Wednesday, July 21, 2010

MMA's mid-year report card (Part II)


Now that I've covered the first six months of 2010 for the UFC and Strikeforce, let's take a look back at the successful first half of the year for the two promotions I feel did really well, WEC and Bellator. First on the agenda is World Extreme Cagefighting.

Ten days into the New Year, WEC #46 was held at the Arco Arena in Sacramento, home of former featherweight champion Urijah Faber. This card marked the return of 'The California Kid' after his loss against Mike Brown, where he broke both his hands. His opponent that night was no easy task as he took on #5 rated, at the time, featherweight Raphael Assuncao. In an exciting back and forth fight, Faber came back strong and showed his desire to want to get back his belt as he choked out Assuncao, who had never been submitted before.

Faber was not the headliner though as that same night one of WEC's fastest rising stars, lightweight champion Ben Henderson shed the interim champion tag against former champ Jamie Varner in another exciting fight. This would only be the beginning as the WEC, who always puts on competitive entertaining fight cards, and up to this point always showed it for free on the Versus network, would attempt their first ever pay-per-view event in April.

WEC 48, back in Sacramento, proved to be monumental for a few reasons other than being the first time ever on PPV. The card was stacked with two championship fights that clearly featured the number one and two ranked fighters in both the lightweight and featherweight classes. One of these included featherweight champion Jose Aldo, the new face of WEC and easily one of the top three pound for pound fighters in the world. He of course would defend against former poster boy and hometown favorite Faber and he did so in dominating fashion, decimating his left leg in the process with vicious round kicks.

While the undercard included fights that determined number one contenders for future title fights, it also featured a rematch of the fight of the year for 2009 between lightweights Donald 'Cowboy' Cerrone and champion Henderson. This time Henderson made quick work of the 'Cowboy' and solidified his standing as a champion to be reckoned with. While their second fight did not live up to the hype of potential fight of the year for 2010, another fight on the card did.

Featherweights Leonard 'Bad Boy' Garcia (pictured above) and the aptly named 'Korean Zombie' Chang Sung Jung not only put on the fight of the year, but one for the ages. While both fighters are capable of showing a technical display, they threw that out the window for three rounds that was MMA's version of Hagler vs. Hearns. While Garcia won a close disputed split decision; Jung won over the American fans as I saw people wearing 'Korean Zombie' shirts everywhere during the UFC Fan Expo Memorial Day weekend.

With all these great fights and a roster filled with a bunch of very talented young fighters and potential superstars, also including bantamweight champion Dominic Cruz and former champ Miguel Torres, the WEC clearly was the best promotion for the first half of 2010. Except for some minor issues regarding who will be their featured color analyst in the future, as they parted ways with Frank Mir, and the resignation of long time ring announcer Joe Martinez, WEC had a solid first semester, which earns them an A-.

The same can almost be said for the surprising second season of the Bellator Fighting Championships. Using their successful formula of holding tournaments in each weight class to create and expose MMA stars, their second year turned out even better than their first.

Entering this year Bellator already had champions in four weight classes they had determined in their very first season and all four proved their standing in super fights held throughout the first six months of 2010. Light Champion Eddie Alvarez, especially upped his stock with a slick submission winning performance against tough UFC veteran Josh Neer, earning him a top five world ranking.

Featherweight champion Joe Soto remained undefeated and impressive with a first round win against dangerous Diego Saraiva. Meanwhile, light-heavyweight champion Hector Lombard worked a total of four and a half minutes in 2010 thus far, including only six seconds in his super fight, which is all he needed against Jay Silva.

As for their tournaments, they all produced very exciting and entertaining fight cards every week on Thursday nights, free on the Fox Sports Network, and also came up with some formidable contenders for their champions. Such young stars as featherweight Joe Warren and lightweight Pat Curran have a world of potential, as does welterweight tourney winner Ben Askren who will face champion Lyman Good in their next season.

With a crop of exciting new fighters in their stable, a refreshing and different formula that seems to work perfectly for them and an improved production value in their second season, I give Bellator a solid B as their grade. Their future looks very bright as they have scheduled a heavyweight tournament along with a woman's tourney for their upcoming third season.

As for the UFC, Strikeforce and WEC, there is a lot of anticipation for the second half of this year as all have some very intriguing match-ups and storylines on the horizon. If the next six months resemble anything like the previous six, we are in store for an exciting finish to 2010 in MMA. See you at the end of the year.

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