Jose Aldo (right) file photo: Dave Mandel | Sherdog.com
Say hello to the best card of September, and, per usual, it belongs to World Extreme Cagefighting. Anytime featherweight champion Jose Aldo is at the top of the marquee, you are talking about must-see violence, but WEC 51 “Aldo vs. Gamburyan” has so much more to offer on Thursday at the 1stBank Center in Broomfield, Colo.
Read on for a cheat sheet breaking down what you need to be watching for at WEC 51. No refunds.
An Unfinished Magnum Opus
The history of the featherweight division remains an incomplete novel. Back when the division was confined to Japanese Shooto events, Alexandre Franca Nogueira was a dominant but flawed champion. During the transitional period that saw the WEC take the lead in the race for control of the division, Urijah Faber was billed as the first truly great featherweight champion.
Since then, Nogueira has faded from memory, and Faber cut down to bantamweight following three losses in five bouts. Aldo, the reigning WEC featherweight champion, played a leading role in both happenings by delivering brutal, lopsided beatings to those former frontmen. He now stands on the precipice of an entirely unique accomplishment in MMA -- becoming the first truly great featherweight of the division’s modern era.
Manny Gamburyan stands as one of the more imposing obstacles in Aldo’s way, especially in light of his upset knockout win over former champion Mike Thomas Brown. Gamburyan is a compact stump of a man with power in his fists, hybridized judo skills and an affinity for lacing up death-grip submissions. The polarized betting lines do not tell the whole truth of this fight.
By most accounts, Aldo should win. However, Faber was supposed to beat everyone in the division, and he’s starting over in a whole new weight class. If nothing else, the 145-pound ranks have a tendency to play against script -- a fact that only adds more drama to Aldo’s potentially classic chapter in the tale of the featherweight division.
You Don’t Like Me, I Hate You
Let it never be said that Jamie Varner and Donald Cerrone were the very best of chums. The bad blood left brewing by their contentious, foul-filled match at WEC 38 boiled over when Cerrone recently used less than exemplary language to sum up his opinion of Varner.
Beyond the opportunity to wrap up this rivalry with bragging rights intact, one would imagine that the winner will have dibs on whoever wins the upcoming Benson Henderson-Anthony Pettis lightweight title match at WEC 53. However, there are other lightweight contender bouts going on in the near future, so it will take more than a paint-by-numbers victory to cement a claim to the title.
The stakes alone should inspire some quality fisticuffs, and the mutual hatred these two share for each other can only help matters along. With all the attention being rightfully bestowed upon the main event, this is the kind of fight that will creep up on everyone and deliver the quality co-headliner every great card needs.
The Good, the Bad and the Zombies
Leonard Garcia and Chan Sung Jung have built their careers on the strength of being borderline masochistic gunslingers. Given a willing opponent, both are content to press forward and absorb punishment in the name of delivering their own -- a fact best illustrated by their lionized match against each other at WEC 48, which produced enough windmill power to light up the state of California for a week.
This time around, they have been handed entirely different challenges. Garcia will face off against Mark Hominick’s clinical striking, while Jung must deal with George Roop’s takedowns and telephone pole jab. Both fights are examples of dandy matchmaking and, more importantly, will decide whether or not the two new-school brawlers can make a serious run in the suddenly stacked featherweight division.
Garcia earned a title shot early in his WEC career and was promptly run over by then champion Mike Thomas Brown. Jung already stands at 0-1 in the WEC, thanks to a controversial decision loss to Garcia, and needs to prove he can dispatch the Roops of the world. Being the fighters everyone looks at to put on classic fights has its upside, but being the fighters everyone expects to win is the status they both want.
By now, everyone knows that Zuffa LLC has its eyes on the potential financial windfall from expanding into the Asian market, specifically China. Debuting undefeated featherweight Tie Quan Zhang represents its first attempt to build a crossover star geared to the Chinese audience. He will get a reasonably easy foil in short-notice replacement Pablo Garza, and, if time allows, expect to see him make the broadcast. Regardless, Zhang is a long play for Zuffa, and he will get every opportunity to develop into the fighter the organization needs him to be.
Next in Line
The winner of the Diego Nunes-Tyler Toner match will almost certainly be the next contender the WEC grooms for title contention. While the bout is regrettably stuck on the undercard, this is one of those fights worth hunting down after the fact.
Beyond the rankings implications, the matchup itself pits two of the division’s more stylish strikers against one another. Anytime a fight can tease the possibility of Brazilian kicks and proper two-pieces, there is no reason not to join the throng of fans already eagerly praying the bout makes it on air.
We Want Flyweights
Demetrious Johnson and Nick Pace are two of the more exciting prospects in the game today, regardless of weight. It’s a pity that their bout will be heavily influenced by the fact that Johnson is fighting a division above his best weight. Nevertheless, this will be a fine match, and the aptly nicknamed “Mighty Mouse” certainly could win given how well he did against a titanic Brad Pickett.
Frankly, if there is a fight on the undercard that could steal away the “Fight of the Night” award from the stars receiving top billing, this is it.
Follow Tomas Rios on Twitter at www.twitter.com/Tomas_Rios, or he will hold his breath just like he does when he demands the WEC add a flyweight division.