WEC 31 marked a year since Zuffa purchased and revamped World Extreme Cagefighting. In that year, they’ve put on very solid events and this one looked promising as well. The card featured three title defenses (at 145, 185, and 205 lbs) as well as the WEC debut of the former UFC champion Jens Pulver. Another former UFC champ, Frank Mir is calling the fights along with the play-by-play man Todd Harris – more on them later.
The broadcast starts out with a title fight:
Champion Doug Marshall vs. Ariel Gandulla (Light Heavyweight title – 205 lbs)
Doug Marshall is the champion by default in the barren wasteland that is the WEC 205 division. In the fight preview, Todd Harris claims that Marshall comes at you “like a giant sequoia falling into the trees“. Say WHAT? I had to rewind my DVR several times to make sure I heard this right. Alas, I did. Marshall promises to KD – that’s “knock dead”, if you didn’t know – his opponent.
Like a giant sequoia, Marshall comes out swinging and accidentally pokes a thumb into Gandulla’s eye. Doug follows with a flying knee but Gandulla anticipates it and catches him in mid-air for a takedown. Gandulla works punches from Marshall’s guard but quickly gets caught in a triangle. Marshall switches to an armbar to force the tap with less than a minute gone by in Round 1. After the bout is stopped Marshall leaps over the cage and runs into the crowd to celebrate. Marshall again mentions the dreaded “KD” multiple times throughout the post-fight interview.
Fight grade: 1/5 The whole affair looked vaguely choreographed, and Marshall’s antics certainly did nothing to change the perception that I was watching professional wrestling rather than an MMA bout. Marshall’s thuggish shtick would certainly be right at home in WWE or TNA. I have not had such an intense, visceral dislike for a fighter since the UFC debut of Mike Kyle. I won’t wish a “KD” on anyone, but I certainly hope someone KSSI (knocks some sense into) Doug Marshall ASAP.
Charlie Valencia vs Ian McCall (135 lbs bout)
In a preliminary fight, undefeated Ian McCall takes the action to Valencia early. Valencia stays back and counters well, dropping McCall halfway through the round and following up with a beautiful belly-to-back release suplex. Valencia punishes McCall with strikes; Ian takes it all and keeps coming forward. McCall refuses to be knocked out and so Valencia changes his strategy and finishes with a quick guillotine.
Fight grade: 4/5 McCall was outclassed but showed plenty of heart in a very entertaining fight.
Champion Paulo Filho vs. Chael Sonnen (Middleweight title – 185 lbs)
The challenger, UFC veteran Chael Sonnen has Dan Henderson and Matt Lindland in his corner. Filho comes into this fight at 15-0. The announcers claim that Filho is one of, if not the, top middleweights in MMA. He is not looking the part as the UFC veteran Sonnen rocks him early on and follows up with a slam that was mostly invisible for the cable audience due to lousy camera work. Sonnen screams “He’s out” as he hovers over Filho by the fence; Filho recovers but absorbs heavy blows until he is finally able to escape. Sonnen dominates standing then goes for another takedown. Filho attempts a half-hearted guillotine and an armbar to no avail. Dominating round for Sonnen.
In Round 2, Chael is again dominating on the feet as Filho is unable to secure a takedown. Sonnen succeeds with a takedown of his own. This ultimately proves to be a mistake as Filho secures a nasty armbar with 15 seconds left in the round. Sonnen screams in pain but does not tap; referee stops the fight as Sonnen yells “No, no!”
Fight grade: 2.5/5 It is now becoming clear why Zuffa brought Filho into the WEC rather than the UFC, where his undefeated record would have been in great jeopardy. Props for getting the win, but any talk of Paulo being the top welterweight should be laid to rest for the time being. As for Chael, he had the fight in the bag but did not stick to the game plan. A rematch may be in order to clear up any controversy.
Brian Bowles vs Marcus Galvao (135 lbs bout)
In another prelim, Galvao and Bowles stand and trade for most of the first round. Galvao catches an accidental knee to the groin and takes a minute to recover. Both guys are landing good blows; Galvao moves straight back each time he gets hit.
This catches up to him in Round 2 as Bowles scores a knockdown early. Galvao survives and gets back up but looks wobbly. Bowles is landing at will until Galvao falls face down and the ref halts the bout.
Fight grade: 4/5 Great fight; Bowles goes a long way towards dispelling the myth that the little guys lack KO power.
Jens Pulver vs Cub Swanson (145 lbs bout)
Former UFC lightweight title holder Pulver has struggled at 155 lately, and is looking to return to a more natural weightclass, where he is undefeated with a 7-0 record. This fight was originally slated for WEC 30, but was delayed when Pulver suffered a training injury. Much trash-talk ensued, culminating with the infamous video clip of Pulver smashing a training partner with a head kick while screaming “Fuck you Cub!” In the pre-fight video, Swanson threatens to kill Jens, who replies in kind: “I’ll rip his head off.”
Pulver almost makes good on his promise, sinking a brutal modified guillotine (the ring annoucer later claims it was an Anaconda choke) and forcing a tap shortly after an early takedown attempt by Swanson. Jens then addresses a heart-felt “Fuck You” to Cub, his corner, the audience, and anyone else who might be interested.
Fight grade: 2.5/5 Wasn’t much of a fight, but it is good to see Jens back, and looking forward to him challenging for the 145 lbs title.
Champion Urijah Faber vs. Jeff Curran (Featherweight title – 145 lbs)
In the main event of the night, challenger Jeff Curran gets a takedown early. Curran quickly passes guard then secures Faber’s back and looks for the choke. Faber defends well and eventually stands up with Curran still on his back and slams him into the mat. Curran holds on but Faber is finally able to reverse and finishes the round throwing punches and elbows from inside Curran’s guard.
Round 2 begins with another takedown by Curran. They end up in an yet-to-be-named position that stumps even the master grappler Frank Mir. Faber opens a cut over Curran’s eye. Curran takes advantage of the yet-to-be-named position and wipes blood from his eyes with Urijah’s shorts. The cut is visibly bothering Curran and Faber quickly ends the fight with a guillotine.
Fight grade: 5/5
Frank Mir’s wast knowledge of the fight game would make him a great commentator if paired with the right partner. Todd Harris is just not it. I don’t know if they could have possibly found anyone more clueless about MMA, and I am still trying to decipher his “giant sequoia” comment. As it stands, Mir is not able to carry the broadcast all by himself. His manner of speech is flat and apathetic – a stark contrast to guys like Joe Rogan or Mauro Ranallo who are ready to bust a nut with excitement at any moment. He is often at a loss for words, this is particularly obvious in his post-fight interviews. Oh well, at least he is better than Goldberg. Bill Goldberg, that is.
I do not understand Zuffa’s strategy of marketing WEC as an equal of the UFC. They truly have some of the top guys in the world under 155 lbs, but are severely lacking in the heavier divisions. It’s tiring hearing Mir talk about WEC being the top of the heap – he obviously does not believe it himself, and is not a convincing liar. The most bizarre moment of the night came during an interview with the 170 lbs champion Carlos Condit. With a straight face, Condit claims that he wants to fight the best fighters in the world, and the best fighters at 170 are in the WEC. Come on now, do you really feel that way? Are John Alessio and Brock Larson really the best welterweights in the world? Even aside from the talent level, everything about the WEC branding and production screams UFC-lite. Truth in advertising, this is not.
WEC 31 got off with a rocky start and was plagued by sound problems, shoddy camera work, questionable reffing and silly commentary. On the plus side, they showed 6 fights when only 4 were scheduled; and most of them really delivered.
Event Grade: 3.5/5
– the big sequoia