Mark La Monica is the deputy sports editor for cross media at Newsday and writes about mixed martial
Urijah Faber hopped on Takeya Mizugaki's back Thursday night, and it became just a matter of time. A matter of time until Mizugaki's night ended in a nap. A matter of time until Faber's career in the World Extreme Championship came to end.
No, Faber isn't retiring. Far from it. Rather, the WEC will be absorbed by the Ultimate Fighting Championship beginning Jan. 1, 2011.
For the past four years, "The California Kid" has stood out as the face of the WEC. Faber had the good looks, the long hair, the chill vibe and, when inside the cage, the talent, athleticism and unorthodox striking to ignite the crowd.
All those traits will follow Faber, 31, when he moves to the UFC's newly established bantamweight division (135 pounds). The only thing that will change for the former featherweight champion are the color and letters on his 4-ounce gloves.
"I've kind of made amends with the fact that the WEC is equal to UFC, and it's just kind of irritating having to explain that to people all the time who don't know or don't understand," Faber said. "So in my mind, I was a champion at the highest level and it's just really a change of some initials. But the implications on the money side and the respect factor of fans in general and not having to explain to people who don't understand the intermixing of the two from the get go, it's just going to be easier on me."
Indeed, the rolling up of the WEC into the UFC, both owned by Zuffa, LLC, doesn't carry the negative implications typically associated when a smaller company is absorbed by its big brother. This will put fighters such as Faber in a bigger spotlight with bigger paychecks and larger crowds.
But it's worth pausing for a moment to give Faber and the WEC a warm sendoff. Home to the lighter weight fighters, the WEC has thrilled dedicated MMA fans with exciting bouts every time they put on the blue gloves.
"The reality is there's a lot more eyeballs on UFC than there was on WEC, so now the exposure is going to grow, and I think with that, so will the popularity of these fighters," WEC general manager Reed Harris said.
Seeing Faber, and all the other WEC fighters, wearing black gloves instead of blue will be jarring . . . for about four seconds. It's still all about the fights, the 5-minute rounds, the kicks, the blows, the kimuras, the rear-naked chokes.
Faber is the biggest WEC star who will introduce himself to UFC fans. (Yes, folks, there are some people out there who think UFC and MMA are the same thing and forget about the other capital-letter and full-word mixed martial arts promotions out there.)
But the brightest star to now fight with the black gloves is featherweight champion Jose Aldo. At 24, Aldo (18-1) is as dominant at 145 pounds as Georges St-Pierre at 170 and Anderson Silva at 185. That's probably why all three sit atop everyone's mythical pound-for-pound rankings.
"They're finally on the biggest stage in the world now," UFC president Dana White said of his new fighters. "A lot of people haven't seen how exciting these fights are."
"[The WEC] has meant a lot to me, and it's been part of the bigger Zuffa family," Faber said. "But inside of that, it's been its own little animal, and I put a lot of effort into exploring it. I acted like I've been working for the WEC and with the WEC to build it. And we've done a great job."