#2 Zuffa wins the Versus contract with WEC
While the PRIDE buyout was the big story of 2007, Zuffa actually bought a pair of promotions before they purchased the Japanese powerhouse. The World Fighting Alliance (WFA) and World Extreme Cagefighting (WEC) were bought out in late 2006 and at the time, it was the WFA buyout that made the most noise.
The WFA had attempted to compete with the UFC in 2006, but after one show, financial difficulties kicked in and Zuffa swooped in to clean up, shutting the promotion down instantly and moving their top fighters – including Rampage Jackson and Lyoto Machida – to the UFC.
The WEC buyout was a quieter one, as the promotion was far smaller than the WFA had been and actually had a strong working relationship with the UFC with regards to talent exchange anyway.
It didn’t seem to make much sense, in fact.
Things became much clearer when it was announced in 2007 that the WEC had struck a deal to be broadcast on the re-branded Outdoor Life Network, renamed as Versus. Starting in June, WEC’s events would now be broadcast live on the upstart network, which also had rights to the NHL and the Tour de France.
Word soon got around MMA websites that another rival promoter, the International Fight League (IFL) had been in talks with Versus to broadcast their shows on the network, which had worried Zuffa greatly as the promotion was trying to take its own slice of the UFC-dominated MMA pie.
Unable to broadcast UFC shows anywhere other than Spike TV due to their contract with that channel, Zuffa had then decided to buy out the WEC and offer it to Versus, and the network had gone with the now-sister promotion of the UFC rather than the IFL.
It proved to be a stroke of genius, as the WEC gained cult popularity on Versus, making stars of the likes of Urijah Faber and Miguel Torres, while the IFL languished on the smaller HDNet channel.
The IFL never managed to make up any ground and quietly folded in 2008, while Zuffa kept the WEC running separately until 2011 – the dawning of the Fox era – before it was folded and its fighters were introduced to the UFC.
While not as memorable as the PRIDE buyout, this was still a pivotal moment for the UFC as it showed the lengths Zuffa would go to in order to undercut their competitors – a move Vince McMahon himself would’ve been proud of.Published 16 Mar 2017, 04:31 IST