UFC-WEC Merger: Will The Lightweight Division Get Thinned Out?

October 29, 2010

With the announcement of the WEC’s merger into the UFC starting in 2011, the positives seem to far outweigh any potential negatives when it comes to the fighters getting a chance for more exposure, better paydays, and more lucrative sponsorships.

Anthony Pettis Alex Karalexis WEC 48

The featherweights and bantamweights have especially become known for non-stop action and some of the best fights in the sport over the last few years. The UFC hopes to continue to expand the divisions as fight cards grow, and will eventually open up a flyweight division (125-pound limit) as well.

The one division that was mirrored by both the UFC and WEC was the 155-pound lightweight class. UFC president Dana White announced on Thursday that the upcoming WEC title fight between champion Ben Henderson and challenger Anthony Pettis would close the door on that belt with the winner automatically challenging either Frankie Edgar or Gray Maynard in a title unification bout 2011.

The other side of the merger is the rest of the WEC’s lightweight division melding into the UFC, bringing the 155-pound roster to a much larger number. The last time the WEC folded divisions into the UFC, the sheer number of fighters at 185 pounds and 170 pounds weren’t as great, whereas the lightweight division in the WEC has a full compliment of competitors.

According to a current listing of lightweights on UFC.com, the promotion boasts 46 lightweight fighters including champion Frankie Edgar. The WEC’s website lists 20 lightweight fighters to their credit. Obviously updated lists may actually have more fighters and newly contracted competitors which, when added together, could see the UFC’s lightweight division more than 70 fighters under contract.

Also add in at least a few of the competitors from this season of “The Ultimate Fighter” reality show, which features a class of 14 more lightweights, with “The Ultimate Fighter Season 12” finale set to go down in December.

Does the large number of fighters in the lightweight division mean the UFC will be keeping fighters on a shorter leash when it comes to evaluating talent and handing down releases following losses?

“I don’t know; we’ll see how it goes. The way that it works in here is you come in and you keep winning, you stick around. Or if you lose fights, but you’re incredibly exciting you stick around for a while too. It depends,” UFC president Dana White said about the large number of fighters in one division.

The UFC president is quick to point out that the fighters are evaluated on talent and performance, as well as wins and losses, but there’s no set goal in mind once the WEC’s lightweights move over that they need to trim the roster.

“I couldn’t say, ‘oh yeah there’s going to be a short leash,’ who knows?” White stated. “Listen, we’re looking for great fighters and exciting fighters, and if you’re one of those you’re going to stick around no matter how deep the roster is.”

One aspect that will change, at least in the short term in 2011, is the reduction in the total number of shows the two promotions’ parent company, Zuffa, will be putting on. The UFC announced a new deal that will replace the current structure they have with the Versus sports network that will showcase four total shows in 2011 under the UFC brand.

The WEC shows will of course disappear starting in 2011 after running a total of eight shows in 2010. The additional UFC shows will account for two more than 2010, but overall six less shows in the scheduled calendar year with the loss of WEC programming, as of now.

While no other deals are in place at this time to expand the TV coverage of the UFC, White doesn’t rule out adding more shows in 2011, they just don’t have anything more at this time.

“We ended up getting a deal for the UFC on Versus. We did four fights, that’s what we’re allowed to do with the deal that we’re in now,” White said.

“I don’t know how this whole thing’s going to pan out, but I’m not looking at this as a negative like, ‘oh we lost a couple fights on Versus.’ It’s a positive.”

With so many more fighters under contract now, expansion is surely going to happen if everyone is to get a chance to fight, with most fighters under contract to fight at least three times per year. The UFC hasn’t announced yet if they intend on extending any broadcasts or possibly adding additional fights to the televised or undercard portion of the shows coming up in 2011, but all could be a possibility.

As far as the lightweight divisions go, the last two WEC shows ever will feature a total of nine bouts with 155-pound fighters, and it’s quite possible that those performances will effect how many of them remain with the promotion as they merge with the UFC in 2011.