When Reed Harris and Dana White merged their organizations in 2006, they created an unbeatable one-two punch in the mixed martial arts world.
While White and the UFC tend to get more attention, World Extreme Cagefighting has carved out its own niche.
“We’re the lightweight (135-, 145- and 155-pound) division of the UFC,” is how Harris described the arrangement that started out with WEC being a feeder organization for UFC.
There are a few differences the WEC will bring when it holds its first standalone Canadian show, June 20 at Rexall Place.
Quality of the fighters, for one. And, it features a smaller octagon (26 feet vs. 30) for its high-energy combatants.
Harris hinted there’s a good chance that White will be in Edmonton as a spectator, casing out the joint for a possible future UFC event, which has specialized in the heavier weight classes.
“Since we’ve done that (specialized in lighter weights), our brand has exploded,” said Harris. “I guess they like identifying our company with those light-weight fighters. You cannot pull a DVD or look at one of my shows where the fights haven’t been absolutely fantastic.
“The lighter weight guys tend to be faster, be in better shape, kinda similar to boxing. They’re more energetic, you don’t see a lot of laying around. A guy goes down and they bounce back up. They’re very dynamic fights.”
Even though an alphabet soup of local organizations and promoters have given Edmonton a reputation as one of Canada’s more dynamic grassroots MMA hotbeds, the quality of the WEC stable is intimidating.
“In the 135-pound division, I have seven of the top 10 guys in the world; in 145, I have eight of the top 10 guys in the world,” said Harris. “We have guys from all over the world fighting for us and some of the top pound-four-pound fighters in the world.”
Not all the top names will be on this card, but the WEC brings enough of a cachet of top-dog legitimacy to attract fans beyond the Edmonton area.
When Northlands contacted Harris about the bringing in a show to Edmonton, he was well aware of the enthusiasm of the local MMA fan base.
Whether the market has the depth to attract more than the 4,400 that paid a higher price for Friday’s Maximum Fighting Championship show at the Edmonton Expo Centre remains to be seen.
“The other promoters do a similar type of show that I did years ago where you’re in a smaller venue,” said Harris. “Those shows are critical because those are shows that actually feed people to companies like mine.
“We are at a different level. It’s almost like maybe seeing a high school basketball level, then going to an NBA game. We are the most-recognized fighting organization in the world. Our shows are very professionally run. When you see the event, as far as the lighting, the ability to see the fighters, the pacing of the event, people come away impressed with that.”
Ticket pricing in the $45-175 range is designed to test the depth of the market.
“We did that to bring people in,” said Harris. “If you can buy a ticket for $45 and sit in the lower bowl and watch one of the best MMA events in the world, we’ll do that. If the response is good, we’ll come back. We just did a show in Columbus, Ohio, and drew 9,000. They called us the week after saying they wanted to schedule for next year.
“I promise, by the end of the day, when they leave the stadium, they’ll be happy they showed up.”
That’s quite a promise. The WEC has a history of delivering.