On the eve of the WEC's first and only foray into pay-per-view at WEC 48, I asked Urijah Faber what was at stake on a potentially bigger platform with the full weight of the UFC's promotional muscle at work behind him.
Points on the back end wasn't an answer, sadly. But Faber, who'd fought his way through the small-show California circuit to become one of the most popular fighters in the lighter-weighted promotion, did say it was a chance to prove the little guys could be trusted to make a buck as the marquee attraction of the Zuffa's primary product.
"I think the model of pay-per-view is what has allowed the sport of mixed martial arts to grow, and I'm thinking I want to prove I can make some money, and hopefully get some return," he said.
Fifteen months later, it was only fitting that the former featherweight champion got the first chance to do that, and do it opposite his first true rival in Dominick Cruz, the last bantamweight champion of the now-defunct WEC and first UFC champ of the same class.
Faber would ultimately come up short against Cruz, a phenomenally talented, and perhaps a misunderstood fighter with just one career loss -- at the hands of "The California Kid" four years ago. The two would nonetheless put on a performance worthy of headliner status, a whirling dervish of a fight that entertained and perplexed for 25 minutes. Cruz proved himself the better man with a style unique to all in MMA, and three judges would side with him. He would scarcely get the same reward from the crowd.
Here's hoping, though, that the UFC picked up the slack for the two as they do for many of UFC's top attractions. A "Fight of the Night" bonus was good. A discretionary bonus would be better. And points on the back end would be best, because the little guys put on a great show.
We'll find out whether they can deliver the bucks when the final numbers are tallied. But if Saturday's UFC 132 was a preview of coming attractions, things are looking good.
It's understandable that Faber has had more time in front of the spotlight and is more familiar to the audience. He's got the chiseled looks, he's presentable, and boy, his walkout music is just so darn likeable. But Cruz, too, has the goods, with maybe the exception of the music. And he's never presented himself as anything less than a respectable, hard-working guy who's sacrificed everything to be a champion. His trappings of success? Last I checked, a bed with a proper frame and a nice TV -- for his one-bedroom apartment. So, so big baller.
Cruz outlanded and outworked Faber, who seemed alternately paralyzed and frustrated in trying to chase down his fight. It was a frontal assault versus guerilla warfare, and maybe that's the nerve Cruz touches with fans. He won't stand and trade for any longer than he needs to. He won't go out on his sword. He's aggressive, but he's not stupid. Faber could hardly catch the guy, and the same goes for everyone else in his way.
It looks like Demetrious Johnson or Brian Bowles is next in line for Cruz, depending on who is healthy to fight (Johnson is on crutches with a fractured fibula and Bowles may have broken his hand Saturday against Takeya Mizugaki). Neither present a compelling case to take the title from "The Dominator." Bowles is a big puncher and solid grappler, but not any more so than Cruz. Johnson is an excellent takedown artist, but we saw how well Faber held the champ down when he shot for the takedown.
In other words, it could be a while before we see a changing of the guard. So fans, spend some time with Cruz. You might learn to love him.
We won't, however, get a sense of whether his current fortune has more life than a teeter-totter swing until he gets another top-tier notch on his belt. I'm thinking a guy such as Mark Munoz could be the ticket (and everybody else is booked, coming off a loss, or somebody he's already fought). Silva wasn't the gatekeeper to a title shot against another Silva, champ Anderson, who handed him a vicious beating five years ago. But the star power of "The Axe Murderer" was the perfect lilypad for a booking that could put him in the picture by next year, provided he can stay on track.
Let's see how long this sugar high lasts.
What was that talk you wanted to have, boss? Ah, never mind.
After a worldwide Twitter seizure subsided, the always-blunt welterweight Mike Pyle put it best: "We'll see what he's got left when he steps up against (better) competition," he told ESPN.com. Ortiz is already asking for a teammate of Pyle's by way of the winner of Forrest Griffin vs. Mauricio "Shogun" Rua at UFC 134. Ortiz and Griffin split a pair of bouts at UFC 59 and UFC 106 and started a 140-character war that drove Ortiz's request. Not a bad idea, but he could just as well fight the winner of Rich Franklin vs. Antonio Rogerio Nogueira at UFC 133. Either one presents a stiff test, and more Ortiz to love and hate.
To complicate things, Condit said after his win that wants to fight before the end of the year. He could fight the winner of Diego Sanchez vs. Matt Hughes on the UFC's year-end show -- he's repeatedly stated his willingness to fight teammate Sanchez -- if that winner is healthy. Anthony Johnson could be a fun fight. But given the current options and the open cards, I'm thinking he's more likely to get a lower-tier guy willing to gamble on the spoiler role.
Where's Sean Sherk when you need him?
But wait: a German could fix this problem. Dennis Siver is 8-1 since his loss to Guillard and rising fast on the lightweight ladder. Guillard is 6-1 since that win. Could a fall battle break the stalemate for the Young Assassin? Or would a fight against the surging Joe Lauzon give him that extra kick?
Problem was, he was damaged goods. There were the gym wars back in Brazil, the back-to-back knockout losses, the grind of a decade-plus career. You could see all of it when he walked into the Octagon. The Wanderlei we all knew and loved was present, but he wasn't the same guy; the reaction time just wasn't there. Unfortunately, the reckless aggression was, and that led to a brutal knockout loss to Quinton Jackson, and Saturday, another at the hands of Chris Leben.
Silva will probably push for one last go-around in the Octagon, much like Ortiz did. But as White said at the post-event press conference, a veto may be in order. There's just no joy in seeing old heroes crumble.