San Antonio, TX – As a journalist who has covered multiple professional sports and interviewed stars such as Tim Duncan, Lebron James and Mark Cuban for the past 5 seasons, I was intrigued by the opportunity to cover WEC 43.
I wanted to see how the up-start league compared to the big boys. I have had co-workers and colleagues rant and rave about the unbelievable access and availability of not only the fighters but of the management as well. WEC gave me a 3 day, all-access, insider view of the organization and I left a believer.
I must admit, I have already been a die-hard fan of MMA for the past 6 years and am hard-pressed to remember more than 3 UFC pay-per-views or Spike TV specials I have missed in that time span. I have also been a loyal WEC follower for at least 3 years. Some have called the organization “the UFC’s little brother” while others have called for Zuffa to be merge WEC with the UFC and make it one product. In some aspects, I agree with the latter only because I want to see these guys get paid UFC money and be rewarded for the effort they put forth every single time in the ring but at the same time, WEC feels like my little secret. I have something a lot of MMA fans still don’t know about. These guys never disappoint. Every event has at least one moment where your jaw-drops below your knees. At least one fight will have you saying, this definitely has fight of the year potential.
Part of this is accomplished with the aide of a 26 ft ring, 4 feet smaller the UFC’s “Octagon”. The ring creates fast-paced action these lighter weight fighters thrive in. The action is non-stop with moves you will never see with the UFC’s larger fighters (i.e. see Miguel Torres’ wheel kick). They are smaller but tougher. They typically train with larger fighters who never take it easy on them. Dana White said, “If you are a fighter in the WEC, you have to be one bad mother blank.” With this in mind, I couldn’t wait to see it first hand.
I got to experience the unparalleled access granted by the WEC when Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone and Leonard Garcia allowed us to film and interview them for TexasFighting.com the Thursday before the fight. They couldn’t be better guys and there was never a staged answer. Everything was raw emotion, available for anyone to see. It’s refreshing to see professional athletes who are real and not afraid of the consequences of their words, after-all, they must back them up in the cage.
My favorite part of the weigh-ins was the Q&A session with Miguel Torres, Jamie Varner and Frank Mir. Again, no generic answers, just the truth. Miguel Torres continually challenged Floyd “Money” Mayweather to a MMA fight after “Money” said they weren’t real fighters. Miguel argued that MMA fighters must be more well-rounded and questioned Floyd’s ability to survive the ground game. The most surprising moment of the night was Jamie Varner’s ability to show how good of a person he is. I thought Varner was a punk and had been running from a rematch with “Cowboy” but I left the evening pondering to myself whether all fighters should have his heart saying he wouldn’t want his younger brother to fight because Varner does this to provide a better future for him. He also seemed most media savvy, giving the perfect answer for every question. (Visit Texas Fighting on Youtube for the full Q&A with Frank Mir, Jamie Varner and Miguel Torres (WEC® 43)coverage.)
Now lets get to my prediction for Fight of the Year. “Cowboy” Cerrone and Ben Henderson. I came in just wanting to see a great fight. I got that and more. Ben Henderson survived multiple submission attempts with literal thumbs up. In a moment that made everyone look away fearing his shoulder dislocating, Ben “smoothly” relaxed and got out of the submission not once visibly wincing or seemingly thinking of tapping. “Cowboy” was also unrelenting bringing his Muy Thai and kickboxing skills together with his under-rated ground skills to further show his all-around game. Ben Henderson answered with equally impressive stand-up and ground and pound skills. The action never allowed you to catch your own breath. I was physically exhausted just watching these two warriors battle for 5 rounds. The decision went to Ben “Smooth” Henderson. The fight was close but no one saw it as controversial. Joe Martinez promptly announced the fight as the best in WEC history and I couldn’t disagree nor could I argue that this was one of my favorite events in my professional career.