The way UFC president Dana White tells it, this was all about timing. It was the perfect plan and now is the perfect time to implement it. Then again, White's never been afraid to indulge in a little revisionist history when it suits him, so take that explanation with a grain of salt.
The truth is, the WEC has long suffered from the same branding problem that every other competing MMA organization has faced. To many casual fans, the UFC is MMA. That's great for the industry leader, but not so great for little brother. That's why, as exciting as the WEC fights have been, ratings have lagged.
Simply put, it was a limited idea from the beginning. An organization that only featured smaller fighters, operating under a limited budget on a lesser-watched cable network, well, let's just say it was never a threat to eclipse the UFC.
Give the Zuffa brass credit, they tried just about everything. They put the promotional burden on Urijah Faber's capable shoulders. They tested the pay-per-view waters. They cross-promoted the two organizations via the various TV broadcasts.
But in the end they just couldn't get enough UFC fans fired up about an organization that was defined – both in terms of the weight of its fighters and the size of its events – by being smaller than the big show. The hardcores loved it, but there were plenty of fight fans who didn't see the point in making time to watch what was essentially UFC Lite.
It makes sense, which is also why it makes sense for the UFC to finally open its arms to the underappreciated lighter fighters.
"The reality is, all of these weight classes should be in the UFC," White said on Thursday's media call.
It's true, of course, but it was also true two years ago.
The little guys have been putting on consistently exciting performances for years, and they've been doing it for smaller paychecks, too. Now that Zuffa has finally seen fit to absorb them into the big show, they can start getting the money and the respect they deserve.
The former is nice, but don't discount the value of the latter. Ask any WEC fighter who's ever had to explain to some knucklehead at a shopping mall that he's not in the minor leagues just because he's not in the UFC, and they'll tell you the same thing.
As of 2011, those days are over. There'll be no more weight class discrimination in the house of Zuffa. No more relegating lighter fighters to the status of second-class citizens in a miniature cage, fighting under a banner only the most serious of MMA fans understand the value of.
Again, better late than never. And again, it's about damn time.