The recent success of Ben Henderson, Donald Cerrone, and Anthony Pettis has many people saying "I told you the WEC LWs belonged in UFC," or "I'm still not sold thtat these guys are that good." I've been asking myself why are these guys having success and being competitive with guys that are towards the top of the food chain in the UFC's deepest division?
WEC fighters learned how to be professional fighters. They got to fight on televised cards, and deal with the fame that goes with that, go 5 rounds (for some), do promotional work, do interviews before and after fights, and deal with the fame that comes from being on TV. It also allowed these prospects to build some type of hype. Cerrone and Bendo hit the radar with their fight of the year performance in their 1st fight (Which I still think Cerrone won). Pettis gained a lot of Attention with the Showtime kick that sealed his great fight with Ben Henderson.
While they were in WEC they fought the right level of competition for where they were in their MMA development.
-Anthony Pettis, Ben Henderson, Donald Cerrone, Bart Palaszewski, Danny Castillo, Shane Roller, Alex Karalexis, Ed Ratcliff, Chris Horodecki, Anthony Njokuani, Ricardo Lamas, Kamal Shalorus, and Jaime Varner are some of the names that show up on each others records, and that is one hell of a melting pot of styles, talent and potential.
No one in that group was a star, and there is a big variety of skill sets available to match guys with too. Does anyone think Donald Cerrone, or Ben Henderson was ready for UFC when he first started out in WEC. I don't, but I'm sure thet were on the radar of other organizations like Strikeforce, Dream, and if it had been around Bellator. While in WEC they were matched against other prospects, and given a chance to keep training, and fighting.
Just look at what happened to two WEC prospects who could have benefitted from another year in a WEC level organization. Kamal Shalorus came into UFC with 9 MMA fights and a record of 7-0-2. He was immediately matched with Jim Miller who had an 8-1 UFC record, and 19 MMA wins at that point, including 6 in a row. Shalorus was overmatched, and dispatched by Miller. The guy Shalorus should have been fighting at that point is Shane Roller, who after stunning Thiago Tavares in his UFC debut, was for some reason matched with Melvin Guillard. Everyone knew how this fight was going to play out, and it pretty much lived up to expectations. These are two guys who were outmatched, when they should have still been fighting other prospects, not top rated Veterans. These are two examples of guys who paid for getting into the deep end of UFC too soon.
So out of this I hear that Zuffa is still negotiating with Showtime to keep Strikeforce around, and I hope that they take the WEC/SF Challengers model to develop talent. It can become a great proving ground for many prospects. I think Zuffa has seen the potential of a well run feeder organization, especially now that it seems Bellator is trying to sign any prospect with any serious potential, and they have a potential financial monster if Viacom ever throws it's full support into Bellator. The time to lock up prospects is early before they get locked into Bellator contracts, or struggle to find good fights on the regional scene.