Fans, Fighters and the UFC all stand to benefit from UFC/WEC Merger

Well for once, a Dana White major announcement lived up to the advance billing. With admirable clarity the UFC President used this afternoon’s press conference to shake up the world of mixed martial arts and right a few wrongs that had been allowed to continue for too long. The announcement that UFC is to merge with its sister organization World Extreme Cagefighting and add the featherweight and bantamweight divisions to its roster is good for fighters, good for the UFC and good for fans.

Since its purchase by Zuffa in 2006, WEC had focused on developing fighters in lighter weight classes something that was taken to its logical conclusion in 2008 when the promotion discontinued all its other divisions to exclusively focus on fights featuring lightweights, featherweights and bantamweights. The latter two divisions became the promotion’s calling card, largely due to the lack of opportunities for fighters to compete at 145Ibs or 135Ibs in the UFC.

But while WEC undoubtedly perform wonders in establishing the likes of Miguel Torres and Urijah Faber as stars amongst hardcore fight fans, it simply wasn’t the right platform to expose them to the casual audience that were content to watch their monthly UFC event and nothing else. Fights and fighters that with the UFC machine fully behind them would have been headlining on pay per view and in major arenas were instead shown for free on Versus. This sad state of affairs obviously had a detrimental effect on the pay and profile of some of the most exciting fighters in the sport with even the very best at 135Ibs and 145Ibs earning a fraction of a UFC headliner.

Today’s merger means that featherweights and bantamweights will no longer be excluded from the biggest MMA events in the world, finally receiving the same level of exposure that heavier fighters take for granted. Not only does this open up the possibility of featherweights and bantamweights receiving higher payouts from the UFC as a result of fighting on bigger events but the higher profile that comes from competing in the Octagon should make them more attractive to sponsors. And with all seven divisions now on an equal footing, smaller lightweights such as Clay Guida and Ken ny Florian could now explore moving down to 145Ibs without having to leave the UFC.

For the UFC the merger means that they are finally using their roster to its fullest potential, able to call on some of the most dynamic fighters in the world to add luster to an average card by guaranteeing at least one all-action, non-stop, high quality bout. And the addition of the two new weight classes now takes the number of UFC champions to seven, so giving matchmaker Joe Silva at least an extra four world title fights to place on the schedule. While the UFC will have to work hard to introduce the new championships to previously unaware fans, the merger now means that the UFC will never again have to put on events such as UFC 109, UFC 110 or UFC 119 where the main event bout was neither an eagerly anticipated grudge match nor a world title fight.

And none of this is speculation as we can already see it happening. The new UFC Featherweight Champion Jose Aldo will defend his title on the 1st January at UFC 125, beneath the Lightweight Title Match between Frankie Edgar and Gray Maynard. This move adds strength to an event badly hit by the cancellation of its previous co-main event between Shane Carwin and Roy Nelson due to the withdrawal of Carwin due to injury. White has also made clear that featherweights and bantamweights will be appearing on all UFC events just as fighters from any other division.

The UFC is stronger after today’s announcement, with the organization not only in a better position to put on strong events on both cable television and pay per view but also finally making sure that all its fighters have the same opportunity to became stars to the casual fanbase. For fight fans this move should mean that they get higher quality events from the world’s leading MMA organization with the world’s most exciting fighters finally appearing on fighting’s world stage.

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