The best top-to-bottom cards in mixed martial arts on a consistent basis were, unquestionably, delivered by the World Extreme Cagefighting. Those fights will now take place on a significantly larger stage as Zuffa has folded the WEC into the Ultimate Fighting Championship, effective with UFC 125 on Jan. 1.
The UFC and the WEC each had its own lightweight divisions and their own champions, but those divisions will merge. WEC champion Benson Henderson will defend his title on Dec. 16 against Anthony Pettis. The winner will meet the winner of the UFC lightweight title fight at UFC 125 between Frankie Edgar and Gray Maynard later in 2011 for the undisputed belt.
The UFC will simply fold the WEC's bantamweight and featherweight divisions into its stable, giving it seven weight classes now, joining lightweight, welterweight (170 pounds), middleweight (185), light heavyweight (205) and heavyweight (265). WEC featherweight champion Jose Aldo will make his UFC debut at UFC 125 when he defends his title against an opponent to be named. The UFC will recognize the winner of the Dec. 16 fight between Dominick Cruz and Scott Jorgensen as its bantamweight champion.
The addition of the WEC fighters to the UFC roster should provide deeper pay-per-view cards and provide higher-quality fights.
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The downside for fight fans, at least in the short term, will be a reduction of free fights on television. In 2010, the UFC had two fights on Versus, which will expand to four under a new deal announced Thursday by UFC president Dana White. But the WEC has already had five fights on Versus and still will air cards on the cable network on Nov. 11 from Las Vegas and Dec. 16 from Glendale, Ariz. As a result, that was nine shows, which will be cut to four under the new deal.
Unless the UFC adds an additional television deal, those five shows won't be replaced on free television, though White did not seem to mind.
"I'm not looking at this thing as a negative like, 'Oh, we lost a couple of fights on Versus,' " White said. "It's a positive. We've got the UFC on Versus. The last one we did pulled killer numbers. Now that we've added these other two weight classes to the UFC, everything is positive. I'm not looking at it like, 'Oh, we lost two fights. We have to pick them up somewhere else.' "
White said the merger became necessary because of the UFC's expansion and the growth of the business in general. Adding high-quality fights from the WEC to UFC pay-per-view shows will clearly strengthen the UFC cards and should at least lessen common fan complaints about the lack of championship fights and diluted pay-per-view cards.
White has become irate when fans complained about shows such as UFC 119 in September, which didn't have a title fight or many of the company's star attractions on it. But with the WEC fighters coming aboard, guys like Aldo and bantamweight Urijah Faber should instantly become household names and the complaints should decrease.
"It's time," White said of the long-sought merger. "As we continue to grow globally and we're going into these new markets like China, India and Mexico, it's time to do it. We're doing enough fights, et cetera, et cetera, to fold this thing into the UFC. What's always been in the cards is to continue to grow this sport and add every weight class, not just 135 and 145.
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"The reality is, all of these weight classes should be in the UFC. There was a time early on, when we first bought this thing, that 155 didn't even exist. Now, as we continue to grow and we're doing more fights every year, and we're going into these different markets, we can continue to add weight classes. That's always been our goal. Our goal is to build this sport worldwide and continue to add weight divisions until we have every single weight division in the UFC."
The two missing weight classes are flyweight, which has a limit of 125 pounds, and super heavyweight, which is everything above 266. White said the UFC will eventually add flyweight, though he's not sure when, but will not add either super heavyweight or a women's division. He's long maintained that there are not enough super heavyweights or women to make a viable division and held that stance again Thursday.
The WEC used a 25-foot cage, but White said that all shows will be contested in the UFC's 30-foot cage.