I had been putting off an column on this month's MMA for a couple of reasons. First, it was simply too depressing. In addition, I didn't know what fresh hell the WEC card would bring.
It was supposed to be a banner month for mixed martial arts, with seven title fights across three major promotions. And we had already seen:
- Five twenty-five minute fights that did not produce a single stoppage.
- A supremely embarrassing effort by Anderson Silva that called into question his heart and possible status as the sport's best fighter.
- A shocking upset by Frankie Edgar that was brutally marred by both Silva's unprofessionalism and questionable judging that may have produced the right winner but resulted in scores that bring into doubt if the officials were even watching the event. (If Edgar won all five rounds — as Doug Crosby's card said he did — I'll eat my knee brace.)
- A botched promotional effort by Strikeforce that focused far too little on rising star -slash- charisma machine "King Mo" Lawal and far too much on past-his-prime -slash- relatively boring Dan Henderson.
- Or, for that matter, champion Jake Shields, who dispatched Henderson in five rounds and will likely repay Strikeforce for the disrespect by taking their title to the UFC (and maybe even throwing it in the trash, Kevin Nash style).
- And, of course, the unprofessional brawl between Shields and Jason Miller that gave CBS and Strikeforce a black eye…
- …or would have, had the ratings not been so abysmal that it's unclear if anybody in America actually saw what happened the night of. We're talking ratings that threaten the short-term future of nationally televised MMA.
Watch Kalib Run called it "a 25 minute amputation of Faber's leg", and while I can't top that, I'll point out that Aldo did plenty to excise the cloud over MMA as well.
Basketball had March Madness. MMA had April Sadness. But thankfully, Saturday's card – which I'm hesistant to even refer to as a WEC event given the near absence of WEC branding – provided a reminder of why we watch the sport in the first place.
The headliner pitted stud champion Jose Aldo against Urijah Faber, whose surfer vibe and four title defenses in 2007 made him the face of the promotion. Well, get used to seeing Aldo's Brazilian mug a lot more, because he made the case for being one of the five best fighters in the world after decisively dispatching Faber with speed and length. Aldo's leg kicks were a thing of beauty, unless you expected such beauty to come from Faber's stems, which got hammered to the point of unrecognizability.
Prior to the fight, some complained that Mike Brown deserved the title shot, but Faber's marketability was too much to pass up. (In retrospect, the decision looks better as Brown was KOed by Manny Gamburyan, who has looked good since dropping to featherweight last year).
Aldo, at 17-1, has a title defense under his golden belt and already held the record for fastest WEC knockout. He's well on his way to doing to featherweights what Silva and Georges St-Pierre have done to their respective divisions — completely and utterly own them.
The card also solidified Ben Henderson's status as an excellent lightweight. Finally, a title fight with a stoppage! With Donald Cerrone, he had a rematch of the 2009 Fight of the Year, but this one didn't produce that sort of drama. Instead, it showed that "Smooth's" guillotine, which he used to stop Jamie Varner, is a fearsome weapon when backed up by athleticism and an almost unsubmittable flexibility. As a bonus, we were also treated to an absolute war on Spike TV free before the main card, as Chan Sung Jung and Leonard Garcia rumbled non-stop for three rounds to produce a Fight of the Year candidate.
I'm excited to see where Aldo goes from here and what Henderson will do in his next fight (especially if it's a rematch against Jamie Varner, who insists Henderson got lucky with a guillotine in the third round of their first fight). Will I see them under the WEC banner? It's difficult to say. Zuffa stripped so much of the branding from WEC that if you hadn't noticed everything had a bluish tint you'd have been pretty sure you were watching a UFC show. The lightweights are almost certainly UFC-bound before long and at that point Zuffa will likely stop with the charade and do what they had intended to all along: expand UFC to seven (or eight) weight classes.
While it would be great for the top-notch fighters of WEC to get the paydays they deserve on a more consistent basis, I'll be sad when World Extreme Cagefighting is no more. It's a brand that has built up a lot of goodwill by producing excellent, high-energy fights. On Saturday, they earned that goodwill once again.
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