Friday, March 16, 2007

WEC enjoys big backing

By Brad McCray

The little guy will finally win one Saturday when World Extreme Cagefighting has three title fights in Las Vegas.

The WEC is a relatively modest mixed-martial arts promotion with some big backers and some small fighters. Saturday's event at the Hard Rock Casino is not available on pay-per-view and features only one fighter familiar to most mixed martial arts fans. But closer inspection reveals the WEC is not just another flash-in-the-pan acronym.

The WEC is owned by Zuffa, a corporation that also owns the UFC. Zuffa has purchased other organizations, usually dissolving them and acquiring their top fighters. The WEC, however, has been allowed to operate independently

"Having Zuffa behind us makes life easier," said WEC representative Loren Mack. "We still run everything. We feel we put on the best show in the world."

Mack's claim isn't based so much on star power as fighting style. The WEC specializes in smaller fighters, who tend to have exciting fights. Saturday's card has three title fights: at bantamweight (135 pounds), Eddie Wineland fights Chase Beebe; at featherweight (145), Urijah Faber fights Domanick Cruz; at welterweight (170), John Alessio fights Carlos Condit. Currently, the UFC does not offer fights below lightweight (155).

"We're not an organization that put together three cards and says, 'We're the best,' " Mack said. "But we're hoping to continue to grow. We focus on the lighter fighters, and they are always entertaining."

THE TV EFFECT: In June, Versus Channel will begin airing the WEC, joining a crowded television market that already includes the UFC, Pride, IFL, Elite XC and BodogFight. While promoters duke it out behind the scenes, fans and fighters benefit.

The current MMA market is similar to the Seattle music scene in the early 1990s. Then, record executives were signing anyone with flannel, greasy hair and a guitar tuned low. Now promoters are signing relatively inexperienced fighters to contracts at sums unheard of only a few years ago.

"All these other organizations with their own monikers are driving competition and creating an environment that allows all fighters to make more money," said Randy Couture, the UFC heavyweight champion. "It's good for everybody, and there is still room to grow."

CLASH OF NATIONS: BodogFight's attempt to play on Cold War tensions may or may not resonate with the MMA audience, but its upcoming pay-per-view fight between Oregon's Matt Lindland and Russia's Fedor Emelianenko has the Internet buzzing.

Emelianenko is considered the top heavyweight and top overall fighter in the world. Lindland, an Olympic wrestling silver medalist, is ranked as the top middleweight (185) by some online polls.

BodogFight is marketing the April 14 pay-per-view globally, and it will be available in more homes than any other MMA pay-per-view event in history.


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