Ben Fowlkes
Thursday December 16th, 2010

When Dominick Cruz and Scott Jorgensen step in the cage together in Glendale, Ariz., on Thursday night, consider it an appetizer.

Technically, they're fighting to determine who will be not only the last WEC bantamweight champion, but also the first UFC bantamweight champ. The stakes can't get much higher for a 135-pound fighter at the moment.

The winner carves his name into MMA history; the loser becomes the answer to a trivia question.

But aside from determining the future of a weight class that's been too long ignored by the big show, think of this as a preview of what's to come. As the UFC finally embraces the little guys, the scrap between Cruz and Jorgensen will give fans, as well as other fighters who will be competing against them for bonuses in the UFC, a good idea of what's headed their way in 2011.

For one thing, there's the speed. Watching the champion Cruz as he darts in and out of range is a little like watching a hummingbird at work. At times it can look like wasted movement, but that's only until you try to hit him and discover that he's already somewhere else.

Then there's the pace. The 135-pounders are a typically active bunch, but Cruz and Jorgensen both throw down as if they have an impatient girlfriend waiting in a car outside the arena.

The point is, for many of the casual UFC fans who have never bothered to watch any fights that don't have those three familiar letters attached to it -- the kinds of fans, incidentally, who helped doom the WEC from the start -- seeing the smaller fighters in action is likely to be a revelation.

For years these fighters consistently put on some of the best fights in all of MMA, even if very few people saw them. You could argue that the low pay and lack of respect made them feel like they had to go out and prove something every time. Or you could argue that in the lighter weight classes MMA is simply able to draw a higher caliber of athlete.

Think about it: if you're 6-2 and 230 pounds and you happen to be a great athlete, there's a good chance that one of the other major sports gets its hooks in you long before it occurs to you to fight other men in a cage for relatively little money.

If you're 5-7 and 150 pounds in your winter coat, not so much.

Cruz and Jorgensen are both exactly that type of athlete. Unlike many of the other guys on the WEC roster, their concern isn't so much over whether they'll be absorbed into the UFC. Win or lose, both guys have pretty much made the cut at this point.

Their concern is in proving to the fans and the powers that be that it was a colossal error not to have them there in the first place. That's a point that will likely be made gradually over the next year, but it starts on Thursday night.

Even if the WEC doesn't draw much greater an audience than it has over the past couple years -- and sadly, it probably won't -- this is a chance for the little guys to show people what they've been missing.

Or perhaps, more accurately, what they're going to miss when the WEC disappears for good, and the UFC finally starts charging premium prices for what has long been a premium product.

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