Eddie Wineland was the first WEC bantamweight champion, earning that designation with a stunning head kick on Anthony Banuelos midway through 2006.
Thursday night was the final World Extreme Cagefighting event ever, and while Wineland didn’t walk away from WEC 53 with a belt in hand, he is well on his way to putting himself back in contention for the now-UFC bantamweight title.
And make no mistake about it, that belt is where Wineland’s laser-beam focus is aimed.
“The ultimate goal is that hardware,” he said at the WEC 53 post-fight press conference. “Congrats to Dominick. He performed top-notch. My eyes are on that prize.”
Since losing the bantamweight belt to Chase Beebe in 2007, Wineland has lost only one other fight, to top-notch ground stylist Rani Yahya. Including that loss, he is 6-1 after dropping the belt. His current streak sits at four-straight victories.
“I think had I not had to pull out of the Damacio (Page) fight, that maybe would have pushed me a little bit closer,” said Wineland. “As long as I keep winning and I keep doing what I’m doing, they can’t really deny me the push.”
Wineland was scheduled to face Page, another Top 10 fighter, in November, but had to withdraw due to a shoulder injury. Had he fought and won that bout, as he said, he probably would have been a fight or two away from a title shot.
He’s still probably not far off from a shot, at least, not far according to WEC general manager Reed Harris, who is expected to continue with the UFC in an as of yet unannounced role.
“Hey, he’s been on a good run. That win that he got tonight, that guy that he fought was tough,” said Harris after the fight. “We’ll talk about it Monday, but I think we have big plans for Mr. Wineland. He’s been getting better and better. Every time I watch him, he seems to be growing as a fighter.”
Current UFC bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz is likely to face Urijah Faber if everything falls into place, but Wineland shouldn’t be far behind, eyeing a title shot some time in 2011.
(Updated on Dec. 18, 2010 at 3:00 p.m. PT – corrected date of title loss to Chase Beebe.)