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Better Late Than Never: It's Time for a WEC Throwback Night

Jose Aldo doesn't deserve to go out being wall-n-stalled at altitude; let the King of Rio make his final stand in Brazil with a superfight from the WEC days

The UFC has been home to plenty of legendary fighters over the years, and when they choose to, they produce excellent content featuring those legends' careers and accomplishments.

The world's premier MMA organization however hasn't always done a great job of respecting the sport's legends while they're still competing, which is truly unfortunate given just how much those fighters have given the company and its fans.

An excellent example of this is their treatment of featherweight GOAT Jose Aldo.

Many felt that the Brazilian legend was forever out of the title picture after he was finished by Petr Yan two years ago for the vacant bantamweight title (albeit in a great fight). The brutal stoppage marked his third straight loss as he failed in his bid to become a champion in a second weight class - he had lost a dull decision to Alex Volkanovski before dropping down to 135 pounds, where he found his new home but "lost" a decision to Marlon Moraes in a title eliminator. The decision was so poorly received the UFC (which they only do for egregiously bad decisions) treated it as a win and granted Aldo the title shot even if on paper it was coming off of a loss.

Aldo however wasn't done chasing the title - he was determined to make one last run at championship glory and his chance to become one of just a handful of two-division champs, which he very conceivably would have done years ago if the UFC had allowed him to move up to lightweight for a second title like he had planned (that was before the UFC began allowing fighters to do so without losing their current belts).

"Scarface" turned things around with an impressive victory over Marlon "Chito" Vera, who has since won four straight and turned himself into a top contender in his own right. He then completely outclassed Pedro Munhoz in a striking clinic that extended his win streak to two.

Late last year, he battered another contender in Rob Font over the course of five rounds, knocking him down or rocking him in every single round.

With three straight victories over top ten opponents, Jose Aldo had by far the strongest claim to a title shot in the division after Aljamain Sterling defeated Petr Yan earlier this year. Even the new champion echoed those sentiments, stating Aldo deserved the title shot and he'd love the opportunity to face a legend of the sport.

The UFC however went with disgraced former champ TJ Dillashaw instead.

It's very possible that Aldo had inadvertently talked himself out of another crack at the crown when he stated in interviews his intention of winning the title and then retiring - the UFC, understandably from a business standpoint, doesn't want to see its world titles vacated as it creates a sense of illegitimacy for the next champion given that they took the title without having beaten the champion.

So instead of the UFC putting on the fight fans (and the fighters themselves) wanted to see, TJ Dillashaw was picked to face off with Aljamain Sterling later this year.

Dillashaw of course was a two-time bantamweight champion that in 2019 attempted to become the first champ to drop down a division in order to earn a second concurrent title.

Unfortunately, that effort resulted in disaster as flyweight kingpin Henry Cejudo finished Dillashaw in just 32 seconds. To make things considerably worse, Dillashaw then lost his bantamweight title due to a failed drug test for EPO (the incredibly effective drug Lance Armstrong famously used that is also ridiculously difficult to catch) and earned himself a two year suspension from competition.

During his bitter feud with former teammate Cody Garbrandt, Garbrandt had repeatedly accused Dillashaw of doping, and even specifically named EPO as the substance Dillashaw was using - more than a full year before TJ would test positive. That fact would punch bus-sized holes through Dillashaw's claims that he only took the drug because the cut down to flyweight was ravaging his body and he needed it to get back to "normal", and Dillashaw's name has become synonymous with "cheater" in the MMA world.

When he returned to the Octagon last year, he wasn't quite his "enhanced" self but managed to pick up a controversial split decision win over Cory Sandhagen.

That's his lone outing since his suspension, meaning in the past four years, Dillawshaw has just one win to his credit and it was a controversial decision to boot.

Rather than blast the UFC for their terrible decision, Aldo, like the OG that he is, said "who's next" and accepted whatever fight the UFC put in front of him so he could continue down his path to a title.

Unfortunately, the UFC again did him dirty.

Merab Dvalishvili was tapped to be Aldo's next outing, a grappler with mediocre striking but an impressive gas tank. Ranked at #7, it was a step down for Aldo not to mention Dvalishvili doesn't exactly hold a lot of name value should Aldo have won. Not only that, but the UFC opted to host the fight in Salt Lake City, Utah, at altitude.

It's no secret that fights should not be held at altitude - the problems associated with it have become the focal point of every single card that has taken place far above sea level, from Denver to Mexico City.

Unless fighters normally train at altitude (like Kamaru Usman) or have the funds to move their entire team for a full camp, athletes regularly gas out quickly and perform at far less than their potential.

Last Saturday in Salt Lake City, virtually every fighter that made it more than a few minutes into the opening round looked visibly exhausted by the second (if not partway through the first), and sloppy, exhausting fights have become a staple of every MMA event held at altitude.

Former heavyweight champ Cain Velasquez even spawned his "Sea Level Cain" nickname due to his performance when he famously dropped the title to Fabricio Werdum in Mexico City, exhausting himself after a single round despite being known for his incredible cardio.

Even Leon Edwards, who captured the welterweight title in stunning fashion on Saturday night, uncharacteristically slowed down after the opening round despite sleeping in an altitude chamber throughout his camp and reaching Salt Lake City weeks before the fight to acclimate.

For Jose Aldo, the UFC might as well have just told him to kick rocks.

Aldo's cardio had always been discussed as his weakness, but in his prime he wouldn't slow down until the latter rounds (typically the fifth round) after he had already battered and outclassed his opponents so he could cruise to victory - in more recent years however, and particularly at bantamweight, he would noticeably slow down much quicker and had to use his wide range of tricks to pace himself accordingly.

On Saturday Aldo's legendary takedown defense completely shut down Merab's wrestling from the start, but instead of being able to get himself off the cage as he would have earlier in his career (and in the early going of this fight), he found himself pinned against it as Dvalishvili stalled the action and scored "points".

Aldo landed solid shots when he did find himself at range, including several beautiful knees to the midsection, but the vast majority of the fight was spent with Merab failing to get Aldo down and instead hugging him against the cage, kneeing his legs to keep the ref from separating them for inaction despite the fact he wasn't improving position or doing damage.

Aldo's fear of expending too much energy, along with the altitude that still made him tire despite the tepid pace, led to an incredibly dull performance in which Aldo took absolutely no damage, stuffed all 16 of Merab's takedown attempts, and yet still found himself losing on the scorecards.

It was just the second time in Aldo's lengthy career that he had lost in a three round fight (ignoring the afforementioned Moraes decision which even the UFC counted as a win), with the first being against Alexander Volkanovski, who similarly lulled Aldo into fighting defensively and scored points with throwaway leg kicks and "wall and stall" against the cage.

The disappointing performance put an end to Aldo's title aspirations and it's very possible we saw Aldo in the cage for the last time - as Merab has since blabbed in interviews, Jose told him after the fight that he would be retiring and the loss meant he was "done".

After such a dreadful "win", Dvalishvili then announcing Aldo's retirement instead of letting the legend announce it himself indicates that Merab is taking lessons from his teammate Aljamain Sterling on how to make the entire MMA community hate you at once.

For a career as legendary as Aldo's, it deserves a proper ending.

Combat sports are filled with fighters that stayed far too long after they should have retired, but in Aldo's case, he has shown he can still hang with the elite of the division and to end his late career run on such a dull performance against a relative nobody would just be wrong.

The title fight he had earned is no longer in the cards, but that doesn't mean the UFC can't make it up to the retiring great. But just how would they do that?

It's simple: give him a card in Rio early next year and make it a WEC throwback night.

He may have been given a standing ovation and tons of respect by the Salt Lake City crowd, but the "King of Rio" deserves to go out in his home in front of a rabid Brazilian fanbase.

The opponent is also easy to pick, and is one that many fans have been calling for ever since Aldo made the move to bantamweight: Dominick Cruz.

The two-time bantamweight king reigned atop his division back in the WEC when Aldo began his own reign of terror, the two men continuing to dominate their opposition after their move to the UFC. Though Aldo would remain UFC champion up until 2015 and regained his belt at UFC 200, Cruz would be stripped after multiple severe injuries kept him sidelined for nearly three years after just two title defenses until he returned triumphantly in 2014.

Even after his return, injuries again kept him out until early in 2016 when he recaptured his title in an epic showdown with TJ Dillashaw, then defended his crown once more with a dominant shutout over longtime rival Urijah Faber to win their legendary trilogy.

Cruz's unlikely return to dominance after so many injuries would come crashing to a halt when Cody Garbrandt picked apart the all-time great to capture the throne. Once again injuries would keep Dominick's career in the Octagon in limbo as he was forced to sit cageside on commentary and analyst duties.

His return in 2020 after a more than three year hiatus had Cruz look good early in a title shot against double champ Henry Cejudo, until he ran into a knee that ended his hopes of being a three-time champion.

"The Dominator" still showed he could compete at an elite level in 2021 as he picked up victories over Casey Kenney and Pedro Munhoz, culminating in a fight with Marlon "Chito" Vera earlier this month.

Once again Cruz looked good early despite being dropped in the opening round, but in the fourth Chito caught Cruz with a head kick that ended Dom's run toward another title shot.

Having lost by a devastating knockout, Cruz himself may opt to retire, but a superfight with Jose Aldo would likely be able to get Cruz back into the Octagon.

Although his last fight showed he doesn't quite have the same elusiveness in the cage as he once did, Cruz has shown he too can still compete with the elite in the division despite his age and a fight against Aldo would be a fight between the greatest bantamweight and the greatest featherweight in the sport's history.

The showdown would make sense for both men as a last stand before they transition into their lives post-fighting, a thrilling match-up that's sure to excite them as much as it will the fans.

Of course stylistically Aldo should be a heavy favourite - Cruz has become more hittable in recent years as he gets caught out of position more often than in his prime thanks to his unorthodox switch-heavy footwork. That doesn't bode well against a sharpshooter like Aldo who has shown he still has the power and accuracy to hurt anyone on the feet (just ask Rob Font).

Aldo's famous leg kicks would also prove devastating for Dominick's style should Aldo choose to bring them back, but even if he opts to purely box, he should hold a notable advantage.

In their primes it would have been a treat to witness, though even then Aldo would have likely emerged the victor - Cruz may have made up for his lack of power with volume and being so hard to hit, but his trailing legs were begging to be shut down by Aldo's devastating low kicks and Jose's accuracy and technical prowess on the feet meant that it would be a matter of time before he landed a shot on Cruz and caught him out of position.

In his prime Aldo was one of the most fearsome finishers in the sport - it's one thing to survive being dropped against the likes of Urijah Faber and Joseph Benavidez, it's another to come out alive against a prime "Scarface".

Aldo's legendary takedown defense would also nullify attempts by Cruz to mix things up, not to mention his highly underrated ground game always being in his back pocket.

That isn't to say Cruz can't win if they fought now though - should he be able to avoid Aldo's power or survive it early, he could outpoint the Brazilian and force him to work in order to take over later in the fight.

It would be the perfect opportunity for the UFC to celebrate the legends while they're still here, and given both are greats from the WEC days, I propose they model the entire card around the iconic promotion.

World Extreme Cagefighting, or the "WEC", was a regional California promotion that was known for excellent matchmaking, an eye for talent, and their eye-catching blue motif.

Stars like Carlos Condit, Glover Teixeira, the Diaz brothers, Gilbert Melendez, and Urijah Faber all made names for themselves fighting for the WEC and the brand delivered strong ratings on the Versus network, leading UFC parent company Zuffa to purchase the promotion in December 2006.

Rather than simply merging the WEC roster with their own (like they would do shortly later with their PRIDE acquisition), Zuffa instead opted to continue running the WEC as a smaller promotion, and soon after turned it into the new home for exclusively lighter weight classes, essentially turning itself into the "UFC" for lighter weight fighters.

While heavier fighters that were deemed worthy would be shuffled into the UFC's ranks, the WEC gradually transitioned to exclusively offer bantamweight (135 pounds), featherweight (145), and lightweight (155) fighters.

The UFC of course didn't have the 135 or 145 pound divisions back then, and though they did have a lightweight division of their own, its depth made it one that could sustain its quality across two promotions (in fact, WEC champions Benson Henderson and Anthony Pettis would both later capture UFC gold, while others like Cowboy Cerrone would also become staples in the UFC's lightweight division).

The WEC was essentially produced to the same standard of quality as regular UFC events, with the main differences simply being the weight classes, the commentary team, and the WEC's trademark blue theme, with the promotion using a smaller, blue version of the world famous Octagon as its battleground.

Fighters like Urijah Faber, Dominick Cruz, Jose Aldo, Anthony Pettis, Donald Cerrone, Benson Henderson, Demetrious Johnson, Jamie Varner, and Miguel Torres made the WEC one of the most exciting events on television and one of the most successful promotions on the planet that wasn't named "UFC". Ultimately their success showed Zuffa that the lighter weight classes could be viable money-makers for the UFC, leading to an eventual merger.

This was highlighted by the WEC's first and only pay-per-view event in 2010, which featured a highly anticipated showdown between new featherweight champ Jose Aldo and the division's former king Urijah Faber.

A young Aldo had absolutely ransacked the division since his arrival in 2008, posting a 6-0 record with all six of his wins ending by knockout; his devastating leg kicks, world class BJJ, unreal takedown defense, and powerful hands made him the most feared man in the blue cage.

Faber on the other hand was the WEC's biggest star and had been the promotion's most dominant champ, having defended his crown five consecutive times before being upset by Mike Brown (who is now a renowned coach at American Top Team).

In a rematch Faber looked good early but broke both of his hands and had to resort to throwing elbows and kicks for the rest of the fight, losing a decision but showing his incredible heart and toughness in the process - a win over the next top contender earned him a crack at the new champ Aldo and the two fighters became the focal point of the MMA world for WEC 48.

With the Zuffa marketing machine behind them, WEC 48 was a massive success and showed that the lighter weight classes could be successful not just on free TV, but on pay-per-view as well, inspiring the UFC to merge the promotion with their own in 2011 and add the two lighter weight classes to their roster.

The card was of course highlighted by Jose Aldo's thumping of Faber, who managed to survive all five rounds but had his leg absolutely eviscerated in the process. The card also featured an all-out war between the "Korean Zombie" Chan Sung Jung and Leonard Garcia, which at the time necame regarded as the most exciting fight in the sport's history.

Since then plenty of WEC alumni went on to have great success in the UFC, and many bantamweight and featherweight fighters have become bankable stars for the promotion, from MMA's biggest PPV draw Conor McGregor to flyweight/bantamweight double-champ Henry Cejudo.

With over a decade having passed since the beloved promotion was absorbed into the UFC fold, not many WEC alumni remain active in the UFC. While much of the old guard has retired, others like Anthony Pettis, Benson Henderson, and Demetrious Johnson have left the organization to compete with other promotions to mixed success as their careers wind down.

The few who remain have all seen better times in competition, but they're still fighting at a high level and putting on exciting performances all these years later.

Putting on a card featuring those who remain, and filling the other slots with exciting fighters in the lower weight classes, would be an awesome way to pay homage to a stable of fighters that has given the fans and the UFC so much over the years.

It would easily be a solid draw for a big ESPN/ABC card, and the UFC could put together additional programming to highlight the brilliant WEC catalog available on Fight Pass/ESPN+.

A full length documentary or series on the promotion would be awesome for hardcore fans and newcomers alike, and promoting curated content like the Best of WEC series on Fight Pass/ESPN+ would be great advertising for their streaming services.

Of course, the trademark blue Octagon and blue gloves also need to return one last time.

To get an idea of what the rest of the card could look like, this is a list of active WEC alumni competing in the UFC:

WEC Alumni (WEC Record | UFC Record | Current Weightclass)

Glover Teixeira ( 3-1 | 16-6 | Light Heavyweight )

Nick Diaz ( 1-0 | 7-7 1 NC | Middleweight )

Nate Diaz ( 3-1 | 15-11 | Welterweight )

Carlos Condit ( 5-0 | 9-10 | Welterweight )

Dustin Poirier ( 1-1 | 20-6 1 NC | Lightweight )

Clay Guida ( 1-0 | 17-16 | Lightweight )

Chan Sung Jung ( 0-2 | 7-4 | Featherweight )

Jose Aldo ( 8-0 | 13-7 | Bantamweight )

Dominick Cruz ( 7-1 | 7-3 | Bantamweight )

Cub Swanson ( 5-3 | 13-8 | Bantamweight )

Raphael Assuncao ( 3-2 | 11-6 | Bantamweight )

Rani Yahya ( 4-3 | 13-4-1 1 NC | Bantamweight )

Of course, a big throwback event like this could inspire someone like Urijah Faber to return for a one-off fight which would certainly be welcome (depending on the match-up of course), but I've kept the list exclusively for those who haven't officially retired.

The headliner would of course be Aldo vs. Cruz, though if Cruz indeed retires/gets injured/etc., a rematch with Cub Swanson would also be a serviceable replacement if Swanson looks good in his bantamweight debut in October.

Dustin Poirier is expected to face Michael Chandler later this year, and if he wins, it's likely he'd wait for a title shot or potentially face McGregor for a fourth time for a money fight - if he loses however, a rematch with Justin Gaethje would make perfect sense for both men and the violence potential would make it perfect for a WEC-style card.

Should that happen however, it would need to be a five round fight - whether they moved it to the main event and had Aldo-Cruz as the co-main, or simply had a rare five-round non-main event, either would work.

If Poirier wins against Chandler and likely takes himself off this card, in keeping with the WEC's penchant for violent lighter weight fights, I'd opt for Chandler vs. Gaethje II to be on the card instead, even if neither is a WEC alum - it's the type of violent all-action match-up that would have certainly been made if the two came up in the WEC days.

Depending on Glover Teixeira's results against Jiri Prochazka in their rematch, it would be nice to slot Glover in another retirement fight on the same card, and with Teixeira being from Brazil as well, it would fit perfectly, but that also depends on when the card would take place, injuries, etc. so is more of a long shot.

The only other fight above lightweight to make would involve former WEC champ Carlos Condit, and for that, another nostalgia-inducing scrap would be perfect: Condit vs. Diaz II.

Although Nick only fought once under the WEC banner, he's still an alum as well and a rematch of their first fight and its controversial decision makes sense for both men at this stage of their careers, as although they can no longer compete at the highest level, they can still deliver excitement against fellow vets and mid-tier competition.

If Nick isn't up for it, a second fight against Robbie Lawler would also work perfectly and makes for another nostalgic rematch, this time for an epic fight that had a legendary fifth round.

Nate Diaz is another WEC vet (though given his prominence in The Ultimate Fighter and his lengthy UFC career, many don't remember that he fought in the early days of the WEC), but given his fight coming up with Khamzat Chimaev is the last on his contract and he seems eager to fight elsewhere, he's not likely an option.

Moving down to where most of the WEC alums now hang out, Cub Swanson was a staple in the WEC's featherweight division and become one for the UFC as well, but he is looking to drop down to 135 pounds to face Jonathan Martinez in October.

It will be Swanson's first fight down at bantamweight so matchmaking will largely depend on how he looks at 135 and whether he would be staying there; should he win, a fight with Douglas Silva de Andrade would make sense both rankings-wise as well as in fun-factor. If he loses but looks good at the weight, Raulian Paiva would be a very winnable match-up that would also make sense.

If he opts to move back up to featherweight, a fight with the "Korean Zombie" Chan Sung Jung would make a lot of sense and has a ton of violence potential.

Speaking of the Korean Zombie, after losing in his title bid against Alexander Volkanovski earlier this year, he's hinted at retirement but nothing has been made official. He may very well be talked into competing on a WEC legends card and should Swanson stay at bantamweight, he would still have a few enticing options.

With most of the featherweights near him booked for fights later this year, it would largely depend on how those match-ups shake out - Dan Hooker, Ilia Topuria, Edson Barboza, and Billy Quarantillo would all be fun match-ups but an exact opponent would need to wait for how things play out in the coming months.

To round out the remaining WEC alums, we have Raphael Assuncao and Rani Yahya, with Assuncao being a long time top contender who has unfortunately fallen on a losing streak, while Yahya is a rare throwback fighter in that he is exclusively a grappler yet still manages to beat much younger and more well-rounded competition toward the lower end of the division.

With both of them matched up already later in the year, it's hard to say where they'd fit in, but given their lengthy UFC and WEC careers and the fact that they're also Brazilian, they definitely have a spot reserved for them on the card.

The last alum is one Clay Guida, who had just a single fight with the promotion and has become a staple of the UFC since then. A fight with Rafael Alves would make a lot of sense for him in the stacked lightweight division and could prove to be a fun one.

To fill out the rest of the card, other lighter-weight fights (lightweight and below) would both match the WEC vibe and make it one of the most exciting events of the year. Given that it would take place in Rio, Brazilians like Pedro Munhoz, Raoni Barcelos, Edson Barboza, Rafael Dos Anjos, and Diego Fereira would all make great additions to the card as well.

The last few warriors from the WEC days are nearing the end of their runs in the sport, making it the last chance the UFC has to put together a card honouring one of the most beloved and successful stables of fighters in the sport, and to right their wrong on one of the greatest talents the UFC has ever seen.


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