September 28, 2001 is a significant date in Mixed Martial Arts because it marks the day of UFC 33, the first event promoted under the new Zuffa ownership. That will forever be looked upon as the date MMA came out of the darkness to begin its ascent as the fastest growing sport in the world.
However, three months earlier, during the "Dark Age", another historical date in MMA took place. June 30, 2001 was the day that World Extreme Cagefighting was born @ The Palace Indian Gaming Center in Lemoore, CA with an event called 'WEC 1 - 'Princes of Pain'. Using the number one in their event title, the promotion that was the WEC just knew they were going to have more than one event and they did; 52 more to be exact.
What they probably didn't know was that the sport of MMA would grow to be a worldwide phenomenon and that they would play a significant role in that growth. Kind of ironic that growth would be attributed to a company whose focal point the last few years were lighter weight classes, which featured fighters that did not grow to be very big. However, that was only in terms of stature. In terms of skill, entertainment and popularity, the WEC and their fighters was 'The Little Engine that could'.
They proved just that this past Thursday as WEC 53 - Henderson vs. Pettis, was not only a great event, but also a crowning achievement in WEC history. It was the last event for the promotion as they are now being merged with the UFC under the Zuffa banner; thus the date of December 16, 2010 will also go down as another important date in MMA history. So too will be the answer to the trivia question, what was the last fight ever in WEC history?
The answer of course was the lightweight (155lbs.) championship main event between titleholder Benson 'Smooth' Henderson (12-2, 2 KO's, 8 subs) and challenger Anthony 'Showtime' Pettis (13-1, 5 KO's 6 subs). Not only did Pettis and Henderson live up to Pettis's nickname and put on a show, but also it was a great fight and a fitting way to end an important chapter in MMA. In the end, Pettis won a five round unanimous, but close decision, thus becoming the new and last WEC lightweight champion.
BTW, for those that did not see the fight, Pettis's "jump off the cage flying right round kick to Henderson's face" in round five that knocked down the former champ is a highlight that will also go down in MMA history. In the 17 years the sport has been around I've never seen anything like it, but then again that is what the WEC has always been good for. Classic fights, chock full of action-packed highlights that will live on forever.
Look at some of the names of the fighters that have fought in the WEC and the list reads as a virtual who's who of MMA. Horn, Pellegrino, Melendez, Shamrock, Diaz, McCullough and Torres to name but a few. Even the main event way back @ WEC 1 featured a pioneer of the sport in UFC Hall of Famer Dan 'The Beast' Severn against Travis Fulton. However, when you think WEC there is one name that has become synonymous with the organization, Urijah Faber.
'The California Kid', a homegrown product from Northern California, birthplace of the organization, not only became the poster boy for WEC, but it's ambassador as well. A former featherweight champion, who is one of the sports biggest stars, he took the promotion, put it on his back and made sure the world knew it was more than just a regional show. It was Faber, along with current featherweight champ Jose Aldo, who spearheaded the WEC's one and only pay-per-view event and made it a rousing success by selling out the ARCO Arena in Sacramento, California earlier this year.
Along the way, the WEC went on to garner a television contract with The Versus Network, attract international stars from all around the globe and carve its own niche as the premiere organization for featherweight (145 lbs.) and bantamweight (135 lbs.) fighters in the world. Reed Harris, President of the WEC has much to be proud of, yet now it is but a memory, albeit an important one. However, it leaves a profound legacy that will continue to live on through its fighters who will now compete in the UFC. Thank you WEC for the memories and for always living up to your name and being totally extreme.