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Five lessons from WEC 46


Five things we learned from WEC 46 in Sacramento, Calif.:

Most of us got the memo when Royce Gracie first did his thing in 1993: Grappling -- wrestling, submission, clinch work -- is as important in determining who wins or loses a fight as anything could be.

After hearing his postfight comments, it seems Jamie Varner is confused about that. Or he's just a sore loser. Or he has short-term memory problems.

Moments after tapping to Benson Henderson (11-1), Varner suggested that he "came to fight" while Henderson, the newly minted WEC lightweight champion, "came to grapple." Odd. Considering how the fight played out, that's almost exactly what didn't happen.

Varner, defending the WEC belt for the first time in nearly a year, controlled much of the opening round by putting his weight on Henderson. He tossed short knees and held on to a front headlock. And it wasn't as if Varner was looking to separate; it took the referee stepping in to get the fight back in striking territory.

In and out of clinches in Round 2, the two had their share of exchanges on the feet. Henderson went after Varner (16-3) with kicks to the head and body from his southpaw stance while the now ex-champion looked to box, though he never came close to hurting Henderson.

And in the third, Varner punched his way into the clinch in the opening minute before an ill-fated double-leg attempt landed him in Henderson's guillotine -- which was barely defended before Varner tapped.

Anyhow, say for a second that Varner was correct. That he "came to fight" while Henderson "came to grapple." So what? Grappling, in the end, was the difference no matter how much Varner wanted to save face.

WEC matchmaker Sean Shelby has his work cut out for him before he or anyone in the organization can legitimately argue its lot of 155-pound fighters are on par with the best at the weight.

After Henderson solidified the promotion's lightweight belt in Sunday's main event -- a competitive yet not altogether compelling fight -- it doesn't feel out of bounds to suggest there isn't a lightweight in the top 20 currently competing for the WEC. That may change over time, but it'll take a lot of work.

Henderson, 25, has the best chance of moving up the ranks. What he needs are opponents, preferably quality names, to measure himself against. Beating Varner or Donald Cerrone won't cut it, not if he wants to jump into the top 10.

As prospects go, the WEC is attempting to build an international group including the likes of Iranian wrestler Kamal Shalorus (a world-class grappler with powerful yet unrefined standup); Nigeria's Anthony Njokuani (a strong striker with losses to Henderson and Cerrone); Armenian Karen Darabedyan (untested with a 9-1 record).

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Perhaps someone will emerge, but it seems unlikely.

The hope here is Henderson, should he hold on to the belt for a while, will get a shot to prove how good he is. As of right now, though, I don't see anyone at 155 in the WEC managing to find much success against the world's elite lightweights.

During the postfight press conference, WEC general manager Reed Harris essentially confirmed that Urijah Faber would get the first shot at featherweight champion Jose Aldo in the first half of 2010.

The news is both expected and disappointing.

Faber, to the complaints of some fighters in the organization, remains the WEC's most marketed fighter. Having retained the WEC title for several years, he built up a certain level of respect for his accomplishments. It helps that he hasn't faced Aldo, the terrific young Brazilian champ. And, Aldo-Faber seems to be a fight many people would enjoy watching -- and a fight the WEC believes it can sell on pay-per-view.

Yet, none of those reasons are enough to justify skipping over Mike Thomas Brown. Why? Pretty simple, really. Brown is 2-0 against Faber in championship fights, including one as recent as June 2009. Considering he defended the belt twice before giving it up to Aldo late last year, it seems only fair that Brown should get the first chance to avenge the loss.

Of course, "fair" is rarely among the criteria used in determining these things.

Fight fans in Sacramento turned out in force to watch mixed martial arts on Sunday. Despite the unsteady economy, 10,027 people caught WEC 46 for a gate of $550,000, according to postfight reports.

Much of that, of course, was due to the presence of Faber, who has made himself synonymous with California's capital city. (After Faber's sub-of-the-night victory against Assuncao, some fans began leaving Arco Arena before the lightweight title fight.)

Because of his ability to move tickets, it's likely Faber's challenge of Aldo will take place in the California Kid's hometown, making it three in a row for him in Sac-Town -- though the support of the crowd didn't help against Brown last summer.

So this isn't WEC-related, but we did officially learn Sunday that Brandon Vera will headline the UFC's debut card on Versus on March 21 against light heavyweight stud prospect Jon Jones.

If MMA lovers with DirecTV weren't already screaming about missing WEC on Versus, perhaps this news will up the ante some on calls for both parties to hammer out an agreement to get the network back on the satellite provider's listings.

As far as an early prediction, I'll take Jones by stoppage.