An amazing month in MMA continues next week with two of the best fighters you may have never heard of. WEC Featherweight Champion Mike Brown defends his title against the sensational Jose Aldo on live, free, television. It’s a potential candidate for fight of the year and we sat down with WEC President Reed Harris to talk about the fight, WEC’s relationship with the UFC, and how long these great fights would be free instead of on pay per view.
Heavy.com: Coming up next week you have one of the best fight cards of the month, with the fantastic main event of Mike Brown versus Jose Aldo. But with Fedor and two UFC events, do you worry at all about being lost in the shuffle?
Reed Harris: I’m not too worried about it being lost. I just saw a poll where one of the websites asked ‘What fight do people want to see?’ They listed fifteen fights in the next two months and they told me out of 5000 people, 37 percent said Brown versus Aldo.
So I’m pretty confident that people are out there and know about it. It’s one of those fights that a promoter dreams about. Who’s going to win? I wouldn’t even put a bet on that fight. Brown is obviously powerful, with heavy. heavy hands. Great wrestler, comes out of ATT (American Top Team in Florida). Aldo is devastating. Is walking through opponents.
Heavy.com: But he’s never had an opponent like Brown.
Reed Harris: That’s what we talk about at WEC. How good is he? We really don’t know. He hasn’t been tested. Brown’s going to test him.
Heavy.com: In a sense, it’s almost a throwback to these classic MMA matchups. You’ve got the grappler and you’ve got the striker. With Brown’s experience and Aldo’s quickness, like you said, it’s so unpredictable. You’d be crazy to place a bet on it. Your fights usually go 15 or 25 minutes and are filled with non-stop action. But when you have Aldo in there, things can come to an end pretty quickly.
Reed Harris: I asked Mike Brown, ‘How are you able to go full speed for five rounds like that?’ And he said ‘At ATT there are probably 30 black belts. Twenty eight of them weigh more than me. And when I go out and roll, they don’t take it easier on me because I’m smaller. That’s just not the culture of our gym. When we go out there, they think they are doing me a disservice if they don’t beat the crap out of me. When I’m going up against guys that are 180, 190, 200 pounds, and then I step in the cage with a guy that actually weighs the same as me, it’s not that hard. It feels like I’m fighting a lightweight guy.’
Heavy.com: How hard has it been for you guys, conceptually, to find a way to promote these lighter weight guys? These are weight classes no one in America had seen before, and you are headlining shows with them. How hard has that been for you when people are used to seeing Chuck Liddell and Brock Lesnar and you’re giving them something entirely different?
Reed Harris: When we decided to focus on the lighter weights we knew we had our work cut out for us. But if you look at boxing for example, it took many yeas, but now the lightweight guys are the guys everybody is interested in. If you look at the time frame, I only started really focusing on the light weights about eight months ago. Now look where we are at. Everyone in the MMA industry says the best lightweights in the world fight for WEC. I get calls from across the world, from Japan, from Korea, from Brazil, with coaches saying ‘I’ve got lightweight fighters we want to bring into the WEC, because these guys want to fight the best.’ It used to be the other way around. We used to have to chase after them.
I think in the next year you’re going to see a lot of things happening in the WEC. We’ve got a new deal with Versus. We’re going to go to the PPV model. We’re going to possibly go to Mexico and Canada and expand internationally. We’re going to do more shows. I’m looking forward to next year. You’re going to see alot of things happen with the WEC and I think that we are starting to step out of the shadow of the UFC. They are our parent company and they cast a big shadow. I think going to the lighter fighters, which was something Dana (White) wanted us to do and, by the way, I didn’t want to do. Now I look back and I’m really glad we did that.
Heavy.com: There’s recently been a lot of talk, about you guys going to the PPV model. You mentioned it a second ago. What would the metrics be for that? What would be considered a success? Obviously the WEC is a company that is not doing the same kind of television ratings as the UFC, and traditionally the TV audience becomes the PPV audience. What would be a success considering the smaller audience?
Reed Harris: Well, you know we never talk about numbers at UFC or the WEC and I’m not going to start now.
Heavy.com: It was worth a shot for me to try though right?
Reed Harris: That’s right baby. The success is going to be the public’s response to it. We’ve been doing shows for ten years and the UFC purchased WEC three years ago. So we’ve been around and could have done one. But we wanted to do it right. We know that in order to be successful, we are going to have to have some awfully compelling fights. What those fights are going to be, I don’t know. This thing is an evolving process.
Obviously we’ve got guys like Miguel (Torres), Brian Bowles, Urijah Faber, Mike Brown, and Jose Aldo. We’re starting to build this huge list of guys that people are interested in. I know if we do a pay per view I am going to have to have a completely stacked card. Deeper than anything I’ve ever done. And it’s going to have to be fights people want. I watched the Countdown show the other day..once the fans understand the fighters and what the fight is about, then you just gotta watch.
Heavy.com: I don’t want to get into too much MMA nerdery, but for years with the lighter weight fighters, Japan was the place. SHOOTO, PRIDE Bushido, this is where it was happening. What PRIDE did, when they started featuring the lighter weight guys in their own show with Bushido, was bring in some heavyweight big names from the main PRIDE show. Mirko Cro Cop and guys like that. Is that something you’ve thought about? Having the UFC, your sister company, loan you a big fight to get your pay per view business started?
Reed Harris: No, we haven’t considered that. I think for us to be successful, we’re going to have to stand on our own two feet. Brown-Faber 2 got over a million people watching it. We have fights that people are interested in. Our television ratings are actually excellent. We are the number one rated show on Versus. We have the second best TV deal in all of MMA. Obviously the best is the UFC with Spike.
We are making a lot of inroads. Obviously, our media coverage has quintupled over the last eight months. I just see it growing. You know, UFC was not created overnight. It took a long time. And I think WEC is starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
Heavy.com: That’s great. The reason I brought that up, and you know this better than anybody, is that you really saw the company take off in the public’s mind, is when you brought in Jens Pulver. Are there other guys out there like that? Who can lend their reputation and their credibility to your fighters? Is that a challenge for you?
Reed Harris: Sure. But again, with guys like Urijah and Jose Aldo and our own group of fighters, we’re starting to get that mainstream recognition. If you walk down the street behind Urijah Faber, believe me, a lot of people recognize him. Even when we’ve gone to malls to do autograph signings and things like that, people that you wouldn’t expect know him. My mom is eighty years old and she loves Urijah Faber. That may be because I run the company!
What I do see happening is that a lot of guys who fight at 155, and we’ve seen this with Manny (Gamburyan, from season 5 of The Ultimate Fighter) who are going to migrate over to 145. And when I open up the 125 pound division, I’m sure I’m going to see some 135 poud guys migrate down to 125. They are at 135, because there was nowhere else for these guys to fight until WEC became their home. Other than going to Japan.
Now we see a lot of top guys coming over from Japan. I’m excited about that. I want more international guys, from Korea, Japan, Canada, Europe, and I want to build our company around that. I want to have the best fighters in the world. Bar none.
Heavy.com: Reed, this is your opportunity, as a promoter, to tell the people what you want them to know about Brown-Aldo and why they don’t want to miss it.
Reed Harris: Our next fight is Brown versus Aldo. And listen, this is a promoter’s dream. Both guys have been undefeated, I think, since 2005. Aldo finished Cub Swanson in eight seconds with a double knee to the head. Brown, people wonder if he can be stopped. He is a really hard hitting guy, with great wrestling.
This is a fight that I can’t tell you who will win. Those are the best fights. Every once in awhile I’ll get a fight like this. Where I look at the two players and ask ‘Who is going to win this fight.’ No one knows how good Jose Aldo is. He’s burned through every guy we’ve put in front of him in the WEC. Mike Brown is a guy he’s probably not going to burn through. He is going to have a tough fight on his hands.
Mike Brown is training hard and told me he is going to be in the best shape of his life. That’s a real statement for Mike Brown. He’s fought for me for a long time and he’s never said that to me. This is going to be a fight people have to see.
Heavy.com: Any other fights on the card stand out to you?
Reed Harris: The other fight on that card I’m really looking forward to is Gamburyan versus (Leonard) Garcia. Leonard Garcia’s Team Jackson down in New Mexico have told me Garcia is one of the hardest hitting guys in the gym, bar none. That includes Rashad (Evans), Keith Jardine, “Cowboy” Cerrone, all of them. They say he hits like a cement truck. I think if Leonard can keep that fight on the feet, he has a good chance of knocking Gamburyan out. Of course, if Manny gets it to the ground, Leonard has his hands full. Gamburyan has some of the best ground and pound in the world.
The other fight I’m really looking forward to is Banuelas versus Keni Osawa. Antonio Banuelos against Scott Jorgenson a couple of shows ago was a three-round war. And I’m hoping to see that again out of Antonio.
Heavy.com: It’s hard for him to limit it to three. I’m telling you, if you’ve only seen the UFC this is eye opening. It’s worth going out of your way to find Versus on your cable network. These are phenomenal fights and I’ve never seen a WEC show that disappointed me.
Reed Harris: Thanks a lot. Nice talking to you.
WEC: Brown Versus Aldo airs at 9PM on Wednesday, Nov. 18 from The Pearl at the Palms in Las Vegas, Nevada. For more WEC information, check out their website.