Dana White hopes WEC card can salvage bad month for MMA
Three years after they annexed the rival promotion World Extreme Cagefighting, the guys who run the Ultimate Fighting Championship think the WEC is set for a surge in popularity, and this Saturday the promotion will stage its first pay-per-view event since the UFC takeover.
The main event pits WEC 145-pound king Jose Aldo against former champ Uriah Faber, and as far as the WEC goes bouts don't get much bigger. Faber, promotion's most recognizable fighter, tries to regain the title from the man who flattened the man who first lifted the belt from Faber.
The bout promises fireworks and WEC is putting on a full-court press to promote it, recording a documentary style countdown show that will air this week on three U.S. networks (Versus, SPIKE and MTV2) as well as the Score here in Canada.
UFC president says the WEC event offers not only a great main event but impeccable timing, and hopes an explosive main event helps fans and media move past what has been a less than stellar month in mixed martial arts.
Two weeks ago UFC middleweight champ Anderson Silva did little to prove he deserved his pound-for-pound crown, clowning his way through an achingly boring five-round decision against Demian Maia.
Then last week, in the afterglow of Jake Shields' upset win over Dan Henderson on Strikeforce event broadcast live on CBS, Jason "Mayhem' Miller crashed the party, helping touch off Bowe-Golota-esque post-fight melee. Nobody was seriously injured, but the public image of Strikeforce and the sport overall took another bruising.
Combined, Silva's indifferent effort and Miller's pro wrestling-style run-in dealt a double shot of bad news to anyone with an interest in pushing mixed martial arts a little further into the mainstream.
When top performers don't (or simply won't) perform fans lose interest, as the boxing industry learned the hard way in the lean years that preceded Mayweather-De La Hoya.
And while North American sports fans have a high tolerance, and even something of an appetite, for on-field thuggery, too much misbehaviour will turn them off.
And that's why White is so excited about this Saturday's event, a high-octane card whose main event White describes as a superfight.
"Faber's the most dominant featherweight ever and Jose Aldo hasn't lost a fight since 2005 and this kids last six fights have been wins by knockout," White said"I want to get this fight on as fast as we can and not even think about the last two weeks."
During a 15-minute phone interview White pointed out that it's a shame two straight weekends of misbehaviour should overshadow a bout as intriguing as Aldo-Faber. And he's right, but mainstream media attention doesn't always follow quality.
It follows profile, for better or for worse.
That's why a temper tantrum from Ron Artest will always pull more headlines than a 30-point outburst from Stephen Curry.
It's why Alex Rodriguez' love life received more ink than Roy Halladay's dominance.
The headache for White is that even though the brawl didn't take place during a UFC event, the responsibility falls to his organization to undo the damage to the sport's image.
"Strikeforce puts on this horrible event and that happens at the end and the mainstream doesn't know the difference between UFC and what CBS is putting on," he said. "They all think it's UFC so now I have to go out and fix this thing...We're not even sanctioned in Toronto and New York. We're trying to get all this stuff done and we've got stuff like this going on on CBS."
Personally, I don't think the brawl damaged the sport's reputation too deeply. True, White et al are working hard to dispel the stereotype that MMA fighters are knuckle-draggers who crack heads for fun, but can anyone here name a mainstream sport that doesn't witness at least one major, outside-the-rules physical confrontation every year?
Didn't we just watch Kevin Garnett elbow Quentin Richardson twice in an NBA playoff game?
Didn't Carl Edwards intentionally try to make Brad Keselowski crash in a NASCAR race this winter?
And did either of those incidents drive either of those sports off the map?
So if sports fans, politicians and the media really feel like getting behind mixed martial arts they'll do it, brawl or no brawl.
Still, an all-action main event Saturday night would do a lot to boost the WEC's profile, and to put the focus back where it belongs -- in the octagon and between the bells.
Follow the Star's Morgan Campbell on Twitter