It wasn't supposed to end up this way. When World Extreme Cagefighting was folded into the UFC last year, its fighters were supposed to find their way to the middle of the pack. The lightweights would be immediately taught a lesson by the UFC's gatekeepers. The superstar featherweights would be decimated by smallish UFC fighters at 155 pounds looking to come down a weight class and make a name for themselves.
Instead, the WEC stars have exceeded all expectations. Featherweight kingpin Jose Aldo beat top 10 UFC lightweight Kenny Florian to defend his title, proving to even the harshest skeptics that he's a legitimate champion. Ben Henderson made short work of Jim Miller at 155 pounds, making a case for top contender status and establishing himself as one on the most promising fighters in a solid weight class.
Tonight was no different. Journeyman and WEC veteran Bart Palaszewski knocked out Tyson Griffin, one of the UFC lightweights who was supposed to take the featherweight division by storm, in the first round. Donald "Cowboy" Cerrone, one of the most exciting fighters in the entire world, made it clear he didn't think Dennis Siver was in his class - then he went out and proved it. Cerrone knocked Siver silly, then choked him out, hardly breaking a sweat in the process.
WEC fighters entered the UFC with question marks attached. And rightfully so. It's never clear how a fighter will match up with the best in the world, under the brightest of lights, until they actually have to do it. The best of the WEC have now done it. They've entered the cage and made it clear they were more than just action fighters or big fish in a small pond. Questions and doubts have been answered in the most definitive way possible - with punches and kicks.
Unfortunately for fans, while the WEC was a tremendous artistic success, it never made its mark at the box office. The promotion's first event on Versus, WEC 28, drew 416,000 viewers. That number has stayed pretty static throughout the organization's history. The WEC averages less than 500,000 viewers for events not headlined by their lone break out performer Urijah Faber, a star who more than doubles a shows ratings by his mere presence.
In the end, the WEC is perhaps a noble failure, a promotion that always provided exciting action and created a number of fan favorites like Faber, Miguel Torres, and Jose Aldo. But without the UFC name attached to these superlative athletes, it was hard to gain traction in a market place that may not have room for more than one major player. The WEC was a success, but ultimately limited the potential of some of these tremendous fighters. That's why the promotion is finally being put on mothballs, gone but never forgotten. Harris and company are proud of all they accomplished - and rightfully so.
Fans mourned the WEC when it folded. It was the closest thing to pure sport we've ever seen in MMA. There may never be another like it. The WEC may be gone, but its spirit lives on with its fighters. The beloved promotion has stories yet to tell. As long as Henderson, Aldo, and a cast of whirling dervishes continue to thrive, the WEC will never truly die. For that, at least, we can be thankful.