WEC 53: Ten Things We Learned

photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa

Let’s take a look at the thrilling (and historic) final WEC card

I normally would have written my trademark recap segment immediately following Thursday night’s final WEC show, but there was a little something that kicks off this installment that had me unable to do almost anything.

If you don’t know what I mean – or for some unknown reason you didn’t watch the event – expect your MMA fan credentials to be pulled later this week. You missed history. How does that feel?

Best. Move. Ever

You might think I’m exaggerating, whether it’s because as a writer I’m prone to histrionics or because I’ve had a year-long man-crush on Anthony Pettis dating back to our first interview in March.

But everyone I’ve talked to since “it” happened have said the same thing: Best. Move. Ever.

There are two reasons why Pettis’ “Showtime Kick” has become an instant “Where were you when it happened?” event in MMA lore:

1. The dude ran off the cage, propelled himself in the air and kicked the retreating champion in the face.

2. The dude ran off the cage, propelled himself in the air and kicked the retreating champion in the face in the closing moments of a very close championship fight loaded with implications for the future.

This was The Matrix meets MMA and Pettis played Neo flawlessly, following Ben Henderson to the floor after the kick landed, not at all caught up in the moment like the rest of us. To attempt such a move under normal circumstances would be impressive, but to pull it out with 90 seconds left in a championship bout that was all-even on the cards – and nail it – is downright ridiculous.

Fight of the Year

Going into the final fight in WEC history, the front-runners for the year-end award were Anderson Silva’s come-from-behind submission of Chael Sonnen and the brawl between Leonard Garcia and “The Korean Zombie” Chan Sung Jung.

Thursday night in Glendale, Pettis and Henderson combined to deliver the most complete bout of the year. It had everything you could ask for in a 25-minute tilt, and the closing moments are going down in history as the best pseudo-finish in the sport to date.

Even without the mind-blowing “Showtime Kick,” this was my Fight of the Year. I’ll take a five round, back-and-forth title fight where each man is put in jeopardy and manages to survive over a sloppy brawl any day. While Silva’s triangle on Sonnen was still pretty smooth, you just had a feeling going into the final round that something was going to happen.

No one saw the “Showtime Kick” coming.

This was an instant classic that was also a truly fitting finale for the WEC. The company that had delivered the most consistently entertaining contest for the last few years went out with more than a bang; they went out with a sonic boom.

Care to Rethink Your Stance on the WEC Lightweights?

Right now, less than 24 hours after watching Pettis and Henderson go hold-for-hold for nearly 25 minutes, I don’t know how you can count either of them out as contenders in the lightweight division.

Pettis has been a no-brainer for me for some time. A well-rounded young fighter with speed, power and panache, he’s only going to keep getting better over the next few years, and when he’s breaking out imaginative and inventive moves without warning, he’s capable of catching anyone.

While there are some things Henderson needs to tighten up, he too has a solid future in the shark tank if he’s able to properly address those areas. You can’t teach heart or flexibility, two things we know Henderson possesses in spades, and his fundamentals are sound. If he can ratchet up the striking and top control portions of his game, Henderson will be a solid addition to the lightweight division who could cause trouble for those who take him too lightly.

Cruz Control

Horrible pun aside, Dominick Cruz made sure that he would go down in the history books as the first UFC bantamweight champion on Thursday night by thoroughly controlling every minute of his encounter with Scott Jorgensen.

While Jorgensen told Heavy.com earlier in the week that he could “out-wrestle Cruz in his sleep,” the former Pac-10 champion had no answers for the San Diego native. He was completely outwrestled.

Cruz was at his frenetic best once again, darting in and out at unpredictable angles, throwing body-head-leg kick combinations that no one else seems to think of, yet alone execute. The bantamweight champion also mixed in perfectly timed takedowns throughout the contest, leaving Jorgensen completely off-balance and unable to muster much of a challenge.

The victory sets the stage for a rematch with Urijah Faber, the only fighter to beat Cruz so far, and it is a bout Cruz himself lobbied for after the bout. Tired of hearing about Faber at every turn, the Alliance MMA product put out the challenge to “The California Kid” following his win.

I would be shocked if the two didn’t meet each other next, but I think it will be a few months down the road.

Cruz vs. Faber on The Ultimate Fighter?

If you’re looking for a way to introduce two of the top transfers from the WEC to a wider audience and put them in a position to successfully headline a future PPV event, look no further than the set of The Ultimate Fighter.

The bantamweight foes are both elite competitors their division, will be prominently featured in the UFC moving forward and could bring solid teams with them to the TUF gym as well. Honestly, think of the hours of unintentional hilarity that Faber’s striking coach Master Thong could produce alone.

More importantly, the show has proven to be a solid marketing tool in recent years, and while the hardcore set who has watched both fighters religiously over the last few years in the WEC don’t need any convincing to watch them throw down again, the UFC acolytes will need some convincing. A season of TUF with them at the forefront of the footage would provide the opportunity to get new fans invested in the bout without having to force-feed them the backstory.

It would also give Cruz the time he needs to have surgery and properly recover before facing Faber for a second time.

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