They’re supposed to be on an uneven playing field, but in a battle between who looked more impressive at 155 pounds this week, the WEC’s Benson Henderson rolled right over the UFC’s Gray Maynard.
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, in 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 of the UFC’s banner.
Next for Henderson: Probable rematches with Cerrone or Varner -- but why not a fast-tracked Kamal Shalorus, who looked sturdy and dangerous in dissecting Dave Jansen?
Next for Varner: Conflict resolution with Donald Cerrone. (See above.)
Next for Maynard: A performance that cements his shot against Penn. This wasn’t it.
Misplaced Attention Award: Jamie Varner, for declaring that he didn’t “have time to worry about cage rust” in a pre-fight 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: 10-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.
Can the WEC draw on pay-per-view?
WEC President Reed Harris confirmed rumors that the company was looking at doing a pay-per-view event in the first half of 2010, likely bolstered by Urijah Faber’s title shot against Jose Aldo.
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?
Does Maynard deserve a shot against Penn?
Looping punches like he was trained by a Jai alai contender, Gray Maynard looked singularly unimpressive against Nate Diaz on 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.
Would Benson Henderson be a valuable addition to the UFC’s 155-pound class?
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?
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 Coty 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.