The WEC's deal with Versus was initially made to block the IFL from a TV deal. At the time the IFL was only seen on FSN on tape delay and those ratings were atrocious. A proposed deal with Versus was quickly blocked when the Zuffa offered newly purchased WEC, an organization that would surely have the same marketing machine push as the UFC. The WEC wasn't the most talent rich organization but it was well respected within the MMA world after WEC 22, which was a benefit for Ryan Bennett, former announcer for the UFC and co-founder of mmaweekly.com, who had died in a car accident two months before the event. All fighters fought for free and all proceeds from the event were donated to Bennett's family. Three months later Zuffa purchased the organization which was around the time they also snatched up the WFA.
So was the Zuffa owned WEC a success? My initial feeling is yes it was. The WEC gave Featherweights and Bantamweights a place to showcase their talents. This was the first time American audiences had the chance to see the smaller fighters compete and they delivered in droves.
- It provided an outlet to make Urijah Faber the most recognizable Featherweight in the United States after years of fighting in King of the Cage and Gladiator Challenge. In three years, Faber became the face of the WEC and the Featherweight division in North America.
- Prior to the purchase of the WEC, Miguel Torres was the best fighter never to fight in a major organization. He entered the WEC at a staggering 32-1 and was the definition of exciting Mexican fighter. He became the organization's Bantamweight poster child, winning exciting fights against the best in the Bantamweight division. Two losses to Brian Bowles and Joseph Benavidez had many thinking he had fallen off, but he bounced back at WEC 51 against Charlie Valencia with a rear naked choke victory.
- The WEC is responsible for putting the featherweight world on notice. Former kingpin Alexandre Franca Nogueira was signed with a ton of media attention but was completely annihilated by Jose Aldo, a prospect out of Nova Uniao. Nogueira was a huge signing and was supposed to be the next title challenger for Urijah Faber, in a fight between the old and new guard. Aldo mangled "Pequeno" and two years later is considered on of the best pound for pound fighters in the world.
- Donald Cerrone, Benson Henderson, and Anthony Pettis became stars within the organization. They are still young so the jury is out if either will develop into top fighters within the UFC, but they have extremely active games and always push forward. With proper matchmaking, they could bring the UFC's lightweight division into the next decade.
- The deal with Versus created a new outlet for MMA. The WEC was averaging eight live events a year and in 2010, the UFC promoted two additional events on the network as well. Unfortunately, the maximum amount of live events the UFC can run on the network is four per year under their current deal with Spike TV and with the recent cancellation of the bottom line, there are questions on if the network is truly behind the sport of mixed martial arts.
All things considered, I would call the WEC a major success. It never pulled the major gates that its big brother UFC gets, but the fights at the Arco Arena with Faber/Pulver and Faber/Aldo (UFC branding) showed that if marketed with the UFC brand, people are willing to order a pay per view of light weight fighters. This gives me hope that the Featherweight and Bantamweight divisions will be accepted by the UFC masses.