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WEC 37 Post-Game Report: The WEC strikes back but still has room to improve

As a devout fan of World Extreme Cagefighting, I was happy last night to see the promotion regain some of the momentum it had last following last month’s lackluster WEC 36 event.

While WEC 37 did not feature the epic “Fight of the Year” encounters supplied by June’s WEC 34, the event still served as an entertaining night of fights.

The show got off to a slow start with an opener featuring debuting bantamweights Joseph Benavidez and Danny Martinez. Martinez entered the fight with an impressive record but still appeared to be rough around the edges. Benavidez was clearly the more technical fighter, putting combinations together while Martinez went the brawling route and instead hung back looking for the home run punch.

The styles of the two fighters did not mesh well but they provided a strong exchange towards the end of the fight with Martinez looking to steal the fight with a big finish after obviously losing all three rounds of the fight on the scorecards. Benavidez weathered the storm and justified his status as one of the top 135 pound prospects in the sport.

The card also marked the debut of new WEC matchmaker Sean Shelby, a longtime member of the Zuffa family that has served in a number of roles. Shelby might be best known as the man who handled the video editing for the UFC music video set to the tune of The Who’s “Teenage Wasteland.” The video is only shown to the live audience at UFC events and features some of the most memorable fight sequences during Zuffa’s ownership of the UFC. The video is a tremendous marketing tool that adds to the atomosphere of the UFC’s live events and it’s the type of easily-replicated thing that the EliteXC or IFL never tried to copy.

Shelby replaced Scott Adams, who, with Reed Harris, was one of the original owners of the WEC. Adams had come under fire in recent months due to the fact that several title challengers were not built up properly on TV.

As FiveOuncesOfPain.com was the first to report, Adams was replaced after last month’s WEC 36 after a “Fight of the Night” bout featuring Donald Cerrone and Rob McCullough was unable to make the broadcast. In the fight’s place was a green Jake Rosholt, who was featured instead of Cerrone — the new number one contender for the lightweight title — due to a contractual guarantee that all of Rosholt’s WEC fights must be televised.

It should be noted that Adams is still with the promotion, as he was clearly visible on multiple occasions during VERSUS’ telecast of the event last night.

My personal “Fight of the Night” honors goes to a bantamweight encounter between Brian Bowles and Will Ribeiro. Bowles and Ribeiro are extremely valuable to a promotion that is now eschewing the light heavyweight and middleweight divisions in favor of focusing even more on lighter weight divisions.

The WEC’s lighter weight focus has made the promotion a cult favorite amongst hardcore fans. However, it remains to be seen how much the promotion can grow its audience with highly-technical ground fighting that often lacks highlight reel knockouts that casual fans crave. While Bowles and Ribeiro are very capable on the ground, they showed a willingness to stand and brawl — a rarity for the 135 pound division.

In victory, Bowles moved himself a step closer to a title fight vs. current bantamweight champion Miguel Angel Torres. However, Ribeiro still helped his star immensely with in his first appearance on live television. I spoke with a leading MMA agent after the show who expressed his belief that Ribeiro looked more impressive in losing than Wagnney Fabiano did in winning.

Fabiano submitted fellow featherweight newcomer Akitoshi Tamura with just seconds remaining in the third round. While the war of attrition for ground position likely was considered boring to the average fan, I found the posturing to be extremely entertaining. Adding to the enjoyment of the match was the outstanding camera work by the WEC production team.

I especially enjoyed a close up of Tamura’s legs locking up Fabiano in half-guard at one point. It also appeared that the production team took a page out of the Fox Sports playbook by quick-shifting to different camera angles while the action was slow on the ground. In doing so, the production added to the drama of the struggle for position.

The show’s main event also delivered. While Torres vs. Tapia was nowhere near as good as Torres vs. Yoshiro Maeda, the fight was still exciting. I especially enjoyed the ending sequence where Torres rocked Tapia and then rocked him again and finished him off for good after he had recovered.

While I enjoyed the event, there are still areas in which the WEC can look to improve.

First, the timing of the show was inconsistent. During the live action, you got the feeling that the producers wanted to get off the air as soon as possible.

For the second show in a row, the WEC aired on the same night as “The Ultimate Fighter.” However, it was even more imperative this month to get off the air as close to 10 p.m. ET as possible with Spike TV airing the final two taped episodes of TUF.

The WEC can put itself in a position where it can deliver a more consistently paced show by no longer airing on Wednesday nights, where it is forced to go against TUF.

What’s crazy was that during WEC 37, Spike was airing taped UFC specials that began at 6. Spike and VERSUS are competitors but the UFC and WEC are both owned by Zuffa. I had issues with the UFC competing with EliteXC on CBS (which is owned by CBS Corp., which falls under the same umbrella as Viacom, the parent company of Spike TV) and hastily booking a UFC Fight Night in July to go head-to-head with Affliction’s “Banned.” But at least there isn’t a double-standard, as Zuffa is showing that it’s also willing to go head-to-head with itself! That being said, it’s still counter-productive for the growth of the sport for MMA to go head-to-head with itself like it did last night. MMA fans were only exposed to one night of strong MMA programming when it could have been spread out over the course of two.

During the NFL off-season, the WEC should schedule shows for Sunday and during football season, shows should be held on Thursdays. I believe its better to go head-to-head with the NFL and college football with a show that can breathe and has time to build stars as opposed to a condensed version that tries like bloody hell to avoid an overlap during the airing of TUF.

While the fights themselves felt rushed with no context or analysis provided before or after a fight, the event slowed to a crawl between fights with excessive commercial breaks and extended ring introductions for three of the four fights.

The commercial situation cannot be corrected but there are still adjustments that can be made to get the pacing of the show back to where it was prior to WEC 36. When the WEC is at the Hard Rock in Vegas, I’m not sure the entrances could be any less impressive. The music is somewhat muted and the entrance way looks like a fighter is walking into the venue off the street as opposed to out of a locker room.

The WEC should either add some kind of small stage setup for the fighters to enter through or just stop showing entrances on TV altogether and have the fighters in the cage and ready for introductions immediately after commercial. Simply put, WEC fighter entrances from The Joint in Vegas don’t get my adrenaline flowing.

Also, the WEC should look into doing away with pre-fight instructions and the pre-fight staredown in non-title fights. The WEC is the true essence of sport and almost all of the fighters showed a tremendous amount of class and respect towards one another. They all follow the rules so they don’t need to be reminded of them on camera and the tension between Torres and Tapia is one of the few times in the WEC in which I remember the staredown actually eliciting a reaction from me.

I also believe the WEC needs to add a bigger feel to all of its events. The Sacramento and Albuquerque shows felt like pay-per-views. Last night’s show felt like MMA’s version of “Friday Night Fights” before the main event. With EliteXC out of the picture for now, why now schedule a show on VERSUS for a Saturday night on a weekend when the UFC isn’t holding a show? Or, why not schedule next year’s final event during the same weekend of the UFC’s annual New Year’s Eve weekend event? A lot of people come in out of town for New Year’s Eve weekend and they are looking for something to do the night before. I remember going to an IFO show at the Riviera last year simply because it was the day before UFC 79. About 1,500 people felt the same way I did. A WEC event the day before the UFC’s biggest event of the year could draw a pretty hot crowd.

The WEC also needs a public face for its company. One segment I used to enjoy on UFC pay-per-views is when UFC President Dana White would be interview by Mike Goldberg and would essentially give a “state of the UFC” address. Peter Dropick is the WEC’s top executive and it wouldn’t be a bad idea to give him 2-3 minutes of camera time every show to let WEC fans know what’s planned for the coming months.

It would have been great to hear what’s in store for 2009 as far as number of fight cards, venues, where the promotion is as far as adding female MMA, etc. During the pre-TUF area when growth was slow going for the UFC, White’s interviews always left me with the feeling that the promotion was still growing and that the sport was going forward, and not backward.

There are also some minor enhancements I’d like to see made. For instance, with the elimination of the middleweight and light heavyweight divisions, we’re going to see even fewer finishes in the WEC. That’s fine by me, but why not add a cageside scorer to come on mic for 15-20 seconds at the start of each round to illustrate how they scored the round? Why not just bring back Eddie Bravo? Bravo served in the same role for the UFC and was mentioned so many times by Frank Mir last night that I felt like he was a part of the broadcast anyway.

The WEC also used to do a great job of foreshadowing future fights by cutting to fighters in the crowd and interviewing them regarding a possible future opponent fighting that night. For example, I was really disappointed not to see Jeff Curran. Curran is one of the top lighter weight fighters ever to compete in MMA and is moving to bantamweight. And if you’re a regular reader of this site, you know he’s trying to create some interest for a future showdown with Torres.

How could the WEC have missed out on the opportunity to begin planting the seeds for a Torres vs. Curran dreamfight at bantamweight? If they would have put Curran on the mic and got him to say some of the things he told me during a recent interview, you’d have a lot more people buzzing about last night’s show.

Finally, the WEC still needs to do a better job of building well-known contenders for the future and avoid situations where guys like Curran and Mike Brown are featured in title fighters without previously having competed in a televised bout on VERSUS. Bart Palaszewski had an impressive win last night and the only way you knew about it is if you went on a website for live play-by-play.

Once the WEC stops airing on the same nights as TUF, they will have time to put together a small highlight package that play-by-play announcer Todd Harris can do a narrative for. “And before we go to break, let’s catch you up on some action that went down earlier tonight. Making his WEC debut, former IFL lightweight title challenger Bart Palaszewski began his climb towards a WEC lightweight title shot with a victory over TUF 1 veteran Alex Karalexis.”

The WEC could also use the highlights package as a way to upsell its WrekCage program on VERSUS. WrekCage is the WEC’s equivalent to “UFC Unleashed” on Spike, yet seemingly no one knows about it. Show the highlights and when Harris cut to a commercial he can say, “Look to see these fights in their entirety when the new season of WrekCage debuts on…” I get the impression that a lot of the people who watch the live shows have no idea WrekCage exists because I am constantly being asked by people about how the non-televised preliminary fights can be viewed.

12 COMMENTS
  • richie says:

    The song they play at the UFC events is Baba O’Riley, not Teenage Wasteland.

  • Drewplata says:

    What about the fact that Todd Harris (if you say that’s his name, I’ll believe you) is a miserable announcer. At this point, shouldn’t there be some play by play guys who know what the hell they’re talking about?

    I’m aware of the Wrekcage shows and I really enjoy them. You’re right, though, they should be pushing those and they should not be afraid of showing pre-Zuffa fights, regardless of how silly the cage looked. I’d love to see the Diaz brothers, Karo et al in their early years.

    About the KOs or lack thereof, they need at least one WW fight per card.

  • Imbecile says:

    Sam, the WEC is scheduling a show on a Saturday night for its next major event. The show in San Diego will take place in the (awful) San Diego Sports Arena, which will also provide a much larger venue than the Hard Rock. So a couple of your wishes have already been answered. Too bad it is on a Saturday to compete against Affliction, but it is on a Saturday nonetheless.

    Editor’s Note: Imbecile, this is not correct. While it’s been reported by some sites that the WEC is going head-to-head with Affliction, it appears they need to check a calendar. WEC 38 will be taking place on Jan. 25, which is a Sunday, not a Saturday. Affliction will be taking place a day prior, Jan. 24, which is a Saturday, not a Sunday. Affliction will run on Saturday and will be proceeded the next day by the WEC. Hope that helps.

  • Cash says:

    With a name like Imbecile, it seems more hash when Sam corrects you

  • Chris says:

    Very good read I must say, alot of your points are things that should be done. I agree I was thinking the same shit, watching them come in threw them doors looked cheap, I think Mir knows his shit, I hated him now after seeing him on TUF, and is it me or did he have alot of trouble saying Tamura’s name last night? He knows his shit, but he isnt the best announcer. I agree, a scoring system should be used, have someone like they do on HBO boxing, Harold Letterman, saying who he thinks is winning, have a compubox type thing showing punches, kicks thrown and landed would be nice. I was watching that and like they didnt even say shit with Wagnney, they didnt let you know that he is the former IFL champ, like let people know what these fighters making there debut in the WEC are, they are champs from other orgs, IFL aint around no more, its not like your giving them promotion and shit. But about your shit being on Wed, yeah when the UFC is on it does suck, but Thurs arent good, TNA wresting is on Thurs on Spike, and there are MMA fans that watch wresting, I think competing with them isnt smart. Wed when the UFC isnt on isnt bad. But yeah, they need to let people know whats in store down the road, build up some of these lighter fighters, and show more fights, I wanted to see Cub’s fight and Barts fight. Some of the fights went long, into the 3rd round and shit, that more fights couldnt be shown.

    Another point you made is putting shit on during a UFC weekend, that sounds good, like if your gonna have a UFC event on a Sat or so, have the WEC on Sunday or somthing when the NFL isnt on, but then your making people buy tickets for 2 shows, that is asking alot, and once the UFC is over, people may leave, you’d be better off having the WEC event first, on a Friday or Sat and UFC on Sat or Sun, that way you know people arent gonna leave cause they are there for the UFC event. I like the fights on Wed, but it did feel rushed, and they were promoting the upcoming UFC PPV, but they had to promote the Contender on VS next, and couldnt promote TUF on Spike, even though Zuffa owns both, they want people to switch over to TUF and not Contender but they couldnt say that cause they are on Vs. I think Faber should drop to BW, he would be strong at BW, and imagine a super fight with Torres and Faber for the BW title? That easily could be a PPV main event. They have alot of young talent in the WEC, but I think the UFC should send some guys over, you dont think a guy like Tyson Griffin could come over to the WEC and fight at LW or FW? Gray Manard, Karo could fight Condit. You got others too, instead of cutting Gurgel, he couldnt fight at LW in the WEC? I think taking some names from the UFC that arent super stars, but are known, send them to the WEC. Tyson could step in and fight Varner or Brown and win a title, or stay in the UFC, fight on undercards and never get a title. It builds the WEC brand up, makes some good fights, I think they should do that.

  • Chris says:

    Also, I heard that the WEC is planning on doing a TUF type show on Vs this year? Any word on that? I know they have Tapout show, which I liked, I mean you have Damacio Page fought in the WEC and Cowboy, Cowboy is fighting for a title. Also i thought last season the kid from BJ’s camp looked good. They have that, but a TUF type show for the lighter weights, like BW and FW would be great, fighters cant do that on the TUF shows, so you get guys packing on pounds for them shows, give them a shot for a WEC type show you could find some talent. Only thing is, I thnk FW and BW are getting nicely stacked, I think LW and WW are the WEC weaker classes, I mean whats next after Varner and Cowbody? Condit will fight Larson right? Then what? They need some fresh talent in LW and WW first, but the UFC has them classes, so you probably wont get the best fighters for a WEC, they go to the UFC. But any word on if they will be doing a contender type mma show on Vs? They did a boxing and shit already, why not an MMA version?

  • Nate Double says:

    Great points. I too got the distinct feeling that the producers were wishing the fights would wrap up quickly towards the end. Even the cuts to commercial were badly done and not giving the winning fighter 30 seconds to speak his piece after the fight is a little classless too.

    I like the way WEC fights break up the week being on Wednesdays but I think more people would tune in to a Saturday night fight or even Sunday night during the football off season as you mentioned.

    Mir does a good job announcing but he gets so into it sometimes that he stumbles over his words and seems flustered. Other than that I like his insights and knowledge.

    The fighter entrances are laughable since it looks like they’re coming into a high school auditorium from the lobby with those stupid doors in the background. I know the economy sucks but at least invest in some curtains.

  • Lee Gerowitz says:

    Sam, that was a solid breakdown. I might let you write a Post Card From The Couch sometime!

  • RJA says:

    Torrees was very impressive,i knew he was good but i thought tapia might be to much for him.Needless to say i stupidly underestimated one of the best in the sport.Not to mention he’s got a pretty kickass mullet or is that a oxymoron.

  • steve says:

    i wouldn’t really consider the Benavidez vs. Martinez a slow start, i personally really enjoyed the fight. i also really enjoyed the Fabiano vs. Tamura fight, it was really cool to watch a fight of that level of technicality. Overall, i’d say it was a great card, not disappointing at all.

  • JOe K. says:

    Sam,

    You should use your MMA clout and make sure that someone in the WEC sees this!!!!

    “…a small highlight package that play-by-play announcer Todd Harris can do a narrative for. “And before we go to break, let’s catch you up on some action that went down earlier tonight….”

    They should better set up the pace to pack in more fights. This is especially imperative when trying to establish the lighter weight division with more unknown fighters.

    The WEC is my favorite promotion but it is quickly losing that spot with the last two events. The last one I was frustrated/baffled with the timing and with this one I was just bored.

    It took away from the fights. I would prefer that they not show it live. Record it and show it with an hour or 2 delay so you can pace it better.

    Your right how they don’t say where the un-aired pre-lims are going to be shown. Even if you do know where the pre-lims are going to be shown the Wreckage events are so random that its hard to tell if any of the pre-lims you missed are going to be on there.

    They have really screwed up these last two events.

    Thanks,
    JOe K.

  • JOe K. says:

    To get beyond my frustration with the pacing:

    The Benavidez vs. Martinez fight was a great start and very exciting (sans half of round 2)

    Bowles vs Ribero was a great fight. Bowles is a beast and he doesn’t do that weird arm stretch thing anymore while in between striking.

    Fabiano vs Tamura was a boring fight. I appreciate technical BJJ but it has to be more aggressive, ie more submission attempts from both bottom and top.

    The main event was great. Torres is a bad ass. They should give Maeda a rematch.

    thats it four fights 1 of them bad yet the event as a whole left a sour taste in my mouth.

    P.S. I like Frank Mir but he is way too biased when announcing.

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