WEC 53 Postmortem: Cruz Control, Pettis Breaks Out

By Jake Rossen Dec 17, 2010
Dominick Cruz file photo | Sherdog.com

Yeah. That kick.

Going into Thursday’s final WEC event, Anthony Pettis was not the name that received the same heavy rotation as his opponent, champion Benson Henderson: it was Henderson who discussed facing the UFC champion in a unification bout, Henderson who was thought to present problems for everyone in his new home, and Henderson who had gotten preference with bookmakers.

For a round, it all seemed reasonable, with Henderson scoring two takedowns and enjoying control. But for the rest of the fight, Pettis scrambled, landed thudding rights, took Henderson’s back -- once for minutes at a time -- and then closed out round five by pushing off the cage with his right foot and then propelling his body into a kick that flattened Henderson. It was the kind of move that would take Jackie Chan at least a few takes to get right.

It’s also the kind of effort that typified the WEC as one of the most satisfying programming choices in the sport. The fights were tremendous, but the promotion’s smaller audience meant smaller rewards. Athletes like Pettis and Henderson aren’t fighters: they’re prizefighters. Big difference. And under the WEC’s model, their exact same dedication to the sport as bigger men earned them only a fraction of the prize.

An April 30 card featuring Jose Aldo had a disclosed payroll of $336,500 for all 22 fighters; four months later, James Toney got paid a disclosed $500,000 to get stretched in the UFC. Merging is the answer.

To see Pettis again probably means spending $50. After Thursday’s performance, I doubt we’ll see anyone complaining.

Next for Pettis: The winner of Jan. 1’s Gray Maynard/Frankie Edgar bout; becoming a YouTube celebrity.

Next for Dominick Cruz: The UFC’s pick of high-profile fights against either Urijah Faber, Miguel Torres, or Norifumi Yamamoto.

New Questions: WEC 53

Can Cruz ever be as big a draw as Urijah Faber?

Given the volume of exposure afforded to Urijah Faber during Thursday’s broadcast -- Amp commercials, sneaker commercials, a ringside seat interview, in a lab coat and mixing a compound that could cure hip dysplasia in dogs -- it’s obvious whom they consider the prize import.

Cruz, who defended his 135-pound belt against Scott Jorgensen in a lopsided decision, has a style that invites a pretty even split of admiration and disgust: he looks like Baryshnikov from below the waist, pedaling around the ring and deflecting blows while hustling to score himself. It’s impressive, but it’s also a style made for judges: six of his seven WEC wins went the distance. If he’s the guy, it’ll be along the Lyoto Machida blueprint, with an eccentric style getting attention by long winning streaks and being debated.

Faber, win or lose, continues to have an “It” factor that touches only a handful of combat athletes; the “It” Cruz has is the UFC belt, though, and that’s a proven attractor.

How does Pettis match up with Edgar or Maynard?

There’s not much debate over Pettis’ striking acumen: he had Ben Henderson backpedaling, trains with Duke Rufus, and can deliver technical strikes with power. The question isn’t whether he can trade with Edgar or Maynard -- though Edgar’s movement might prove to be as irritating to him as he has everyone else -- but whether he can avoid either man from wearing him out in the clinch or on the ground.

In Pettis’ favor: he confused three-time All-American Shane Roller in August, avoiding takedowns and finally submitting him. It doesn’t mean he can do the same to the UFC contenders, but it does allow him to walk into the Octagon with more confidence.

Should he root for Maynard or Edgar? Either one is a headache, but no one should ever hope to have to chase down Edgar in a 32’ cage.

Is Jamie Varner out the door?

The problem with chasing wins to erase the bad taste of a loss is that you run the risk of compounding the problem. Thursday, Jamie Varner made an ill-advised decision to tackle a fourth fight in 2010 after going 0-2-1; Shane Roller needed less than four minutes to lock on a choke.

It’s a radical change from when Varner entered the year on a four-fight win streak, and it comes as his promotion is being dissolved into the UFC. Roster trims are coming. Whether management considers his aggression over his results is something he might have to sweat out through the holidays.

Was that kick one of the top five greatest moments ever in MMA?

I’d love to pop off some obscure reference to a 1998 show in Guatemala only four people have on VHS and how someone pulled off a pressure-point attack or got a flying head-butt win a la "Bonk’s Adventure" -- but I can’t. Pettis’s kick is top three for sure, blemished only by Henderson’s refusal to stay flattened from it. A lot of people are going to hurt themselves in the gym this weekend.
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