples of Stann and Cantwell would demonstrate pretty clearly that success in the WEC is often illusory. Obviously, that lesson hasn't sunk in yet. Reporters continue to buy whatever Zuffa sells them. First Faber, Torres, and then Brown were sold as the unbeatable stud, the next pound for pound star. And based on what? Brown was a career long journeyman. Faber was a 135 pounder masquerading as a featherweight. Most of Torres' success came against unknowns in midwestern country bars. None of this seems to matter. Aldo, who has beaten Faber and Brown, is being sold as the best fighter in the world. Never mind that his most impressive win is over a fighter that Manny Gamburyan just ethered in seconds. The same Gamburyan that floundered in the UFC against middling competition.
Look no further than Bloody Elbow's definitive rankings to see the WEC Illusion in full effect. People Ben Henderson is ranked above in BE's rankings? Joe Stevenson, Nate Diaz, JZ Calvan, and a host of others. All predicated on a win over Jamie Varner (who no one has ever mistaken for a top 10 fighter) and a close decision win over Cerrone, a fighter whose resume is even sparser than Henderson's. The presentation of these fighters, portrayed as champions and placed high on the card, is all smoke and mirrors on Zuffa's part. They are selling you an inferior product, and not even at a discount price. I like Ben Henderson. He seems like a nice kid and it will be intriguing to see him develop. But that's exactly what he needs to do. Call me when he's beaten Evan Dunham. Call me when he's competitive with Jim Miller (a former IFL champion. Where is he on the top 10 lists? champion right?) But please don't call to tell me that he's in the main event of a show I'm supposed to take seriously as a world class exhibition of fighting. Prospects have their place: it's on the undercard. Fans deserve better.