It was supposed to be one of the best televised MMA shows of the year. Instead, WEC 36 was nothing more than a quality MMA event that failed to live up to its enormous potential on paper.
If the WEC is known for one thing, it’s its superb matchmaking. Scott Adams is one of the best in the business, if not the best when it comes to recruiting undiscovered talent and matching them up. But as former ICON Sport promoter T. Jay Thompson has said, matchmaking is an inexact science. Just because a matchup looks great on paper, there’s no way to predict with absolute certainty how things will play out in reality.
Urijah Faber vs. Mike Thomas Brown was supposed to be a match of the year candidate. And while it was eventful while it was lasted, the fact that the bout didn’t turn into a war and couldn’t even make it out of the first round has to be viewed as a slight disappointment. As I’ve said before though, this isn’t pro wrestling and you can’t hold anyone responsible because you can’t script this stuff. But I really would have liked to see Brown and Faber go at it for a little while longer so that we could get a more definitive sense of who the better fighter is. I’m sure a lot of Brown bandwagon jumpers will make the case that Brown proved he definitely is better, but how can you tell after such a short match that ended because of a gamble that didn’t pay off?
I spent a good part of Tuesday writing a column about how good Faber was and how Brown wasn’t going to be the one to beat him. Wow, could I have been any more wrong? But how was I to know that Faber was going to swing for the fences and whiff completely with an ill-advised back elbow? Faber gambled big time and it cost him the fight. Had he not left himself open after missing the elbow, who knows how the fight would have gone down? It wasn’t just a bad decision in hindsight, as it also appeared to be a bad decision from the moment he began to go for the move. Everyone saw it coming, most notably Mike Thomas Brown. Faber should have relied more on his talents as opposed to trying to win the fight with one shot.
In the early going of Faber vs. Brown — wait, I should just say “in the going” because was there a late going in the fight? — it seemed like the announcers made the common mistake that we often see commentators commit as they choose a side and then start riding it. They seemed to be in Faber hype mode early but I didn’t see it that way. While Faber showed nice athleticism in stuffing a couple of Brown’s takedown attempts, I still saw him get bullied by the larger and stronger Brown.
Size does matter in MMA and it made a difference last night. Faber was generously listed as 5’6” during the tale of the tape. Brown was also listed as 5’6” and there appeared to be at least a difference of an inch in height. I’ve stood next to Faber and I would estimate that he’s probably about 5’4.5.” If you think he looks small on TV, he’s even smaller in person. He would have little trouble making bantamweight and I’m wondering if that might not be a bad move for him. The WEC’s bantamweight division is filling out nicely and a Faber vs. Miguel Torres superfight would be truly spectacular.
A move in weight seems unlikely at this stage though because Faber sounded committed during his post-fight interview to climbing up back the ladder and getting another shot at the featherweight title. That’s perfectly okay by me, as the WEC’s featherweight division is loaded right now with Brown, Leonard Garcia, Wagnney Fabiano, Jose Aldo, Jens Pulver, and many others. Had the fight with Brown gone a little longer, he may have been in line for an immediate rematch but it still should be fun seeing Faber work his way back to a title shot. He may be only one high-profile win away.
The biggest disappointment of all was one everyone could see a mile away after WEC middleweight champion Paulo Filho (yes, he technically is still champ) failed to make weight Tuesday by seven pounds during his initial attempt. In Wednesday night’s rematch against Chael Sonnen, Filho looked like a guy who just started training for his fight two weeks ago and was hell bent on pacing himself so that he could posture after the fight and brag that he was able to go the distance.
I would have had more respect for Filho if he had gassed out in two minutes while attempting to win the fight as opposed to sauntering around the cage in an attempt to simply not get finished by Sonnen. With the WEC discontinuing its middleweight division after Dec. 3, Sonnen earned his UFC tour card with last night’s performance and should advance immediately to the Octagon.
If the UFC doesn’t have the balls to make Anderson Silva vs. Chuck Liddell, then Vice President of Talent Relations Joe Silva should give strong consideration to making Silva’s next fight a title defense against Sonnen. It’s the least Zuffa can do considering all the bullshit that Sonnen has been subjected to as a result of this ridiculous manufactured feud between him and Filho. After having the rematch postponed three times in one calendar year, I think Sonnen has earned some capital. There’s also the storyline that Sonnen embarrassed Silva’s good friend for 15 minutes.
As for Filho’s future, my gut tells me he’ll be moved over to the Octagon because his manager is Ed Soares, who also represents Silva and Lyoto Machida for clients. Agents with leverage can move mountains but if Filho is transferred over, he’ll be on a short leash. But I also wouldn’t be surprised if the UFC decided to cut their losses. Filho is making between $40,000-$60,000 a fight in the WEC and that rate might be a little too high considering the baggage he brings to the table.
Filho thinks he’s a light heavyweight and he’s not. But 185 has always been a difficult cut for him so he might not truly be a middleweight either. If the UFC had a 190 pound weight class, he’d be a natural for it. But no such weight class exists and I just don’t see Filho being able to hang at 205 in the UFC and while his best competitive weight class is 185, he has diminished value if he can’t make the weight with certainty and if he’s unwilling to fight the division’s current champ, Silva.
Last night’s abomination of a performance from Filho will no doubt cause him to drop like a rock in the leading rankings polls out there. Pundits such as myself must own up to our mistake and acknowledge that even when at his best, Filho was never as good as we made him out to be. Perhaps it was the smoke and mirrors PRIDE rolled out for many of the fighters they were trying to build as stars? While in Japan, Filho looked like a buzzsaw. In the States, he looks like a dude who is only fighting because he’s got some debts to pay.
But there is a human side to all this and we can’t overlook the fact that Filho is a person who required inpatient treatment for depression and chemical dependency earlier this year. However, in recent months we’ve been told he’s ready to return. That was clearly not the case last night and I find it hard to believe that Filho is where he needs to be in his recovery from his personal issues.
While Filho disappointed, Aaron Simpson was a pleasant surprise. Great decision on the part of the WEC to get him some television time. He’s yet another wrestling prospect coming out of Arizona Combat Sports that is making a smooth transition to MMA. Trevor and Todd Lally have the formula figured out as far as knowing how to turn good amateur wrestlers into complete mixed martial artists. Simpson’s knockout over David Avellan was just brutal. Cage interviewer Craig Hummer (back after missing the last show due to the Olympics) asked Simpson what’s next for him and he gave a very vague answer. I think what’s next for him is the UFC.
I was also blown away by Leonard Garcia’s performance. After being subjected to fluff pieces all week about how Jens Pulver had been “reinvented,” we saw him get dropped in his most lopsided loss since Joe Lauzon. Don’t get me wrong, I remain a huge Pulver fan, but I really expected last night’s fight to be a war. To see both Pulver vs. Garcia and Faber vs. Brown end so quickly was a double-whammy. But Garcia deserves a lot of credit because he packs a lot of power as a featherweight. His next fight should be a title shot vs. Brown and if I was a betting man, my money would be on Garcia.
In another surprise, my highly unofficial “Fight of the Night” honor goes to the televised opener between Jake Rosholt vs. Nissen Osterneck. Rosholt is a blue chip prospect and the former 3-time NCAA champ could one day become the number one middleweight in the world. But I’ve got to hand it to Zuffa because in spite of Rosholt’s MMA inexperience and his upside, they did him no favors last night putting him against Osterneck, a prospect in his own right. Osterneck definitely had enough to win that fight. But he didn’t, and in the end, Rosholt will earn more credibility with that victory than he would had he been matched up with a tomato can.
As impressed as I was by Rosholt, he still looked rather green in some areas. I would say that Rosholt is probably still 6-9 months away from being truly UFC-level. But based on his tremendous athleticism and upside, he can definitely develop on the job if Joe Silva makes the right matchups for him. He needs to be treated like a TUF winner. Rosholt’s development has been rapid thus far though, so he might be able to be fully unleashed on the UFC’s middleweight division in just a year from now.
The Wrestling Observer reported that the losers of the WEC’s remaining 185 and 205 matchups would not be moved over to the UFC and would be let go but I think it would be a mistake not to give Osterneck a shot. If they let him go, Strikeforce and Affliction should jump on him right away.
I’ve got to be honest though, I don’t feel like Rosholt vs. Osterneck should have made it to the telecast over “Razor” Rob McCullough vs. Donald Cerrone. For one, last night was Rosholt’s first and last appearance in the WEC. He’s being moved over to the UFC’s middleweight division, so why give camera time to someone who won’t be around after the fight in favor of a fight in which the winner has been promised a title shot against current lightweight champ Jamie Varner? The reason why we are seeing the WEC get rid of the 205 and 185 pound divisions is because there have been too many times where we’ve seen — er, rather, not seen — a fighter in a non-televised prelim win and then go right to a televised main event title shot. Cerrone beat McCullough via decision and will now be facing Varner but Cerrone has gotten such little exposure that I’m not sure if the masses will really care about that fight.
One thing I’d like to see is play-by-play commentator Todd Harris undergo some jiu-jitsu training. If he’s already spent some time on the mat, I’d like to see him spend even more. Too many times last night did he get jumpy when a fighter was attempting a submission from the bottom only to be cautioned by color commentator Frank Mir that the end was not actually near. Harris and Mir’s partnership is now one that is more equitable and the duo have settled into a more traditional announce team style, but Harris needs to know whether a basic hold is being applied properly if he’s going to be the one making the dramatic fight calls.
I also couldn’t help but notice that the same timing issues that often plague the UFC’s telecasts have now infected the WEC. The telecast began at 8 p.m. ET but we didn’t see the first match start until 8:15. According to my clock, they went to commercial after the Filho vs. Sonnen fight at 9:41 and the main event didn’t start until 9:56. And a couple of times they’d cut to an extended commercial break, come back for 30 seconds, and go to more commercials. I don’t usually time these things and maybe the only thing that has changed is my perception, but I just seem to remember WEC shows moving much faster. In the end, I can’t really complain because the broadcast is somewhat free (I did have to re-upgrade my DirecTV package to get VERSUS).