Last Thursday, UFC President Dana White announced that World Extreme Cagefighting, a company acquired by UFC owner Zuffa LLC in 2006, would be merging with the UFC. In reality, it’s more of a consolidation, as the WEC brand will disappear completely, with its champions and roster being folded into the UFC’s talent pool. Though many have predicted this move for years, White’s announcement means that it will soon become a reality. So what sort of impact will this “merger” have?
-The UFC will have more weight classes: The inclusion of the Featherweight and Bantamweight classes gives the UFC seven recognized weight classes. It remains to be seen if the promised Flyweight (125lbs) class will also be added to the UFC somewhere down the line. More weight classes means more champions, which theoretically means more opportunities for revenue, as title fights have historically drawn more money and viewers than non-title fights, barring the celebrity status of the fighters involved. It also means that, given the limited number of fights per event, not every weight class will see important fights in every event.
-Smaller roster = more stacked cards: Though it’s counter-intuitive at first, as the UFC trims the fat from a roster with three weight classes worth of new fighters, the cards will actually have a better quality overall. With all due respect to big, bad men who fight for a living, not everyone on the combined roster is a true world-class fighter. Those who survive the purge are going to be the cream of the crop, and with roughly the same amount of events planned in upcoming years, each card will be more likely to have a collection of skillful, consistent fighters.
-Back-office shakeups: Lost in the shuffle are the current WEC non-fighter employees. Will WEC President Reed Harris, WEC matchmaker Sean Shelby, WEC play-by-plan man Todd Harris, and other back-office employees of WEC still have roles after the upcoming consolidation? The presence of Dana White, Joe Silva, Mike Goldberg, et al make their positions seemingly redundant, but these are all people who are good at their job and would be valuable to the final product. The question is, how can they possibly be kept on without seeming like a waste of money to Zuffa?
-More room to groove: The WEC fighters are used to a cage 25 feet in diameter. The UFC cage is 30 feet in diameter. While this difference may seem small, many have suggested the smaller cage forced the high-paced action the WEC was known for. How will a larger fighting area effect the smaller fighters?
-UFC on two, possibly three, networks: The UFC will still be airing primarily on Spike TV in the US, but will do four shows on Versus in 2011. There’s also been talk of a “UFC Network”, which would have access to the WEC library. Would vintage WEC fights be found there, or will WEC Wreckage still carry the classics from the smaller show? I doubt the latter will happen, as it’s been pretty clear over the years that the Zuffa brass find the UFC a more marketable brand than WEC; why show fights from an organization that no longer exists? “Best of Pride” only had a few episodes, after all. It’s also important to note that the UFC itself will hold live shows on two different cable networks. It’s yet to be seen whether or not this will cause some conflict of interest between Spike, Versus, and the UFC. As the premier MMA organization in the US, the UFC has brand recognition that both Spike and Versus could profit from. Sooner or later, one of those networks is going to want exclusive rights. My guess is that Spike will win out; where does Versus go from there?
-Who’s left out in the cold? As mentioned above, the Flyweight class was promised as an addition to the WEC roster; it never materialized. As well, some have suggested that should Zuffa experiment with female MMA divisions, the WEC would be the better of the two promotions for this. With the demise of the WEC, will the Flyweight division or female weight classes ever materialize? Interest in smaller weight classes has increased since the WEC’s emergence on national television and female MMA fights are regularly held on second-tier shows like Bellator and Strikeforce; however, the odds of this happening in a company that’s already juggling seven stacked male weight classes is small. In fact, unless the UFC starts having regular “Friday Night Fights” style weekly programming, I’d say it’s all but impossible.
-Bigger paydays for smaller fighters: The UFC has a much bigger budget to work with than WEC. Fighters like Miguel Torres, Dominick Cruz, Urijah Faber, Joseph Benavidez, Ben Henderson, and Jose Aldo will start seeing the benefits of the UFC merger in bigger paychecks. The down side: the opportunities for such paydays may be less frequent as the UFC tries to give all seven weight classes deserving exposure.
Overall, this “merger” will benefit most of the fighters as well as the UFC itself. The possible drawbacks are minimally-impacting on the sport compared to the boons. While I will miss an organization on basic cable that caters to smaller fighters with a higher work-rate, there’s no question that the added exposure of the UFC brand will be good for the lighter weight classes. Lightweight fighters like Clay Guida, Frankie Edgar, and Roger Huerta have already benefited from their time in the UFC’s lightweight division; let’s see how the young up-and-comers below 155 do.
- WEC News: Flyweights to be added?
- MMA 101 – Class 01
- Dana White’s Big Announcement: WEC folding into the UFC