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Keep in mind, they will still be spoilers in this post so if you’re waiting to watch one of the replays, turn away now.
Let me start out by saying that I am now officially a WEC nuthugger (eloquently stated, huh?).
When I first started hearing about the new WEC from people that worked for the company they hyped it up a lot to me, talking about how the action was going to be fast paced, that the production was going to be great, and that some of the fighters could easily compete in the UFC. When I heard some of those statements, I rolled my eyes at times and took it with a grain of salt. After all, how impartial could they be? But my hats off to the WEC because the product came off exactly the way they said it would.
I started out watching the WrekCage show at 8 p.m. ET and didn’t have high expectations. I thought it would just be a highlights show. But the production was so slick and the editing was so well done that it actually came off like a live broadcast. The graphics packages were too small to read, but that’s the biggest complaint about the show that I have. The show had a distinct look and didn’t come off as UFC-lite. The WrekCage show gave the WEC its own identity. Yes, they used an Octagon but it still had unique production qualities. The lighting was good and I even liked some of the newer camera angles (like the overhead shot). To be honest, I actually thought the presentation for WrekCage was much better than UFC Unleashed. UFC Unleashed comes across as stale and out of sync, while WrekCage came off seamless.
When they said the action would be faster paced, they weren’t kidding. The fighters seemed much more aggressive. Perhaps it’s because these guys aren’t major stars yet and don’t have much to lose like certain UFC fighters who fight conservatively (i.e. Andrei Arlovski and Tim Sylvia). But I think the biggest factor is the 25 foot diameter cage. I’ve fought in different sized cages as an amateur (hey, I’m not trying to be like Bill Goldberg and put myself over, I freely admit that I suck as a fighter) and I can say from personal experience that when you’re in a small cage, there is nowhere to hide. Your opponent is always on top of you, in your face. There’s nowhere to run and once you get hit, there really isn’t much room to disengage and compose yourself.
While watching WrekCage I started thinking to myself, why couldn’t IFL Battleground be like this? I’ve been watching the show for months and they still can’t find a direction to go in. The shows come off sloppy with fighters fighting multiple times on each show, different announcers for different matches, and multiple venues being shown in a two-hour broadcast. They do a great job with the editing of the matches (you can’t even tell most of the time they are chopped up). As I said earlier, WrekCage came off like a live show and that’s the direction IFL Battleground show go in. The WEC comes right out of the gate and hits a home run with their first show and the IFL is paying tons of TV people for a show that still hasn’t found itself. I hate to beat up on the IFL because I’d like to see it suceed. I am a huge fan of a lot of their coaches and I think the owners, Kurt Otto and Gareb Shamus, truly care about MMA and are passionate about the sport. However, it doesn’t look good when the WEC comes out with its debut show and blows them out of the water when they’ve had a year now.
As for the live show, I was also impressed. There were some sound issues in the post-fight interviews, but that’s to be expected. The action was great and I really was impressed by a lot of the fighters. Brian Stann is more than just a good human interest story, he can fight. Also, Rani Yahya is no joke. Faber told me about him during the interview I did last week but I still expected Mark Hominick to walk through him. Brock Larson also looks like a beast. I can’t wait until we get to finally see Larson vs. Condit for the welterweight title.
Speaking of Condit, I was really impressed by his match on WrekCage. I really liked how active he was when his opponent had top position. Too many fighters lay on the ground like a dead fish when they are on the bottom. Condit really was in good shape and I want to see more of him.
Another thing that stood out about the WEC show was the ground fighting. I come from a standup background and I’m not always the biggest fan of ground fighting. I actually enjoy it though when both fighters are pushing the action. When fights went to the ground, the fighters were very active. The Faber vs. Chance Farrar match had awesome chain wrestling and it was a lot of fun to watch.
As for Faber, it was my first time watching him live. The only other times I’ve seen him fight was on YouTube. The kid is the real deal and the UFC missed out by not building a 145 pound division around him (just like they missed out by not building a woman’s division around Gina Carano). Apparently a lot of people didn’t want to accept a bout with Faber before Farrar finally stepped up. I hope we get to see Yahya vs. Faber and I’d love it if we eventually got to see Kid Yamamoto from K-1 against Faber.
Another pleasant surprise was the announcing. I always thought Frank Mir did a solid job on UFC telecasts a few years back. His energy level was kind of low at the start of the WrekCage show but he picked it up. He was on point once the live broadcast started. He did a good job of breaking down what was going on and his technical knowledge was strong. There were a few delivery issues and his post-fight interview skills need to improve (but I really can’t think of any strong post-fight interviewers in MMA anyway… these guys need to watch some tapes of Larry Merchant and ask some pertinent questions). Todd Harris was nothing special on play-by-play but he meshed well with Mir by deferring to his expertise a lot. I really liked how Harris would ask Mir questions during the fight. He played the role of the novice fan very well.
I’m really bullish on the WEC following last night’s show and can’t wait to see more. I think it was the first time I watched the Versus network for more than five minutes and I don’t think I’m alone in that regard. After watching the show I came away feeling that the WEC is actually too good for Versus and that they should be on a higher-profile network. It wouldn’t surprise me if that’s what we see happen in the years to come.
All in all, it looks like the rich just got richer. And with that statement, I’m referring to Zuffa. With Pride in limbo, the UFC is clearly the number one MMA promotion in the world. With MMA so hot right now, there’s a clear opening for a strong number two. It looks like Zuffa may have created their own competition and they’ll they own the top two active MMA promotions in the world. Disagree if you will, but Pride is MIA, the IFL is fading fast, and EliteXC really hasn’t created its own identity as of yet.
I think the WEC talent roster is already solid (we didn’t even get to see “Razor” Rob McCullough, who is the man) but look for the level of talent to improve. It looks like Paulo Filho is indeed coming to the WEC and other former Pride fighters might be on the way.
Also, another random thought. I saw the video of the J.Z. Calvancanti vs. Nam Phan match from Dynamite USA. I thought that it would be a war but it was over before it started. It was the first time I’ve seen Calvancanti and from what little I saw of him, I was impressed. Nam Phan is no joke and Calvancanti wrecked him. If he’s not signed to another promotion, the WEC should sign him for their lightweight division. I also think Phan would be a good fit for the WEC. He is a much better fighter than he showed on Saturday. He’s simply not a 155 pound fighter. He would be a great addition to the WEC’s 145 pound or 135 pound divisions.
BTW, I got an e-mail from someone last night saying Five Ounces of Pain was mentioned when they were hyping Faber up earlier in the show? I completely missed that. Did anyone else hear or see anything? I’m real interested in hearing everyone else’s thoughts about the WEC show. Am I the only one digging it thus far?