There’s a lot of positives coming from the WEC’s first ever pay-per-view event, but at the same time a developing sub-plot coming out of the show is that a number of the key fighters who have helped the promotion get to where they are at this time are now falling on hard times.
For instance, it’s no secret that Urijah Faber is the WEC’s biggest star. It’s also no coincidence that he was on the headline bout of their first PPV event, or that the show was held in his home-town of Sacramento. He has appeared on all five of the WEC’s biggest ever attendances, and headlined the only two events the organization has put on that broke one million viewers on television.
Faber is no longer the dominant featherweight he once was however. In June of 2008 he had lost just once in 22 professional fights. In the two years since he has now gone 2-3, losing his title and failing in two separate attempts to win it back. The gutsy display he put on against Jose Aldo last night will endear a sympathetic response from his fans, but he was soundly beaten on the night and moving forward it will be hard to justify another title push any time soon.
Faber wasn’t the only star at WEC 48 who’s career has hit rough waters. While co-main event fighter Donald Cerrone has never been a huge draw for the WEC, his unique persona and all-action fighting style has ensured he’s become one of their most recognizable fighters, and headlined several events for the company.
Like Faber he is also now riding a 2-3 record though, and has been unsuccessful in one interim and two lightweight title fights during that time, which also leaves him in a position where his credibility as a title challenger is now under question.
Remarkably another lynch-pin of the WEC in recent times who appeared on last night’s event, Mike Brown, can also be included in this unfortunate group. Such was his domination in a ten fight unbeaten run, which included winning the featherweight title against Faber and successfully defending it twice, that he began to appear high on many people’s pound-for-pound lists, and became a regular headliner for WEC events.
Being handily beaten by fast rising Brazilian star Jose Aldo reminded everyone that he was beatable however, and after appearing to get back on track with a win in a hastily arranged bout just a couple of months later, he slumped to a shock KO defeat against Manny Gamburyan at the weekend.
Miguel Angel Torres
Looking beyond last night’s event, a fourth star who has been an integral part of the WEC’s success in the past few years has been Miguel Angel Torres. With his outspoken, quick-witted personality and a remarkable career record of 37-1, Torres was the crown jewel of the bantamweight division in the early stages of 2009. He was also showing signs of becoming the WEC’s next breakout star after producing strong ratings for his headline fights, and branching out into media work.
Like the other fighters we’ve mentioned above Torres form has taken a sudden dip however, suffering back-to-back losses in devastating fashion, which, for the time being at least, has taken much of the mystique away from his stellar record.
So are there up and coming stars ready to take the place of these fighters?
Possibly. The biggest concern for the promotion is that as yet there’s no direct replacement for Faber who has the kind of ‘it’ factor – that combination of looks, personality, fighting ability – that can produce the record ratings that he can deliver.
They do have Jose Aldo though who is an exciting find for the promotion. In terms of fighting ability it’s likely he may be the best ever to compete in the WEC making him a valuable asset, but it still remains to be seen whether that will translate into an ability to fill out arenas and boost TV viewing figures.
With Cerrone currently struggling, the man who has now beat him twice, Benson Henderson carries the torch at 155lbs. He’s certainly become a recognizable face in the WEC and his ‘nice guy’ persona means that he’s quickly become well liked, but like Aldo only time will tell whether that’s enough to make him a big draw.
Beyond that I’m not seeing too many major stars coming through the ranks at this time. Current bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz has a ways to go yet before he draws the kind of interest that Miguel Torres brought to the table at 135lbs, while it’s still very early days for the much hyped Chad Mendes at featherweight.
The impact on the WEC from these stars loss of form should not be underestimated. The fact that 12 of the last 14 WEC events have been headlined by one or other of these four fighters gives a real indication of how important they have been for the company’s success. If their disappointing form causes a loss of interest in them amongst MMA fans then it could have a significant impact on the company going forward.
The relatively small number of potential replacements for them however suggests that at this moment in time the promotion will have to continue to rely significantly on their current crop of stars and hope that they can re-find the form that brought them fame in the first place.
One way to inject new interest in them will be to move them up or down a division. In Urijah Faber’s case in particular that seems like a good angle, with it seeming likely that he could make the cut to 135lbs. Donald Cerrone has also suggested in the past that he would be interested in cutting to featherweight, while Miguel Torres lanky frame suggests he could step up from 135lbs in the future if necessary.
Meanwhile there’s no doubt that a lot of responsibility now lies on the shoulders of someone like Jose Aldo to become the WEC’s ‘Next Big Thing’.