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WEC:

Harris has big plans for the future of UFC’s sister organization

Show in Mexico, addition of flyweight class on WEC boss’ to-do list

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Justin M. Bowen

Newly crowned bantamweight champ Brian Bowles, left, is the newest face of the WEC after beating arguable pound-for-pound king Miguel Torres at WEC 42. While Bowles becoming champ was an unexpected shift, WEC boss Reed Harris plans on making plenty of scheduled changes to help improve the UFC’s sister organization in the near future.

A Shock to the System

Brian Bowles remained perfect Sunday night earning the bantamweight belt at WEC 42 with a first-round knockout of Miguel Torres, snapping his 17-fight win streak.

WEC 42

Brian Bowles attacks Miguel Torres as the two face off for the world bantamweight championship during WEC 42 at the Joint in the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino Sunday on Aug. 9, 2009. Launch slideshow »

Beyond the Sun

Ah, those pesky reporters and rumor mongers.

A comment UFC President Dana White made about World Extreme Cagefighting during a question & answer session at UFC 101 in Philadelphia had both White and WEC head honcho Reed Harris putting out Internet fires that the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s sister organization would be consolidated under the mixed martial arts organization’s big umbrella of the UFC.

“It was the press that created that rumor,” Harris said with a half laugh after Sunday’s WEC event at the Hard Rock. “Me and Dana talk about everything.

“How to present the WEC, whether to tie it closer to the UFC, make it a stand-alone organization. We’ve discussed all that stuff. But the truth is the WEC is doing very good. We’re growing exponentially every show.”

While Sunday night’s WEC 42 show in Las Vegas didn’t outperform the promotion’s previous event in Sacramento, there’s a pretty good reason behind that.

WEC 41 was held in the much larger Arco Arena, allowing for more Southern California MMA supporters to watch fan favorite Urijah Faber, "The California Kid," try to win his featherweight belt back against Mike Brown, than Sunday’s show at The Joint inside the Hard Rock — which can fit some 4,000 spectators for a music event.

Brian Bowles’ shocking upset of bantamweight champ Miguel Torres was indeed a sellout, but WEC 41 was the organization’s best showing ever with more than 13,000 fans contributing to a gate record in excess of $815,000 in June.

Bowles’ big win can be a boon for not only himself, but also the MMA organization that, unlike the UFC, caters to lower weight classes — 155-pounds and smaller.

“Get more names out there and then you have rematches,” Harris said with a smile.

While Torres and Faber were the faces of the franchise that was purchased by Zuffa in December of 2006, Brown, Bowles, lightweight champ Jamie Varner and a cast of other star-caliber fighters have helped expand the organization co-founded by Harris in Lemoore, Calif., in 2001.

Much like the UFC, the WEC’s growth has been fueled by taking its show on the road. WEC 42 was the first event in Las Vegas since December of last year.

Shows in San Diego, Corpus Christi, Texas, Chicago, Sacramento and the upcoming WEC 43 event on Sept. 2 in Youngstown, Ohio, have helped market the WEC to a wide range of MMA fans.

“To build a brand you have to go to different areas all over the country and then internationally,” said Harris, who along with several other WEC officials are traveling to Mexico City this week to continue negotiations of developing its branding south of the border.

“I’d love to have a show in Mexico by next year.”

So too would WEC Vice President Peter Dropick.

“Mexico is a great market for us because we have so many Mexican and Hispanic fighters,” Dropick said. “So many Mexican boxers fight in the lightweight classes, I think Mexican fans relate to ‘Le WEC’ (Spanish for WEC) for the same reasons.”

Dropick said who knows, there might even be an opportunity there to launch television programming similar to Spike TV’s “The Ultimate Fighter,” which was the biggest factor in the UFC’s astronomical rise.

“The television ratings for the UFC have been huge down there, and we actually started the talks with Mexican officials before the UFC did. So there’s a real opportunity for something special to happen in Mexico.”

The addition of a 125-pound flyweight division would also help the WEC’s commitment to smaller-framed fighters, Dropick said.

“It’s in the works, hopefully by the end of the year,” he said. “At first we weren’t so sure (there was enough interest), but we got a lot of fighters that want to sign.

“We’re finding out there’s a lot of 125-pounders out there. And also a lot of 135-pounders whose natural weight class would be 125.”

Like Harris, Dropick assures WEC fans that “White’s rumor” was taken completely out of context.

“We had that opportunity to merge a long time ago,” Dropick said. “We have sponsors that are committed to this organization and a strong fan base that’s interested in the fights we put on.

“The day it doesn’t make sense, we’ll make a change. But currently, the WEC does make sense.”

Andy Samuelson can be reached at [email protected] or 702-948-7837.

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