If you were an MMA fan in the late 2000s, you probably catch some feelings at the mention of World Extreme Cagefighting. The WEC conjures memories of the little blue cage, the Versus cable network and, above all, lots of spectacular talent, especially in the lighter weight classes. The promotion that introduced America to Jose Aldo, Urijah Faber and Dominick Cruz—just to name a few—was disbanded and absorbed wholesale into the Ultimate Fighting Championship in 2011, four years after it had been acquired by UFC parent company Zuffa. In a too-good-to-be-scripted touch, the WEC’s swan song featured Anthony Pettis dropping Benson Henderson with the fabled “Showtime Kick”—arguably the greatest highlight-reel moment in MMA history—in the very last fight on its very last card.
Of course, long before the WEC passed into legend, or even became appointment viewing for hardcore fans, it was just another regional fight promotion, albeit one good enough to merit a Zuffa buyout. World Extreme Cagefighting, the brainchild of Reed Harris and Scott Adams, set up shop in 2001 at the Tachi Palace, a tribal casino in Lemoore, California, and would host all but two of its 24 pre-Zuffa events there. Before the WEC settled into its groove as a showcase for smaller fighters, it operated very much like any other startup fight promotion of the day, loading its cards with local talent to drive ticket sales, national prospects looking for fights and, if possible, a couple of fighters with UFC name recognition to headline.
WEC 1, which took place on June 30, 2001, and carried the charmingly optimistic tag line “Princes of Pain,” filled the bill perfectly, with a card heavily laden with California fighters, including once and future UFC heavyweight Gan McGee, who would also go on to appear in Pride Fighting Championships. Several non-local future UFC fighters also appeared on the card, including Leonard Garcia—who would ironically return to the Zuffa-owned WEC after his first UFC run—and Seth Petruzelli. Topping it all off was a heavyweight matchup between two UFC veterans: Travis Fulton and two-time tournament winner Dan Severn.
Though it was not even eight years since the first UFC, Severn was already a 50-fight veteran, while Fulton had over 100 bouts under his belt. It was almost certainly the most combined experience of any MMA contest to date. Unfortunately, the fact that the matchup featured two very busy fish in a small pond meant that it was the third meeting between the two; Fulton had lost the first two by submission. The WEC 1 main event is notable as a historical curiosity and frankly an oddity, as both men wore Asics wrestling shoes and Fulton actually sported a singlet, all of which were forbidden under the Unified Rules of Mixed Martial Arts, which had been adopted months before and were being adhered to by the UFC. However, outside of those points of interest, the main event was pretty dreadful. Severn dominated with his greater size and superior wrestling, though it was a sign of progress that Fulton made it to the final bell to lose by decision. “The Beast” and “The Ironman” would meet again a few months later, their fourth and final match going to a draw. Perhaps if they had fought a fifth time, Fulton would have gotten his sweet revenge.