Until today, the talk inside mixed martial arts circles has been just that: talk.
But, finally, the UFC announced Thursday that it will absorb its sister promotion, World Extreme Cagefighting (WEC).
“There is no more WEC," UFC president Dana White said. "Those weight classes are going to roll into the UFC. All the employees that work for the WEC will be part of the UFC.”
The UFC will now feature featherweights (145 pounds) and bantamweights (135), giving the sport's largest promotion seven championship divisions. The WEC's lightweight division (155) will just fold into the UFC's.
White said the last WEC fight will be the Dec. 16 card with Ben Henderson defending his lightweight title against Anthony Pettis.
This merger was just a matter of time. When Jose Aldo defended his featherweight title at against Urijah Faber last April at WEC 48, it was the promotion's first pay-per-view card. And there was no WEC presence on the broadcast aside from the fighters. The PPV broadcast had Mike Goldberg and Joe Rogan doing the commentating, and there was no visible signage.
That gave us a sign that this oft-discussed absorption would happen sooner rather than later.
"It's always been our goal to have every weight class," White said. “It’s time. As we continue to grow globally, and going into these newmarkets like China and Mexico, we’re doing enough fights to fold this thing into the UFC.”
The brightest WEC star now in the UFC spotlight is Jose Aldo. He's ranked No. 3 on most pound-for-pound lists, including ours. He will make his UFC debut on Jan. 1, 2011 when he defends his featherweight title at UFC 125 on Jan. 1, 2011. And there we have the new co-main event to replace Roy Nelson vs. Shane Carwin. (Carwin pulled out with an injury.)
But the biggest impact this will have on the UFC is at lightweight. If you put the UFC marketing machine aside for a moment, the division has champion Frankie Edgar and not much else right now. BJ Penn cleaned out the division prior to losing twice to Edgar, and Penn is now fighting at welterweight. Edgar defends his title against Gray Maynard, the only loss on his record (12-1), at UFC 125.
"To bring in more '55s that people know and recognize and care about, that's great," White said.
But this merger creates essentially two UFC lightweight champions. White cleared that up by saying the winner of the WEC's Henderson-Pettis fight on Dec. 16 with face the winner of the Edgar-Maynard fight at UFC 125. That will essentially create a unification title fight down the line in 2011.
Other notable WEC fighters you should familiarize yourself if you don't already know them include Urijah Faber, long the face of the WEC, Dominick Cruz, Brian Bowles, Miguel Angel Torres, Mike Brown, Manny Gamburyan and Joseph Benavidez, to name a few.
“They’re finally on the biggest stage in the world now," White said. "A lot of people haven't seen how exciting these fights are."
White also said on the conference call that the UFC will do four shows on Versus in 2011, up from two in 2010. In terms of fight cards for fans, however, it's a net loss because Versus was the broadcast home of WEC and had seven or eight cards a year on the network.