When Zuffa, LLC (the parent company of the Ultimate Fighting Championship) purchased World Extreme Cagefighting, early speculation was that the WEC would be used as a feeder organization to the American giant. Apparently, that isn’t the case.
The WEC will be running parallel to the UFC as a competitor, and according to fighter Kit Cope, the WEC might even take the coveted television slot on HBO.
Cope was questioned as to where the WEC will be broadcast, with speculation suggesting HBO as their new home. “…it looks like HBO,” responded Cope, although he did not confirm that with 100 percent certainty. Zuffa president Dana White recently stated in media interviews that the UFC would eventually be on HBO, while the WEC would be on “another cable network” (not HBO and not Spike TV).
The mixed martial arts landscape has changed drastically over the past few weeks. Zuffa purchased both the WEC and select assets of the WFA, merging some of the biggest players in the market. “The UFC bought the WFA and scooped up all of our contracts,” fighter Kit Cope said recently on MMAWeekly Radio. “Well, they kept some of them and discarded others. They kept mine. Now they’re actually putting me in the WEC.”
According to Cope, “Apparently, the plan is to throw some superstars in the WEC… build the WEC up a little bit and kind of have a parallel [organization] with the WEC, so you can someday have an undisputed champion holding both the belts [WEC & UFC]. That’s my take on it.”
So, much like boxing, the UFC and WEC would operate as separate entities, grooming their own fighters and crowning their own champions, but then eventually having their champions fight each other. UFC President Dana White has alluded to such an idea in recent comments with various news outlets, saying that there may someday be a sort of “Super Bowl” type of event between the UFC and the WEC.
Of course, unlike boxing, where the various title belts are sanctioned by differing entities, the WEC and the UFC will still reside under the confines of one parent company in Zuffa. Considering the current state of boxing, this may not be a negative concept.
Cope also said that the WEC would be taking their show to Las Vegas with the January 20th show (although it is not yet on the athletic commission’s list of upcoming events), where Cope will be going up against “Razor” Rob McCullough in a fight for the WEC Lightweight Championship.
The WEC’s web site still lists UFC fighter Hermes Franca as the WEC Lightweight Champion; Franca’s last fight was a successful title defense in the WEC on October 12th. Cope mentioned that it looks like all of the WEC title belts will be “reset,” with all of the current champions being stripped of their titles so that other fighters can compete for the vacant belts.
Cope did not know if there were plans for the WEC’s January 20th show to air on HBO, but it seems unlikely, if for no other reason because there is already a high- profile boxing event running on that same date in Las Vegas in conjunction with HBO.
It will be interesting to see how the co-existence of the UFC and the WEC plays out. Vince McMahon and WWE made a similar move in 2001 when they purchased rival professional wrestling organizations WCW and ECW, virtually eliminating the competition. The WWE tried to run “rival” promotions as separate entities while under the same ownership and it didn’t work, partially because fans knew they were all owned by WWE and partially because WWE botched the storylines in numerous ways.
After that, WWE did something very similar to what Zuffa is trying to do now with the UFC and WEC, as WWE had a “brand split” with the “Raw brand” and the “Smackdown brand,” each of which would have separate rosters. The idea was that with WWE having no actual competition, it could create an artificial sense of competition between the Raw and Smackdown rosters.
The concept failed in its goal of creating an artificial sense of competition, as even the casual viewers of WWE knew that Raw and Smackdown were both owned by WWE. Since the brand split, television viewership and domestic pay-per-view purchases have dropped off considerably without WWE having “true” competition on a major level.
That, however, is professional wrestling; this is mixed martial arts. The WEC and the UFC will still be playing out real fights and that is what interests the fans in the sport anyway, so it is possible that it could work out entirely differently for Zuffa than it has for the WWE. Plus, unlike in professional wrestling, there are still many other up-and-coming players in the MMA market to keep Zuffa focused.