Early patterns indicate a strong showing for Aldo vs. Faber on PPV. Say what you will about Dana White, the man knows how to promote and has the infrastructure to do it well. I think the key lesson coming out of this show is that the UFC's fans are willing to pay to see smaller fighters. That being proven, it's time to fold the Bantamweight and Featherweight Divisions into the UFC.
There are a whole number of reasons why, many of which have been articulated over and over again, so I won't rehash them here. Simply put, the UFC should be the home of elite fighters at all major weight classes. I believe Featherweight and Bantamweight belong among the major weight classes, and as such they should be featured in the top organization. That being said, a pure merger doesn't make sense. It creates conflicts with Comcast, puts the WEC's employees out of work, and puts too big of a promotional burden on the UFC without the relief of a secondary organization.
It's one thing to insist upon a merger, but most people fail to describe a plan that makes sense. In this piece I'll set forth a plan that will attempt to meet the following goals:
--Improve the current UFC product by replacing middling bigger fighters with elite smaller fighters.
--Enable stars at Bantamweight and Featherweight to earn a living.
--Enable fans and athletes to determine the true top fighters at Bantamweight and Featherweight.
--Introduce UFC fans to the personalities of the smaller fighters in the WEC.
--Allow WEC employees to keep their jobs.
--Keep Versus and Comcast happy.
The plan I propose is fairly simple. Generally speaking, it involves folding the Featherweight and Bantamweight divisions into the UFC while continuing to use the WEC as a developmental league. There's no reason a company like Bellator should be grabbing prospects like Ben Askren while the UFC can't even find proper prospects for its reality show. I'd suggest setting a rule where fighters with less than a certain number of professional fights must cut their teeth in the WEC before joining the UFC. These shows would be on Versus. Of course, there are occasional big draws and incredible prospects that belong in the UFC right away, so they could have a mechanism for waiving the rule. This is the fight game after all, there is room for exceptions.
Folding in two new divisions into the UFC will be no easy task. Fans care about fighters they can relate to, and they need to get to know these fighters. Just adding a bunch of fighters in won't do any good. In order to make sure UFC fans have an attachment to these newcomers, I propose a special season of The Ultimate Fighter featuring the actual top fighters of the Featherweight and Bantamweight divisions, minus Urijah Faber, Miguel Torres, Jose Aldo, and Dominick Cruz. The coaches for the season would be Urijah Faber and Miguel Torres, who would meet each other in a Bantamweight dream fight at the end of the season. Meanwhile, the winners at 135 and 145 would get a shot at the respective champions a few months after the finale. From a practical perspective, you could even arrange for Aldo and Cruz to have title defenses against top contenders during the ongoing season to keep them active.
The above-described plan would accomplish a number of things. It would introduce the fans to all the stars of the Bantamweight and Featherweight divisions, while simultaneously featuring the two strongest stars in the WEC to date. You would get immediate contenders in both weight classes, a dream fight, a future contender at 135, and extensive fan recognition of the actual top stars in these weight classes.
There are small issues remaining, including loe pay for living in the house and whether these stars would actually be willing to go into the house for 6 weeks. These are minor issues that the UFC can easily handle.
As far as the current WEC 155 division goes, I'd recommend taking the top fighters in the class and simply moving them into the current lightweight division. Frankly, I don't expect a whole lot of these lightweights to do all that well in the UFC, but they deserve a chance.
The elephant in the room is Comcast, the cable giant that owns Versus and NBC. The UFC is excited about their partnership with Comcast, and they have no desire to jeopardize it. In order to get Comcast on board for something like this, they'd probably need to give Versus a few more UFC shows a year. The UFC could either add 3-4 more "UFC on Versus" events or they could give Versus two major European UFC events per year (think UFC 105).
In the end, folding the Bantamweight and Featherweight divisions into the UFC while simultaneously keeping the WEC alive is the best option for everyone. It gives Zuffa more title fights to headline UFC shows with, it allows smaller fighters to earn the money they deserve, it enables fighters to sort out who the truly elite fighters are at the smaller weight classes, it would allow most of the employees at the WEC to keep their jobs, and it could keep Comcast happy with a few concessions.