Time for UFC and WEC to join forces

Kevin Iole
Yahoo! Sports

Go to a local mall on the weekend and, for kicks, randomly ask 10 people if they have ever heard of the WEC.

I suspect if you asked in the Southeast, you'd have a number of people who believe it's a football conference whose commissioner is upset it doesn't get an automatic Bowl Championship Series bid.

There might be plenty who think it's part of another Obama administration proposal to bail out the financial system.

And I suspect others might guess that it's the junior college a hike down the highway.

The answer, though, may surprise you. The WEC – World Extreme Cagefighting – is a mixed martial arts promotional company owned by Zuffa, the same folks who have built the Ultimate Fighting Championship into a burgeoning sports power.

And while UFC president Dana White and CEO Lorenzo Fertitta have made few mistakes in their 8½ years in their jobs, one of the most grievous has been not folding the WEC into the UFC.

Every day that the WEC is its own separate entity is another that goes by without the majority of the UFC's massive fan base realizing Miguel Torres' greatness.

Torres is, for my money, the finest pound-for-pound fighter in the sport. He'll defend his WEC bantamweight title against Brian Bowles on Aug. 9 in Las Vegas in a card that will be nationally televised on the cable channel Versus.

And the best fighter deserves the biggest stage, which is why Torres belongs in the UFC.

The WEC has three weight classes, at 135, 145 and 155 pounds. The UFC starts at 155 and includes 170, 185, 205 and heavyweight.

By folding the WEC into the UFC, White and Fertitta would be adding only two weight classes, since there are 155-pounders in both, and would significantly add to the talent pool.

Torres deserves to be seen by the millions who routinely watch the UFC broadcast rather than the tens of thousands who see him in the WEC.

Torres has three fights left on his contract. And while he doesn't figure to walk when his deal is up, he's clearly frustrated by fighting far from the UFC's immense spotlight.

"We don't get the exposure that they get in the UFC," Torres said. "They have the bigger fighters and it's easier to push the bigger fighters. The smaller fighters have a lot more skills a lot of the time, but they've spent so much advertising money and marketing dollars and invested so much time pushing guys like [UFC heavyweight champion] Brock Lesnar. There isn't the time or the money or interest, I guess, to push the smaller fighters the same way."

Torres said he's not angry, though MMA fans should be angry that elite talents like Torres, Mike Brown, Urijah Faber and Jose Aldo, among others, aren't given the same push that their counterparts in the UFC routinely get.

WEC 42 comes a day after UFC 101, a mega-card which features a lightweight title fight between B.J. Penn and Kenny Florian and a light heavyweight bout between Anderson Silva and Forrest Griffin.

It's patently absurd for the WEC card to be held the day after the UFC card, which will get 99 percent of the media coverage, 99 percent of the marketing push and 99 percent of the fan interest.

Torres would be among the most beloved fighters in the UFC if he competed for the organization. He's a deadly finisher, with 31 victories by knockout or submission, and an interesting and insightful person.

A crowd of 20,000 would chant his name much like it chants Georges St. Pierre's at UFC shows, if only they knew who he was.

Torres headline a show on April 5 in Chicago, his hometown, but the card didn't get nearly the push from Zuffa that a UFC card featuring one of its big stars does.

"Sometimes, I think they don't like me," said Torres, laughing wanly. "It seems like there's always another fight, always something up. There's always competition from the UFC."

Torres is ranked fifth in the Yahoo! Sports MMA rankings – four slots too low, I say – and Brown, the organization's featherweight champion, is seventh. Faber fell out of the top 10 after his second loss to Brown, but he's 12th.

Having them fight in the WEC is kind of like having Ben Roethlisberger, Tom Brady and Peyton Manning play Arena Football. There are some people who see it, but not nearly enough to make a difference.

And though Torres is 36-1, he's still getting better. And he eagerly tries to learn new, high-risk moves to not only become a more well-rounded fighter but a more entertaining one, as well.

"I can get a ton better," Torres said. "I can get much better at implementing my game plan. I'm working hard on my wrestling skills. My wrestling has come a long way, but in two years, my wrestling, man, is going to be so good. I'm better at my standup and I can see myself improving more there."

No matter how much he improves his skill as a fighter, he's not going to become the kind of star he can be if he continues to fight in the largely unknown WEC.

They've made few mistakes so far, but it's time for White and Fertitta to concede they've made a whopper by running the WEC as a separate company.

It's time to fold the WEC into the UFC so the world can properly appreciate an elite talent like Torres.

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