Urijah Faber file photo: Sherdog.com
The Weekly Wrap walks readers through the last seven days in MMA, recapping and putting into context the week's top story, important news and notable quotes.
The UFC bantamweight division is in good hands and has likely secured marquee status as a result of Urijah Faber’s victory at WEC 52 on Nov. 11. His proven drawing power will add an extra dimension of interest, as he works toward a shot at the re-christened 135-pound title in 2011.
Fighting for the final time for the promotion he embodied as its poster boy and hands-down top attraction, Faber looked in vintage form against the sixth-ranked Takeya Mizugaki, scoring a first-round submission by rear-naked choke using mostly one arm. Faber, who ruled MMA’s featherweight division as it was put into the national spotlight, fought Mizugaki in his first 135-pound outing after going 3-3 at his trademark weight since November 2008.
Faber seemingly lost nothing in the transition, entering the cage at around 150 pounds, within three pounds of what he weighed as a featherweight. His speed was not only still there but improved, as he scored fast elbows standing and swiftly grabbed a front headlock that brought proceedings to the floor and led to the choke that put Mizugaki to sleep for some 10 seconds after it was released. Faber pocketed a $10,000 “Submission of the Night” bonus for the win, which was reminiscent of his forceful, star-making finishes as featherweight titlist after UFC parent company Zuffa LLC purchased the WEC in 2006.
Though the WEC is set to dissolve after a Dec. 16 event, Faber was not wistful about the closing chapter. He stressed his excitement at joining the UFC ranks, closing an income, prestige and exposure gap about which he had long talked about. By far the biggest ratings mover in the promotion, Faber will likely be positioned as the first challenger for the winner of the Dec. 16 Dominick Cruz vs. Scott Jorgensen title fight. Faber’s profile remains high enough to warrant an appearance on Jim Rome’s ESPN show on Thursday, a slot that has typically gone to the UFC’s biggest names. Faber seems a prime candidate for a coaching spot on “The Ultimate Fighter,” and UFC President Dana White told Versus that WEC fighters are guaranteed coach to a future season of the show.
With a bantamweight campaign, Faber looks to become the third fighter to win Zuffa-sanctioned belts in multiple weight classes. He began his career at 155 pounds because opportunities were so limited at lower weights but, as his star rose, was able to talk promoters into letting him fight at 145 pounds. He wrestled at 133 pounds in college.
Other WEC 52 notes of interest:
• It appears Team Alpha Male will be among the top names in the new UFC featherweight and bantamweight classes. Coming off a loss in a title fight, Joseph Benavidez made the most of a short-notice opportunity against Wagnney Fabiano, going all-in on three guillotine attempts in the second round until he tapped the crafty Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt. Chad Mendes also found success against a jiu-jitsu ace, staying ahead in the striking game against Javier Vazquez and exercising hard-to-budge top control in a decision win framed as a potential 145-pound No. 1 contender fight. At one point in the second round, Mendes somersaulted over Vazquez’s guard and flipped his way when Vazquez threatened to take his back. Mendes improved to 9-0 with the victory.
• In lieu of his ideal weight, flyweight, Demetrious Johnson carved out a place for himself in Zuffa’s future, tapping seventh-ranked bantamweight Damacio Page with a mounted guillotine after making smart adjustments from a shaky first round. Johnson, a blue-chip prospect, said making 135 involves intensive food intake for him.
• Also picking up wins at WEC 52 were Erik Koch (round one KO over Francisco Rivera), Raphael Assuncao (unanimous decision over L.C. Davis), Anthony Njokuani (round two TKO over Edward Faaloloto), Dustin Poirier (round one TKO over Zachary Mickelwright), Michael McDonald (round one armbar submission over Clint Godfrey), Cub Swanson (split decision over Mackens Semerzier) and Brandon Visher (unanimous decision over Yves Jabouin).
• $10,000 bonuses were paid to Faber (“Submission of the Night”), Koch (“Knockout of the Night”) and Swanson and Semerzier (“Fight of the Night”). Faber said he would split his submission bonus with teammate Benavidez.
• Faber earned the highest salary of the night with $56,000 in disclosed pay; Mizugaki earned $10,000. Benavidez was the second-highest paid with $35,000.
• WEC 52 was the final event from the promotion in Las Vegas, which became the company’s home base after it was purchased by Zuffa LLC and moved out of the MMA hotbed of Lemoore, Calif. Fifteen of the 28 WEC cards Zuffa has promoted took place Las Vegas, first at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino and then at the Palms Casino Resort, where WEC 52 took place.
• Stakes were considered especially high for fighters who lost at WEC 52, as Zuffa looks to trim its roster to a more manageable size considering there will be no WEC cards next year. WEC 53 will be the eighth WEC event of 2010; the events were made up of about 90 fights.
• Despite the WEC’s impending merger with the UFC, Versus showed no signs of scaling down its MMA coverage, premiering a live WEC 52 pre-show hosted by Molly Querim and Ariel Helwani, as well as an on-site post-show special. Television commentators liberally referenced the merger. Four UFC cards will air on Versus in 2011.