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Where Does the WEC Go From Here?

With over 14,000 fans in attendance at Sacramento's Arco Arena and more than $1 million in gate receipts, we can probably go ahead and say that this past Saturday was a good night for Zuffa and for Dana White. Whether it was a good night for the organization usually known as the WEC, that remains to be seen.

If you happened to be a casual MMA fan who stumbled across the preliminary bouts on Spike TV this weekend, chances are you were a little confused. It looked like the UFC. It sounded like the UFC. But where was the ubiquitous UFC logo? Where was any logo?

The closest thing you saw were the words "Aldo vs. Faber" on the microphones, which were being held by recognizable announcers who made no real attempt to let you know exactly what organization you were watching or how you could see more of it in the future. It was almost as if it was just some crazy fight fan's dream brought on by eating too many chicken wings and falling asleep with a Joe Rogan comedy special on TV. You wake up with the vague sense that you saw a Korean zombie do something extraordinary, but there's no way to know if it was real.

This is the paradox for the WEC following Saturday's event. It got greater exposure in the media and more attention from mainstream fight fans than at any time in its history, but the price it paid was a complete elimination of brand identity. It's sort of like a small business getting a great discount on an ad during the Super Bowl, with the condition that it couldn't mention the company name or tell anyone how to buy the product.

It's better than nothing, but it's still not exactly good.

The WEC is at a crossroads. Its fighters proved that with the right promotional push they can put on fights that are just as good, if not better, than any given bout in the UFC, and yet it's still difficult to say whether there are more actual fans of the WEC now than there were a month ago. When the organization returns to the cable hinterlands on Versus, it seems very likely that the fighter salaries, media attention, and fanfare will all go with it.

This makes you wonder, aside from producing one great night of action and a temporary cash infusion, what was the point?

First, the good news. The WEC got a chance to showcase some of its biggest names – guys like Jose Aldo, Urijah Faber, and Ben Henderson. It also got a chance to show skeptical fans that smaller fighters can deliver the kind of fast-paced action that the plodding giants of the sport often can't.

The bad news? After throwing just about every notable fighter on the roster into one event, it's hard to see how the WEC can maintain this momentum going forward.

Aldo's impressive victory has many fans aching to see how he'd do against the UFC's 155-pounders, and Henderson's win completed what amounts to an effective sweep of notable WEC lightweights. For both guys, there's almost nowhere to go but up and out of Zuffa's little brother organization.

That leaves Faber, along with bantamweights Dominick Cruz, Brian Bowles, and Miguel Torres – none of whom got the benefit of the "Aldo vs. Faber" hype to boost their name recognition among fans – to carry them forward.

Back to the smaller venues, smaller audiences, and smaller payouts. At least for a while.

Zuffa really has two realistic choices when it comes to the future of the WEC: It can keep operating it as a second-tier promotion for smaller fighters, building up to one or two pay-per-view events a year, or it can absorb the best of the little guys into the UFC. Both options have their drawbacks.

Choosing door number one implies that only fighters above a certain weight are worth the UFC's time and money, which is insulting to guys like Leonard Garcia and Chan Sung Jung, who fought their hearts out to prove otherwise. Door number two floods the UFC with new weight classes and new champs, and there's always the possibility that casual fans will get confused and give up on trying to keep it all straight in their heads.

At the moment, Zuffa seems to be straddling the fence on this one, but decision time is approaching fast. If Saturday's event taught us anything at all, it's that good fighters – not brand names or company logos – make fights worth watching. And the little guys, they're definitely worth watching. Even if they don't get treated like it all the time.