10 YRS AGO – ENNIS’S TAKE: What might UFC do with it’s new toys, the newly acquired WFA and WEC?

By Shawn Ennis, MMATorch columnist

Chuck Liddell (photo credit Joe Camporeale © USA Today Sports)

By now we’ve all heard the news that the UFC has bought “select assets” of the WFA, and that the promotion will basically cease to exist.  And if you’ve read John Taylor’s “Truth and Opinion,” posted yesterday, you also know that the UFC is also probably closing in on buying the WEC as well.  So what does this all mean to you and me?  Let’s have a look.

1. Chuck Liddell vs. Rampage Jackson II

If this isn’t the first thing you thought of when you saw that the WFA is now Zuffa property, raise your hand.  Anyone?  No?  Yeah, that was my thought too.  I’ll agree wholeheartedly that Liddell’s endless string of rematches is beginning to wear on me, but this one is warranted.  There’s huge money in this fight if it’s promoted correctly, and the UFC has a track record of well-promoted events, so my guess is that “Rampage” Jackson gets a quick tune-up match to start off with (I can’t imagine they’d throw him in there with someone too tough, seeing as how he does hold a win over Liddell, and the rematch is inevitable), and then “The Iceman” will meet Jackson in his next title defense after he beats Tito Ortiz in a few weeks.  In fact, it wouldn’t be a huge surprise to see Jackson meet Liddell right away, to keep his credibility from being potentially damaged by an upset loss.  This will be an interesting situation to watch.

2. Heath Herring Joins the Heavies

This is one of the fighters I mentioned in the heavyweight “Lay of the Land” article a few weeks ago who could be brought in to bolster the division, and I think he’ll be a solid addition to the UFC.  I should also say that Zuffa hasn’t actually disclosed whose contracts they’ve bought out, but seriously…can you imagine that these two aren’t on the list?  I would look for an announcement perhaps as soon as tomorrow night during the Fight Night broadcast concerning this situation.  It’s hard to say who else might join the organization from the WFA.  Ivan Salaverry is already under contract with the IFL, as is Bas Rutten.  I believe Matt Lindland’s contract is already up with the WFA, so he’ll have to be pursued through other means (assuming the UFC is still pursuing him).  Urijah Faber fights at a lighter weight than 155, so he may not be brought in right away, unless he can either gain the weight to compete in the lightweight division or the UFC starts a new featherweight class.  Jason Miller, Marvin Eastman, Lyoto Machida (the only fighter besides Anderson Silva with a win over Rich Franklin), Rob McCollough, and Ricco Rodriguez will be some other names to watch for, as they have either fought or were scheduled to fight for the WFA.

3. WEC=Minor League?

It’s unclear at this point exactly what Zuffa plans to do with the WEC, but it’s basically a sure thing that it will be promoted separately from the UFC.  This could go in a lot of different directions, and Zuffa would be wise to use it as a “minor league”, as one rumor indicates, where they could build up newcomers and groom them to be ready for the big show.  I said last week that I think it’s a good idea to pursue network TV contracts for MMA, and this acquisition would provide the perfect opportunity for Zuffa to do just that.  You could get the WEC a weekly show; say on CBS, which is owned by Viacom (the same company that owns Spike TV and hosts of other networks).  This would leave Spike TV still as the home of the UFC on cable TV, and it would give exposure to the future fighters of the UFC.  You use the weekly show as a way to get to know the fighters, with a few fights or highlights sprinkled into each episode to give a little picture of what these guys can do.  Add in the occasional appearance by the big names from the UFC, and you’ve got a solid way to get your product a lot of exposure.

This could be followed by WEC events shown on network TV, with a main event featuring some of the non-champion names from the UFC, similar to the Fight Nights on Spike TV.  The difference would be that people would know, and hopefully care about, the fighters on the WEC card.  (Another difference is that they wouldn’t have to work the event schedule around Spike, who uses the Fight Nights to pop a rating for whatever show they want to promote themselves.)  They could use the weekly shows to build up personalities, perhaps rivalries, friendships, or whatever comes out.  Then they put it all on display for the fight cards.  They could even have the WEC championships defended on network TV.  The belts would have to be portrayed as inferior to the UFC straps for this all to work, of course, but that’s doable.  To top it all off, it could be portrayed that the goal of these fighters is to make it to a UFC pay-per-view.  To fight the big names, and perhaps fight for a UFC championship.  Then when you’ve got these guys making it to the big show, it’s another selling point for that PPV.  This could also help the PPV shows in that it would be rare to have fighters that most people have never seen before making their debut on a PPV.  Most people making their UFC debut would be coming from the WEC, and if there is someone who’s never been in the WEC, it would be a bigger deal.  If he’s skipping the minor leagues, the perception would be that he must already be pretty good.  It would add credibility to debuting fighters.

Finally, there are always fan favorites who don’t necessarily win all the time, but they either put on a good show, or they showcase an interesting personality.  They may never contend for a title, but they’re fun to watch.  Dave Legeno from Cage Rage is a good example.  The “minor league” promotion is the perfect place for fighters just such as these.  They can be put in favorable matchups to please the crowd, or they can be used as gatekeepers.  The possibilities are endless.

All in all, there’s a lot of good that can come from these acquisitions; both for the UFC and for MMA in general.  The more exposure there is, the more opportunity there is for other companies who offer something different.  But if depending on how things play out, the next year will go a long way in predicting the future of MMA.

NOW CHECK OUT THE PREVIOUS 10 YRS AGO FLASHBACK: COLUMN: Ennis says MMA has potential to become as big as the major team sports in America, but what has to happen first?

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