MMA: Mike Brown
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UFC interim bantamweight champion Renan Barao became the undisputed champion when Dominick Cruz vacated the title due to injury. Barao must now defend the title against the man he beat to win the interim title at UFC 149, Urijah Faber. Faber has won four in a row since the unanimous decision loss to Barao and will be making his third attempt to claim a UFC title. In the co-main event, UFC featherweight champion Jose Aldo will defend the title against Ricardo Lamas, who is undefeated in four UFC fights.
Here are the numbers you need to know for the fights:
85: Number of significant strikes landed by Barao in his previous fight with Faber. Although Faber landed a higher percentage of significant strikes attempted (34 percent) than Barao (29 percent), Barao was the more active fighter as he attempted 290 significant strikes to Faber’s 178.
0: Number of times Barao has been taken down by his opponents in all six of his UFC fights. In Barao’s previous fight with Faber, he was able to defend all six of Faber’s take down attempts. In all 20 of Faber’s UFC and WEC fights he has been successful on 36 percent of his takedown attempts.
4: Barao and Faber are both 4-0 against their common opponents Cole Escovedo, Scott Jorgensen, Michael McDonald and Eddie Wineland.
2: Number of times Faber has lost by KO/TKO. Neither Faber nor Barão has been prone to being finished as Barao’s only loss came by decision and Faber has not been stopped since 2008 by Mike Brown at WEC 36.
31: Barao’s winning streak since losing his professional debut in 2005. His 31 wins include 14 by submission, seven by KO/TKO and 10 by decision.
19 minutes, 24 seconds: The average fight time for Aldo in his UFC fights. At almost 19 and a half minutes per fight Aldo’s average fight time is the longest in UFC history among fighters with at least five fights in the promotion. While Aldo has a tendency for long fights, Lamas has only been past the second round once in his four UFC fights.
90: Percentage of takedowns defended by Aldo in all five of his UFC fights. Among fighters with a minimum of five UFC fights and at least 20 takedown attempts by opponents, his 90 percent takedown defense is the best in the featherweight division and fourth best in UFC history. In all 10 of his UFC and WEC fights, Lamas has been successful on 38 percent of his takedown attempts.
72: Percentage of significant strikes defended by Aldo in his UFC fights. Among fighters with a minimum of five UFC fights and at least 350 strikes attempted by opponents his 72 percent significant strike defense is the second best in the featherweight division (Chad Mendes, 77 percent) and sixth best in UFC history.
1: Aldo and Lamas have both fought 1 common opponent, Cub Swanson. In 2009, under the WEC banner, Aldo defeated Swanson by TKO with a flying knee just eight seconds into the first round. Lamas submitted Swanson with an arm-triangle choke in the second round at UFC on FOX 1 in 2011.
Statistical support from FightMetric
With a number of former WEC fighters competing Saturday at UFC 164 and one of its most infamous fights set to headline the card in Milwaukee, we took a look back at the best fights from the WEC's 10-year history through the eyes of founder and current UFC vice president of community relations Reed Harris.
So where exactly does the "Showtime kick" from Anthony Pettis rank among his favorite moments? Let's take a look back at Harris' top 10, including his personal memories of each one:
10. WEC 9: Olaf Alfonso SD John Polakowski, Jan. 16, 2004
Harris: Both guys broke their noses in the first 45 seconds of the fight. It was a war. In fact, [UFC president] Dana White was at the fight and HDNet was at the fight. And HDNet reported back to [channel owner] Mark Cuban, "We have to get this on our network." Polakowski took the fight on like two days. Really good striker but not very good on the ground. But Olaf was such a stud back then, he was like, "You know what? I'll stand with him." He just stood there for three rounds and they threw bombs.
9. WEC 29: Carlos Condit SUB1 Brock Larson, Aug. 5, 2007
Harris: It wasn't a fantastic fight, but what happened was Brock Larson was one of the strongest dudes I have ever seen. Like when that guy shook your hand, you were like, "Holy s---." He threw a punch at Condit, and Condit armbarred him, and it was so fast that I've never forgotten that moment. Larson was throwing bombs at him, he timed it perfectly and put that armbar on him and it was just, "Wow."
Harris: A lot of my memories about "Cowboy" are tied to Charles ["Mask" Lewis, Tapout co-founder]. Charles had gone and seen Donald, and he came to me and begged me to sign him -- and Charles was a guy who if he asked you to do something, he would call you every day until you did it. I remember how proud Charles was of [Cerrone]. He loved him.
7. WEC 44: Jose Aldo TKO2 Mike Brown, Nov. 18, 2009
Harris: It was the kind of moment where I really knew how good [Aldo] was. I remember the first time he jumped out of the cage [after knocking out Rolando Perez at WEC 38], I ran him back and I had never yelled at a fighter before. Poor Andre [Pederneiras] was interpreting it and it was basically, "If you ever do that again, I'll cut you." His next fight he won, I walked into the cage and he was running towards the door. He looked at me and smiled, then sat down.
6. WEC 38 and WEC 51: Donald Cerrone vs. Jamie Varner, Jan. 25, 2009 and Sept. 30, 2010
Harris: The fights between Varner and Cowboy [a technical-decision win for Varner followed by a unanimous-decision win for Cerrone] were epic. Those guys hated each other. There was so much going on behind the scenes. Biggest rivalry the WEC saw, by far. When Varner was fighting a year ago [in the UFC], he got sick, and I got a text from Donald saying something like, "You tell Varner to pull up his bootstraps and fight." I thought, "This is still going on and they haven't fought in [almost] two years."
5. WEC 53: Anthony Pettis UD Ben Henderson, Dec. 16, 2010
Harris: The fight itself was great, even without the kick. I'll tell you, when Pettis did that, I literally said, "What the hell just happened?" I didn't process it. I was watching live, and the angle I had wasn't good. I saw what happened, but I didn't know what he had done -- how he had gotten from where he was standing to all of a sudden, Ben was down. It was the most amazing thing I've ever seen someone do in MMA.
4. WEC 34: Urijah Faber UD Jens Pulver, June 1, 2008
Harris: I think we did about 1.5 million viewers, which for a company like WEC -- it's hard to be in that UFC space and command viewers. It was kind of a passing of the torch for Jens. I saw a lot of respect between the two but also a determination with Faber, like he was going to get through this. And I remember him dominating.
Harris: I remember [afterward] Faber being hurt. I gave him a hug and asked how he was. His leg was a mess. Aldo cried in the back. He was so emotional. It was like all the work he had done in his life -- that moment was life-changing to him. I remember when he was standing in that cage before the fight and "California Love" came on, Jose's look was like, "Wow. This guy's got a lot of fans."
2. WEC 40: Miguel Torres UD Takeya Mizugaki, April 5, 2009
Harris: It was such a war. I just remember how excited the crowd was and how brutal the fight was. There's nothing like seeing two guys in the dressing room who have given it everything they got. They had gone to battle. And when Miguel Torres was on, he really was like Anderson Silva. He had this aura about him.
1. WEC 48: Leonard Garcia SD Chan Sung Jung, April 24, 2010
Harris: To have those two guys step up and fight the way they did leading into our pay-per-view -- I know it completely bumped our numbers. Part of the story people don't know is after the fight, I went to the dressing rooms and "Korean Zombie" was crying because he really thought he had won the fight. I was able to tell him he won the fight of the night bonus, which was $65,000, and just the elation on his face was something I'll never forget.
Chris Weidman versus Anderson Silva is a fighting fan's Christmas. Georges St-Pierre versus Johny Hendricks is Thanksgiving. And Cain Velasquez versus Junior dos Santos III will feel like a second birthday to us all this year.
Chael Sonnen versus Mauricio Rua this weekend at TD Garden in Boston sort of feels like Flag Day in comparison.
But that said, there's a lot to like about Flag Day. Top to bottom, this is one of the stronger UFC cards fans will witness this year. Some events are structured around one fight and one fight only. Boston, on the other hand, features plenty to watch for.
The legend of Conor McGregor
We are all getting way too carried away about McGregor -- but it's impossible not to. Simplest way to put it: When McGregor fights, you want to watch, and when he talks, you want to listen. It's not just that he's entertaining; he has this contagious passion about what he does. During a recent visit to Las Vegas, McGregor said he was so excited he stayed up shadowboxing in his hotel room until 5 a.m. He's in a hurry to be at the top, and Max Holloway wants to slow him down.
The curious case of Uriah Hall
You hear all the time how important the mental aspect is in martial arts. Hall has shown he has the physical tools, and on the surface, nothing seems out of sorts for him mentally. But that loss to Kelvin Gastelum in The Ultimate Fighter Finale was awkward. His team said he liked Gastelum too much to hurt him. Many of those watching called it cockiness. Neither is really an acceptable excuse for a fighter as talented as Hall. Expectations are high for him against John Howard.
The resurgence of Mike Brown
Brown hasn't really been under the spotlight for years, but for longtime martial arts observers he'll always be a name that jumps off the page. Two wins over Urijah Faber in the WEC put him on the map, but truth is Brown was just one of those guys who was always fun to watch. Something went wrong along the way, and the now 37-year-old endured a 2-4 stretch amid rumors of distractions in his personal life. He's back on a two-fight win streak coming into this fight against Steve Siler.
Since 2011, Matt Brown and Mike Pyle are a combined 11-2 in the Octagon, yet you won't find them on any top 10 welterweight rankings. Neither is willing to make a big point of that publicly, but there's no question both are getting a little anxious. After his last win, Brown said, "Just because a bunch of media people don't believe I'm good enough for a title shot doesn't mean it's true." Pyle, winner of four in a row, is itching to sign a fight against a top-10 opponent.
That Faber guy is back again
You can almost see the bile form in Faber's throat when forced to answer the same questions over and over leading up to these nontitle fights. "How much you got left in the tank, champ?" "Getting close to another title shot, Urijah, what's that feel like?" "Is the belt still the goal, buddy?" We should all come to this understanding that Faber feels great, he's excited to fight, and he wants a title shot, but the UFC won't give him one yet so he needs to keep winning. This fight against Yuri Alcantara might not feel big, but it's big for Faber. Any loss is a major setback.
What does Alistair Overeem look like?
He was Superman against Brock Lesnar and Clark Kent against Antonio Silva. No stranger to performance-enhancing drug accusations, Overeem is in a critical spot. He didn't look the same in February, his first appearance since producing a high testosterone-to-epitestosterone ratio in Nevada last year. He told ESPN.com he would never apply for testosterone-replacement therapy, despite tests that showed low levels after his last fight. There are a lot of variables floating around. Can Overeem be Superman again in the midst of them?
Browne passes the eye test. He moves. He has heavyweight knockout power. His grappling is underrated. He seems like he's in shape, and his only loss came after his hamstring busted in the opening minute of a fight. Overeem -- whether he's at his best or not -- is going to test him, though. If Browne is spectacular, he could be the biggest winner of the entire night.
Is 'Shogun' still elite?
Rua is slowing down. It never really felt as though he was going to lose to Brandon Vera last August, but we were sort of expecting a windmill dunk and got a weak layup instead. Then in December, it seemed like he was operating on fumes against a physical Alexander Gustafsson. Three of the last five men Shogun has defeated are now retired. How worried should we be about this?
Is the self-proclaimed 'Gangster' going to lose three in a row?
Whether you like Sonnen or not, this is a man who does not avoid tough fights. He has gone from Silva to Jon Jones to a light heavyweight contest against a former champion in Rua. Sonnen is undersized for this division -- a fact made obvious by his decision to return to middleweight regardless of what happens in Boston. Sonnen can survive a loss if it comes to it, but a proposed fight against Vitor Belfort can't.
Is Michael McDonald the third-best bantamweight in the world?
Both ESPN.com and UFC rankings still have McDonald trailing Faber. Both fight on this Boston card. No doubt, a certain contingent of MMA fans would rank McDonald ahead of Faber heading into this weekend, but it's close. If the 22-year-old runs through Brad Pickett, it will be difficult not to bump him up.
WHO'S ON THE HOT SEAT?
Seems like a lifetime ago that Gamburyan fought his way to a WEC title shot against Jose Aldo. Fighting Gamburyan is like fighting an angry fire hydrant; he's compact and seemingly made of metal. He also has a long history with the UFC, although a 1-3 record in his last four fights is tough to look past.
Might as well discuss Gamburyan's opponent as well. These two know each other well from their days on the TUF 5 reality set on Team Jens Pulver. Now, Miller needs a win just as badly as his former teammate, having gone 1-2 since his drop to featherweight last year.
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because there's still more to 2013 than a middleweight rematch, even though it doesn't feel like it sometimes … because over the course of his career, Shogun is 6-for-6 when it comes to knocking out opponents following a loss … because two of the most explosive heavyweights are incredibly hungry going into the same fight … because Brown and Pyle are fighting each other with the exact same chip on their respective shoulders … because McGregor might be the most fun athlete the UFC has on its roster.
He was so dominant during that period that no one dared to question his status as a top-four mixed martial artist.
Faber rolled through the opposition with an unorthodox fighting style that made him a must-see attraction. Toss in that irresistible smile and bubbly personality and Faber easily became WEC’s highest-profile fighter.
But good things usually come to an end. Faber, a natural bantamweight, finally met a foe who was both strong and patient enough to counter his unorthodox style.
Mike Thomas Brown caught Faber in a vulnerable position and landed a right hand at WEC 36. The punch would daze Faber and lead to his demise.
Faber’s 145-pound title reign would end at 2:23 of Round 1 on Nov. 2, 2008. From that moment, Faber has had several chances to regain a title – and each time he’s failed.
Now there is talk of him being an underrated fighter. Such a point of view can’t be further from the truth.
Faber remains a highly regarded fighter; he’s just not among the elite anymore.
Since losing his belt, Faber dropped two more featherweight championship bouts: Brown beat him by unanimous decision in a rematch and current titleholder Jose Aldo repeatedly connected with kicks that sent Faber to the canvas several times and left a nasty bruise on his right thigh.
The loss to Aldo was so lopsided that Faber concluded it was time to move down to 135 pounds.
He needed just two wins in his new weight class to garner a title shot. That good fortune just doesn’t happen to underrated fighters.
Faber was competitive against UFC bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz during their title fight in July, but again he came up short -– dropping a unanimous decision.
To this day, Faber is convinced he deserved the decision. But that’s the confidence of a former champion talking. He did not deserve to win that UFC 132 Fight of the Night battle.
Despite losing four-straight title bouts, Faber gets another crack at a belt. He earned that opportunity by knocking out former bantamweight titleholder Brian Bowles on Saturday night at UFC 139.
“He’s not dangerous,” Faber recently said of Cruz during an interview with Inside MMA. “He’s a world champion and there’s no reason why he’s there. He has my respect, but he doesn’t have my respect when it comes to punching power or danger.
“I’ll walk right through his punches and march forward. It’s just [going] to be tracking him down and scoring more points on the way to finishing him.”
Faber remains a respected fighter, and could very well defeat Cruz when they meet for a third time –- Faber won the first meeting during a featherweight title tilt in March 2007 -– but he is far from underrated. You can’t drop four title bouts in a row and still be among this sport’s elite.
A strong argument can be made that Faber isn’t even the second-best bantamweight right now –- many would say that distinction belongs to Joseph Benavidez. And no one seems to be arguing that Benavidez is underrated, despite being a natural flyweight.
By no means is Faber an underrated fighter, so much so that a win over Cruz (currently ranked No. 5 overall by ESPN.com) pretty much guarantees that he will land back on MMA’s pound-for-pound list.
That doesn’t mean there’s not a lot on the line, however. In fact, there is so much at stake for some of this weekend’s competitors that it was difficult just to narrow the lists of who has the “most to gain” and “most to lose” down to a trio of fighters each. Apologies to guys like Vitor Belfort, Jorge Rivera, Matt Hamill and Nam Phan, all of whom are facing considerable risk/reward situations at this show, but who didn’t make the cut.
Who did? Whose seat is the hottest this weekend at UFC 133? Who stands to improve his standing in the company the most with a win? And who might be looking for work come Monday if he doesn’t? Here’s a look
Most to gain:
1. Tito Ortiz: On the brink of the glue factory just a couple of months back, Ortiz has a chance to become No. 1 contender for the light heavyweight title and author one of the most surprising career turnarounds in UFC history if he can defeat Rashad Evans. It doesn’t get much bigger than that. In terms of slightly more tangible gains, after saying the $450k he officially earned to fight Ryan Bader in July constituted a “big pay-cut” for him, how much do you think Ortiz is making to step in on short notice for the injured Phil Davis here? Dude, way more.
2. Tie: Dennis Hallman and Mike Pyle: Both guys have been fighting since the '90s, both turn 36 later this year and both are probably more respected by other fighters than by the average fan. For whatever reason, neither has ever been able to put together a sustained run in the UFC welterweight division until now and it’s pretty much last-chance-at-greatness time for both. Pyle goes in search of his fourth straight win in the Octagon when he takes on Rory MacDonald on Saturday and Hallman is looking for his third consecutive UFC victory against Brian Ebersole. It's doubtful either will ever be the champ, but one more W and people might actually take notice of what they're are up to at 170 pounds.
3. Alexander Gustafsson: The 6-foot-5, 24-year-old Swede has all the physical tools to go a long way in the 205-pound division. Already 4-1 in the Octagon, he just needs a signature win to get him on his way. Meanwhile, Hamill’s star may have faded some since his ugly loss to Quinton Jackson at UFC 130, but a win over him would be a good way for Gustafsson to jump-start his own march to contender status.
Most to lose:
1. Rashad Evans: Evans desperately needs something to show for his trouble after sitting out a year waiting for a title shot that didn’t happen and then losing his home gym when he fell out with Jon Jones and Greg Jackson. Just a month and a half before he turns 32, he’s no spring chicken anymore and anything other than a dominating win over heavy underdog Ortiz could be seen as a sign his career is moving in the wrong direction.
2. Chad Mendes: Officially the featherweight division’s “No. 1” contender, Mendes opted to risk that status by taking a fight against Rani Yahya at UFC 133 upon learning champ Jose Aldo was out with a bum neck. Now, it turns out Aldo will be good to go against Kenny Florian at UFC 136 in October. So, yeah, kind of a raw deal for the Team Alpha Male fighter. It’ll get even more raw if he slips up against Yahya, who is just 1-2 since 2009.
3. Mike Brown: After beginning his career 22-4, the former featherweight champion has lost four of his past six. Oddly enough, so has Phan, who will be Brown’s last-chance opponent at UFC 133. More accurately, Phan is just 4-6 in his past 10 fights and losing to him would not only end Brown’s tenure in Zuffa, but would further dig him into a hole that would be mighty hard to pull out of with the limited time he has left.
Honorable mention: Yoshihiro Akiyama. The sexy one would be a shoo-in for this list if there weren’t so many other guys on the card with so much to lose. Since coming to the UFC in 2009, he’s slumped to a 1-2 career mark in the Octagon and some might even argue his lone win -- a unanimous decision over Alan Belcher at UFC 100 -- was a bit of a gift. If he loses to Vitor Belfort this weekend and hangs onto his job, it’ll only be because the UFC has designs on a show in Japan come February.
It does not take a coach or a book to understand that fighters train to peak at the right time. Camps build toward a fight date so that athletes are in the best possible condition without falling into the exhaustion of too much work, too much pain and too much sweat. It's the difference between a therapeutic dose of medication and a toxic one.
The idea of timing your skill to the right calendar date can also apply to an entire career. The catch is, fighters can't plan to be at their lifetime best when it's most beneficial for them. Frank Shamrock might have been the pound-for-pound greatest in 1999 when he looked sensational in a four-round war against Tito Ortiz. Today, that kind of fight would send him into the stratosphere. But the UFC couldn't afford to keep him, and his prime years were largely spent on the couch.
Urijah Faber's best might have come during the latter part of the last decade. Now that his World Extreme Cagefighting employer is breaking into the lucrative pay-per-view market and a livable wage is suddenly an option for smaller men, Faber may find that he peaked too soon.
Against Jose Aldo on Saturday, Faber discovered that his speed was no longer unmatched and his shot no longer effective. Aldo breezed out of the way of his strikes, shrugged off his clinch, and landed a steady thump of leg kicks to Faber's thigh that eventually crippled him. It turned into a night when Faber was applauded for surviving, not attacking.
The bout follows two tough losses to Mike Thomas Brown, a bear of a 145-pounder who completely shut down Faber's grappling. Instead of looking invincible, Faber has gone 1-3 at a time when his skills would be most appreciated.
It's not his fault, obviously: The body takes only so much instruction before it does its own thing. And as time wears on, going the distance with a mauler like Aldo may wind up being a remarkable achievement. (The champion has stopped his last six opponents.) Faber will continue to draw, but based on the force of his personality and fight style, he won't get the same results. He'll cash checks, but perhaps not in the amount a championship would bring.
In fighting, everything comes down to timing. Faber just didn't have it.
Next for Aldo: Lots of talk about moving to 135 pounds and eventually 155 pounds. He might not want to overlook potential contender Manny Gamburyan, who looked like a pitbull in taking out Mike Thomas Brown on the undercard.
Next for Faber: Reinvention. He's too small for 155, but a drop to 135 isn't unrealistic.
Next for Ben Henderson: Most expected a summer sequel to his five-round war with Donald Cerrone; observers cautioned him to look out for Cerrone getting a submission. Instead, Henderson strangled him purple. Having already done the same to Jamie Varner, Henderson might be outgrowing the WEC's limited lightweight field. If Aldo is serious about wanting to challenge himself, a Henderson-Aldo main event for the WEC's second pay-per-view would be a high-voltage attraction.
The we-know-what-you're-saying award: Kimbo Slice, for creating the term "commitmentship" to describe his dedication to MMA.
The blank slate award: Zuffa, for erasing virtually all trace of the World Extreme Cagefighting brand from its highly touted pay-per-view debut. Introducing Henderson as "the lightweight champion" makes Frankie Edgar what, exactly? "A" lightweight champion? "One of" the lightweight champions? Or just annoyed?
The Sloppy Joe award: Leonard Garcia and Chan Sung Jung, for delivering a haymaker-heavy fight predicated on that $65,000 bonus that was either one of the most exciting things you've seen or one of the most embarrassing.
The mind games award: Dana White, for being seen with an arm draped around Strikeforce's Jake Shields. (We're one pencil-eraser 'do and a couple of mini flags away from a complete metamorphosis, gang.)
Q: Has Zuffa stuck it to Versus?
A: During the postfight news conference, White elaborated on the lack of a WEC presence in the promotional material for the event: Stripping it meant he could promote the show on Viacom-owned stations like MTV and Spike without voiding any exclusivity agreements with the Versus channel.
The legal parameters make sense, but only on a superficial level. Why would Versus ever object to seeing the WEC brand get a burst of mass exposure on other cable networks? If the hurdle came from Spike, which may not want to promote the brand of a rival network, why bother agreeing to showcase fighters who may wind up fighting on another channel?
And if the rationale was completely without conspiracy and Zuffa simply needed the power of bigger networks to push its wares -- what is it doing on Versus in the first place?
Versus is an under-the-radar network: The WEC represented an opportunity to create a destination channel for fight fans. Getting completely eradicated from a high-profile pay-per-view promotion is a giant leap backward.
Q: Is Aldo too ambitious for his own good?
A: For reasons unknown, fighters managed under Ed Soares enjoy voicing some lofty goals. Lyoto Machida wants Brock Lesnar; Anderson Silva wants Roy Jones, then Frank Mir. Now Aldo wants title bouts at 135 and 155 pounds, despite having only defended his 145-pound title one time. Is it really ambition, or a desire to break out of the financial ceiling of their current slot?
Q: Where does Faber go from here?
A: The idea that one fighter is responsible for the fortunes of an entire fight promotion is a foundation built on sand, a lesson Affliction and ProElite learned the hard way. It's to the WEC's credit that its star, Faber, was at least a genuine competitor who could live up to the hype. For a while.
Aldo was one of his remaining chances to return to the top of the featherweight division. If it was competitive, a rematch would've been lucrative. Instead, Faber was systematically demolished after a competitive first round, leaving him with little business left in the class.
Moving to 155 made sense when he was making short work of his competition: Now that his division has advanced, it's not a promising decision. A better fit would be 135 pounds, where matches against Brian Bowles, Miguel Torres, or champion Dominick Cruz would provide some clean-slate promotion.
• If Jung felt wronged in a split-decision loss against Garcia, earning $65,000 for Fight of the Night eased his frustrations considerably. Their collective purse was probably the richest in featherweight history outside of Faber or Japan.
• Aldo outstruck Faber 126 to 39 in their 25-minute title bout. Faber went 0-5 in takedown attempts. If Faber did indeed pass the torch Saturday, he got burned doing it.
• MMAJunkie.com reported a $1 million gate paid by more than 14,000 spectators in Sacramento's Arco Arena, a WEC company record for an event that bore no sign of the WEC brand.
• Pay-per-view promotional material on InDemand's website contained lots of WEC language, indicating that a complete whitewash wasn't always on the books: That material is frequently submitted to companies months in advance.
• Lost in the hype of the weekend: The retirement of Hidehiko Yoshida, who debuted in 2002 and had two very memorable fights with Wanderlei Silva during Pride's primetime days in Japan. He lost a decision to fellow Judoka Kazuhiro Nakamura. The night went more smoothly for a returning Enson Inoue, who submitted Antz Nansen in just over a minute. Inoue had not fought for six years; Antz, presumably, was picked on from first grade onward. The promotion, Astra, picked up a crowd of more than 10,000, solid by U.S. standards but a far cry from the golden age of that country.
• White outed Mike Thomas Brown as having personal issues preceding his loss to Gamburyan on Saturday. Emotional problems are an obvious drain, but that kind of talk doesn't do Gamburyan many favors.
If you had any doubt at all that carrying a separate brand for lighter-weight fighters is a shaky premise, you should probably grab a look at the UFC's home page: As of Thursday evening, a link to information on Saturday's World Extreme Cagefighting pay-per-view is shamelessly listed as "UFC," with no mention whatsoever of Zuffa's little-brother promotion.
It's not unlike seeing "STALLONE" in big block letters on a video cover, getting it home, and realizing you've been stuck with Frank and not Sylvester.
Misleading? Maybe. But it's difficult to find a lot of fault in a company doing its level best to attract attention for notoriously undervalued weight divisions. The WEC does only modest business as a cable attraction on Versus; Urijah Faber remains the sole superstar. When he competes, ratings take off. When he does not, they gurgle. It's not a complicated pattern.
Naturally, Faber is the headliner for the WEC's first attempt to entice pay audiences. Whether there will be a second attempt depends largely on Faber's being able to stuff the attack of Jose Aldo, a fresher, younger and violently tenacious champion who mugged Mike Thomas Brown for the title. If Faber, 30, cannot solve him, it would indicate he's being phased slightly out of the equation.
This would be very bad news for a promotion counting on him and would indicate the WEC is in need of a more stable headliner to rely on. Fortunately, I hear the UFC logo takes very few vacation days.
Fans who want good fights and pay no attention to industry politics won't really care about any of this: Thanks to athletes who have to rely on technique and conditioning to thrive, these weight classes always deliver excitement. But fighters who have come as far as Aldo and Faber have probably deserved the attention -- and paycheck -- only the UFC can attract. For the WEC's talent, success might come only if Saturday is a miserable failure.
What: WEC 48, an 11-bout card from the Arco Arena in Sacramento
When: Saturday at 10 p.m. ET on pay-per-view, with a preliminary special at 9 p.m. ET on Spike
Why you should care: Because both Aldo and Faber have no idea what it means to be boring; because Ben Henderson and Donald Cerrone will probably steal the show from them with another fight-of-the-year candidate; and because the WEC's overall stellar-to-stinker ratio might be the best of any fight promotion anywhere.
Fight of the night: Henderson-Cerrone, which should be every bit as wild as their first fight -- unless they've beaten the energy out of each other already.
Hype quote of the show: "I wish I could bet on myself and make some cash, but I think that is illegal." -- A confident Faber, to ABC's News10 in Sacramento. (It's actually not illegal.)
Questions: WEC 48
Q: How do you beat Aldo?
A: Aldo has one of the best package deals in combat sports: He's usually much better than anyone he faces standing, and he can work his torso like a hydraulic piston when it comes to stuffing takedowns. Faber will have to think of more creative ways to get this fight to the ground than Brown, who attempted to outmuscle Aldo with no result.
Q: Does Faber need to win for the WEC's continued survival?
A: As ProElite and Affliction learned the hard way, building a brand around a single fight attraction is risky business. While the WEC held hopes for Miguel Torres and others, only Faber has made substantial differences in the company's bottom line. A loss to Aldo on Saturday wouldn't completely erase his drawing power, but it would put a serious dent in a company looking to gain entry in the pay-TV model. Faber with the featherweight belt is solid ground; Faber going 0-3 against the toughest opposition out there isn't.
Q: Can Cerrone-Henderson be MMA's Arturo Gatti-Micky Ward
A: There are few trilogies in MMA that ever really lived up to their billing. (Quinton Jackson-Wanderlei Silva was a dynamic series, but less about wild action than violent finishes; Chuck Liddell-Randy Couture turned one-sided.) Much of the problem is that smaller gloves don't permit the kind of extended exchanges seen in boxing: if you connect with a few clean, rooted punches, it's time for the sponsor plugs.
The fight Henderson and Cerrone waged in 2009 could wind up being the model for what constitutes a classic mixed martial arts fight: Sharp striking that doesn't suffer from gassed victims or Hail Mary heavyweight punches; groundwork constantly in motion; and two very evenly matched athletes.
Henderson won a razor-thin decision the first time; they'll rematch Saturday, and a third fight seems inevitable.
Q: and will they pay the price for it later?
A: There is always a tax on great athletic careers, and it's usually calculated by how much stress you've put on your body. Cerrone has had four Fight of the Night honors in five fights: While that's good supplemental income, that kind of output has a shelf life. Without the benefit of history, there's no real way of knowing whether the wars we see today are the orthopedic surgeon's income of tomorrow.
Red Ink: Aldo-Faber
It wasn't that long ago that the biggest featherweight fight possible was Faber taking on Japanese star "Kid" Yamamoto. Both were exceptional wrestlers and strikers: Yamamoto had even put on a respectable effort in a kickboxing match against K-1's Masato. Faber was undefeated at that weight. And both were, to put it bluntly, mean bastards. If you wanted to charge a premium for the smaller guys, this was it.
Today, the fight would get a lukewarm reception at best. Faber has looked mortal against Brown while Yamamoto has lost two of his last three.
That may wind up being a blessing for the WEC, which might have had some trouble packaging Yamamoto for a U.S. audience but has a highlight reel running at full speed for Aldo, the 16-1 Brazilian who has stopped all six of his opponents in the promotion. He's just as dangerous an opponent for Faber, who looked casual for much of his career until running into a bigger, stronger wrestler in Brown. Faber won't have to worry about getting muscled, but he will have to concern himself with striking that combines agility with unpredictability.
Aldo's greatest asset might be psychological: Faber has been trumped twice in recent memory while Aldo hasn't suffered a loss in nearly five years. Invincibility is an illusion, but believing it is almost as good as the real thing.
Wild card: Aldo's ignorance of the championship rounds.
Who wins: Faber isn't going to have a lot of fun standing, in the clinch, or tied up in Aldo's guard. If he can land some elbows and get the blood flowing, great. If not, Aldo is going to fracture something in his face. Aldo by TKO.
Rankings always have been and always will be subjective. Different organizations have different rules, environments and standards, which makes any kind of uniform evaluation impossible. Even promotions within the same executive offices -- the UFC and WEC -- differ. The WEC has a smaller ring, which forces fighters to be less evasive.
How would Lyoto Machida handle that? Would Shinya Aoki have fared any better in grappling pants and a ring against Gilbert Melendez last Saturday? Would Randy Couture's cage clinching be erased against ropes? And on and on.
The Sherdog.com staff does what it can, and its rankings generally is a pretty agreeable list. The only thing I'd take a wrench to on the current list of top 10 divisional fighters (which I do not vote on) would be to switch places between No. 4 heavyweight Shane Carwin and No. 3 Cain Velasquez. Both men took on their share of underqualified opposition, but Carwin's 1-2 demolitions of Gabriel Gonzaga and Frank Mir probably are a more impressive combination than Velasquez's getting wobbled against Cheick Kongo and sweeping the remnants of Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira out of the ring.
The next major shake-up could happen Saturday, when Urijah Faber might conceivably scrap his No. 3 ranking in a good performance against No. 1 featherweight Jose Aldo -- which would see No. 2 Mike Brown simply implode from the list. He beat Faber twice but lost to Aldo. That's the kind of dynamic that makes me very happy this isn't my headache.
The 11-1 Henderson stuck out two tough rounds against relative veteran Jamie Varner to earn a flash submission victory that unified the WEC's lightweight title. It was a gauntlet that ended with a sudden reversal. Maynard, by comparison, whiffed strikes at a lanky Nate Diaz to earn a plodding split-decision victory. Bad boxing -- combined with unearned posturing by both athletes -- did little to support the idea that Maynard is ready for a title shot. It did, however, support the idea that a growing number of talented lightweights exist outside the UFC's banner.
Next for Varner: Conflict resolution with Cerrone. (See above.)
Next for Maynard: A performance that cements his shot against Penn. This wasn't it.
Misplaced Attention Award: Varner, for declaring that he didn't "have time to worry about cage rust" in a prefight reel. (He apparently had time to worry about Urijah Faber's promotional push, Donald Cerrone and video games, though.)
Sour Grapes Award: Varner, for the inane "I came to fight, Henderson came to grapple" comeback following his submission loss. (How did Henderson secure the choke? Varner tried shooting in for a takedown.)
Cash4Talk Award: Randy Couture, who sported an impressive array of sponsor billboards on his shirt during an interview with Joe Rogan. Lesser columnists would make a crack here about divorce settlements and split income. And if I could think of a good one, so would I.
The Mike Goldberg Excellence in Exclamation Award: Ten-time winner Mike Goldberg, for declaring that wrestler Aaron Simpson "is the 30-something Randy Couture of the 40-something crowd," a statement that manages to make less and less sense every time you think about it.
The Mark Wahlberg Award: Brian Bowles, who might be able to tour Japan with the Funky Bunch and the right amount of lighting.
Q: Can the WEC draw on pay-per-view?
But no non-UFC program with a premium price tag has ever drummed up even semi-respectable business in that venue. (Affliction needed to spend millions on expatriate UFC talent to even approach rumors of 100,000 buys.)
Lighter-weight fighters have traditionally been the weaker links in combat sports, though that might be changing with the emergence of B.J. Penn, Manny Pacquiao and others. Faber-Aldo is a strong headliner, but it would need a lot of basic-cable supporting hype. And what do you do for an encore?
Q: Does Maynard deserve a shot against Penn?
A: Looping punches like he was trained by a jai alai contender, Gray Maynard looked singularly unimpressive against Nate Diaz Monday -- but Maynard is an unblemished 7-0 in the company, including a decision over co-No. 1 contender Frankie Edgar; Edgar, meanwhile, is 6-1 against arguably better competition. If Maynard finds himself chafing at the idea that a guy he beat gets a title bout, he needs to make a fight-ending statement in his next match.
Q: Would Henderson be a valuable addition to the UFC's 155-pound class?
A: The WEC's lightweight division is quickly becoming a three-way dance between Henderson, Jamie Varner -- who looked strong in two rounds before getting snared in a flash submission -- and Donald Cerrone, who gave both Henderson and Varner the fights of their lives. It's a strong hook, but is there any real reason Zuffa is doubling up on the same weight class? Can fans make sense of 155-pound segregation?
This and that
• Is Urijah Faber a draw in Sacramento? WEC 46 drew $550,215 in live gate receipts and a crowd of 8,818 attendees; the Faber-deprived WEC 45 in Las Vegas last month drew 1,741 fans for a $102,700 gate. If there were ever a case to be made for pinning company hopes on one guy, this is it
• Faber earned $62,000 for the win against Raphael Assuncao: going unreported are endorsement opportunities for the fighter, which are probably as innumerable as it gets for a featherweight attraction
• Will Campuzano and Cody Wheeler split a $20,000 fight-of-the-night bonus, which went unaired
• According to MMAJunkie, UFC dark match participant Nik Lentz had a steel groin cup split in two by a Thai kick from Thiago Tavares. This is either the most poorly made piece of athletic equipment in history, or Tavares should be playing field goal specialist for the Cowboys
• If you're Gerald Harris, how do you snag a $30,000 knockout-of-the-night bonus? Be the only knockout of the night: Eight of the 11 bouts on the UFC card went the distance
There was a time when 42 fighters would represent an expansive roster that could see a company through a year's worth of shows. In a climate in which cable television feeds on this kind of thing, 42 is just about the number needed to run two events within 24 hours of one another.
Both Sunday's WEC 46 and Monday's UFC Fight Night 20 have obstacles beyond administering physicals to all of them. For the UFC, it will be how they'll fare in their first live head-to-head appearance against the WWE and assisting attraction Mike Tyson, who "guest-hosts" the wrestling event. For the WEC, it'll be a gauge of how dramatic an uptick in business exists when Urijah Faber is in the house. (Dec. 19's WEC 45, with no major stars, sold a bleak 926 tickets.)
These are deep shows, full of talent and rankings significance. Come late Monday night, you might actually be a little sick of MMA. No shame in that.
What: "World Extreme Cagefighting 46: Varner versus Henderson," a 10-bout card from the ARCO Arena in Sacramento, Calif.; UFC Fight Night 20: Maynard versus Diaz, an 11-bout card from the Patriot Center in Fairfax, Va.
When: Sunday at 9 p.m. ET on Versus (WEC 46); Monday at 9 p.m. ET on Spike (UFC Fight Night 20).
Why you should care: Because Jamie Varner and Benson Henderson will be tumbling all over the WEC's cage, Henderson in particular being an utter failure when it comes to disappointing people; because Urijah Faber will be eager to remind fans why he was once the most feared man in the 145-pound division; because Mike Thomas Brown will want to do the same; because Amir Sadollah-Brad Blackburn will be a mess of feet and elbows; and because Gray Maynard will hopefully try like hell to look impressive and cement his claim to B.J. Penn's spring title defense.
Fight of the weekend: Varner-Henderson, even if Varner runs out of steam early.
Hype quote of the shows: "I met the kid They announced him and they called him Anthony 'Cheesecake' Morrison. And he got all pissed. He goes, 'No, man, it's "Cheese Steak. Cheese Steak."'" -- Brown, on the confusion over his opponent's nickname, to Sherdog.com.
Q: Does Maynard need a stoppage to face Penn?
A: Early odds point to Frankie Edgar being B.J. Penn's opponent in an April title defense, but Maynard has racked up six consecutive wins in the promotion. (Diego Sanchez's 155-pound wins before getting Penn? Two.) If he can avenge his only loss -- a 2007 exhibition against Nate Diaz in the "Ultimate Fighter" house -- in more spectacular fashion than the decisions he's accrued, it might be enough to regulate Edgar (a guy he beat) back to the bench.
Q: Is Varner worried about all the wrong things?
A: In delivering quotes for his fight with Henderson on Sunday, Varner has gotten heated over everything from rival Donald Cerrone to the WEC's unwavering advocacy of Faber. Shouldn't his mentality be focused squarely on Henderson, who possesses the dog/pants-leg tenacity to drag him down in later rounds?
Q: Is Sadollah very good, or very lucky?
A: Sadollah gives hope to any athletically challenged 20-something who didn't grow up on a wrestling mat. He won an "Ultimate Fighter" season despite owning no pro bouts prior, and he's bested unlikely victims C.B. Dollaway and Phil Baroni. Against Blackburn, he'll be getting the raw end of a Muay Thai matchup. If he can overcome Blackburn's aggression and experience, Sadollah might recruit a few more believers.
Q: Is George Roop cutting it too close?
A: Roop, a former 155-pound fighter who had one short trip at 145, plans on making 135 pounds for a fight with Eddie Wineland. To do it, he says he's taking in between 500-800 calories a day. That kind of energy intake wouldn't satisfy someone in hospice, let alone a professional athlete. If you need to measure your lettuce consumption to make a weight class, you probably don't belong there.
Q: Is Rory MacDonald worth the hype?
A: Few viewers Monday will have seen Canadian MacDonald fight, but he's been talked up by everyone from Georges St. Pierre to coach David Lea as a crucial entry in the next era of the sport. Possible roadblock: Mike Guymon, a 36-year-old veteran who might be able to suffocate MacDonald's developing 20-year-old frame by using the core power of a middle-aged man for detention.
Red Ink: Varner versus Henderson
The mugging can be a little much, but if you're a fan of fighting, it's impossible not to respect the performances of Henderson. The 10-1 lightweight needed only a year to go from WEC rookie to interim world champion, outpointing Cerrone while an ailing Varner seethed from the seats.
After a year off due to injuries, Varner now has his chance to punctuate his talking by taking back the belt in its entirety. He's the "on paper" favorite -- better wrestling, better striking -- but Henderson seems to delight in surprising people.
Wild card: Varner's time off. In addition to ring rust, any deficit in cardio conditioning will be exploited by Henderson.
Who wins: Varner wins two early, Henderson wins three late; his pace will put demands on Varner's de-conditioned body that he won't be able to meet. Henderson by decision.
WEC 44, which aired Wednesday on the Versus network and probably pre-empted an important rodeo meet, climaxed with an indirect example of Anderson Silva's greatness.
Silva is entering his fourth year as middleweight champion, which is not unlike being Miss Teen USA for two decades running: It is incredibly difficult to avoid making mistakes or running into someone who can deconstruct you.
Despite this negativity, Mike Thomas Brown, who defeated Urijah Faber for the featherweight title and then successfully defended it twice, was believed to have a fairly solid grip on his division. (Good wrestlers who can punch often do.) But he was not able to bully Jose Aldo, a harrowing striker that seemed bent on breaking Brown's ribs with kicks or knees. Unable to score a takedown, it was Brown who was mounted and tenderized.
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Brown held the belt for one year, 13 days. This is not a sport that lets its fighters stay happy for very long. And yet Silva is always smiling.
Next for Brown: Rethinking his stated desire to compete at 155 lbs; perhaps the loser of Faber/Raphael Assuncao in January.
Next for Aldo: The winner of Faber/Assuncao.
Nickname of the night award: Kamal "Prince of Persia" Shalorus, who put down Will Kerr and looked royally dangerous in his first televised fight.
The this-is-not-pure-wrestling award: Danny Castillo, an NAIA community college wrestler who managed to take down All-American Oklahoma State alum Shane Roller. The threat of punches, kicks, and knees to your dental work changes everything, including your takedown defense.
The baiting-bullies award: Karen Darabedyan, who probably put up with no end of harassment over his first name (pronounced Car-en) but appears capable of ending lives if you push your luck.
The corrective-lenses award: Judge Tony Weeks, for believing Rob McCullough had done enough to win every round against Darabedyan. Weeks apparently had more sympathy for Darabedyan's hands than McCullough's head.
There are reasons fighters have a library of good stories. The profession can take you to odd corners of the world, and early experiences can twist and torque the brain into gravitating toward that sort of career choice. Fighters are not boring people. They all have a book in them.
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This is especially true of Jose Aldo, who told Yahoo! Sports' Steve Cofield this week that he was once tossed into a barbecue pit by his two sisters while horsing around as a toddler in Brazil. Let me run that by you once more: He was tossed into a barbecue pit as a baby.
(Tiger Woods, meanwhile, had a formative experience of his own earlier this month: In Shanghai for the WGC-HSBC event, Woods complained that crowds kept taking pictures of him with their cell phones. Haunting. Perhaps he and Aldo can swap horror stories sometime.)
This is part and parcel to relative thinking -- the idea that nothing you experience in the ring can be as traumatic as what you've already gone through. Mike Thomas Brown will not be packing pyrotechnics Wednesday night, and he can't do anything to Aldo that might require skin grafts.
A lot of people get hung up on how tough fighters are physically. I tend to think it's their mental calluses that make a greater difference.
At 5-foot-6 and a child-actor-like 145 pounds, Mike Thomas Brown is evidence that tough men come in all shapes and sizes. Most would give him a fair chance against several 155-pound fighters; he probably would pick off a few 170-pound athletes if you got him mad enough. His technique is aggression. Some fighters are gentle finishers, rolling you into a submissive ball and hugging you afterward. Brown hopes you'll need a nurse to assist you in chewing.
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None of this is news to Jose Aldo, a blitzing striker and jiu-jitsu black belt who has lost only once, four years ago, and washed that out by taking victories in his next eight fights. He is everything Brown is not: a little reckless, long, sometimes airborne. Brown can counter by digging a trench in the canvas and stuffing Aldo in there for five rounds.
Third-party investor: Urijah Faber, the WEC's most familiar face, who probably can't beat Brown but might find a more inviting style match in Aldo.
Wild card: Aldo's striking doesn't follow convention: It will either confuse Brown (as it has others), or Brown will exploit it with a more disciplined offense and heavier hands than Aldo is used to seeing.
Who wins: Brown might eat a few coming in, but he's a guy that would get angry, not concussed, if you took a bat over his head. Brown by TKO.
While being the furthest thing possible from a not-for-profit organization, Zuffa remains fairly generous when it comes to offering high-level, competitive fights for free. If the strategy is to do the exact opposite of the greedy financiers who stifled boxing in the 1990s, then the strategy is working.
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Wednesday's WEC event on Versus -- Zuffa's third event in eight days -- will determine the world's top featherweight fighter, a role previously held by both Urijah Faber and Norifumi "Kid" Yamamoto. Challenger Jose Aldo has TKO'd every one of his five WEC opponents, dispelling the commonly held thought that sub-155-pound athletes don't have knockout power. Champion Mike Thomas Brown is also undefeated in the promotion, having taken Faber's title in violent fashion.
Like most athletes who excel in the sport, they are not one-dimensional, and it will be interesting to see if Aldo's largely unseen ground game can answer Brown and his ferocious wrestling base. It's going to be difficult not to be entertained.
What: "WEC 44: Brown vs. Aldo," a 10-fight card hosted by the Pearl in Las Vegas.
When: Wednesday, Nov. 18, at 9 p.m. ET on Versus.
Why you should care: Because Aldo's striking is impressive enough for pixels, let alone live-action viewing; because Brown is like a mini Brock Lesnar, noticeably stronger than most everyone he fights; because seven-time junior national judo champion Manny Gamburyan and debuting Karen Darabedyan both bring doses of under-represented judo, a beautiful art with ugly consequences; and because Danny Castillo, a slept-on 8-1 performer, is going to be the underdog in a wrestling match against former Division I All-American Shane Roller.
Fight of the night: This space is not proud to point out the obvious, but it's expected that Brown-Aldo will be a rabid 25 minutes.
Hype quote of the show: "The government of Iran says I'm 37, but I'm not. … Maybe I was born in 1978, maybe 1979, maybe 1975. I don't know. I said, 'Mom, what happened?' She said, 'Oh yeah, we had another son before you and he passed away. We could not go to city [to the hospital] because we had no money and it was snowing, so we just gave his birth certificate to you. … It's very common where I come from." -- Kamal Shalorus, who claims to have no idea how old he is, to WEC.tv.