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Sunday, October 31, 2010

WEC will merge with UFC

The timing could not have been more perfect for WEC lightweight champion Benson Henderson.

UFC Presents: The Best of WEC [Blu-ray]

Long before UFC president Dana White announced on Thursday that the two promotions had merged, Henderson's sights were set on the largest stage in mixed martial arts.

For Henderson the plan was simple: defeat top contender Anthony Pettis -- the two are scheduled to meet Dec. 16 in Glendale, Ariz. -- then petition UFC officials for a roster spot.

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Competing in UFC was a no-brainer for "Smooth." It has always been his intent to be the world's best 155-pound fighter.

That goal is now within reach. If Henderson defeats Pettis, he gets a shot at UFC lightweight gold. Frankie Edgar will defend his UFC 155-pound title Jan. 1 against Gray Maynard in Las Vegas.

"My goal from the very beginning was to be the best fighter on the planet, and I will go wherever I have to go to get that done," Henderson told "You and I know that the best fighters on the planet fight in the UFC, so I want to fight in the UFC."World Extreme Cagefighting, Vol. 10: Bragging Rights

Despite the respectable talent in its ranks, all WEC weight classes higher than 145 pounds have long been regarded as a notch below those in UFC. Not even the success former WEC standouts Chael Sonnen, Brian Stann and Carlos Condit have experienced in UFC changed the public opinion.

Henderson is aware that the general MMA fan base considers WEC fighters inferior to those in UFC. He doesn't share that view and is eager to prove it wrong.

"Any former WEC fighter would be lying if he said he didn't have at least a small chip in his shoulder of not having the mainstream recognition of a UFC fighter, especially when taking on a UFC 155-pounder," said Henderson, who is 12-1-0. "Now here is our chance to get that mainstream recognition, not so much in the 145 and 135 weight classes, because those are already considered the best in the world."

While mainstream recognition has eluded Henderson and other WEC fighters, mixed martial artists who currently compete in UFC are respectful of the talent that exists in their sister promotion.

The addition of WEC fighters has made life in UFC's lightweight division more difficult. Respect for the WEC's 155-pound division is so strong that no UFC fighter has expressed opposition to Henderson or Pettis receiving an immediate title shot.

The common opinion is that WEC lightweights won't be an easy out for anyone in UFC.

"They can compete in the UFC without a doubt," UFC light heavyweight Stephan Bonnar told "The guys at the top, Henderson and Pettis? I believe so."

Bonnar, who has called several WEC fights on Versus, believes timing is a key factor in the Henderson-Pettis winner landing a UFC lightweight title shot.

Before Benson Henderson can even begin thinking about challenging for the UFC lightweight title, he'll have to get by Anthony Pettis.

"As far as the title picture is concerned, some might say, 'Why don't they do what they did with [former Strikeforce middleweight/welterweight champ] Jake Shields and make [Henderson or Pettis] win at least one fight and maybe bring 'em in for a title shot?'" Bonnar said. "But when you look at the [UFC lightweight] division, after the Frankie [Edgar]-Gray [Maynard] title fight, there really isn't a clear-cut No. 1 challenger."

UFC lightweight Kurt Pellegrino agrees. He believes Henderson and Pettis are as deserving of a UFC title shot as anyone.

"All the top-10 lightweight fighters in the WEC are contenders in the UFC as well," Pellegrino told "If Anthony Pettis is fighting for a title, he had to go through the ranks and beat people.

"His last fight was against Shane Roller, who is supposed to be this phenomenal wrestler and a Marc Laimon jiu-jitsu guy. Anthony Pettis wasn't even taken down by him -- that was Shane Roller's best quality," he said.

"If Henderson beats Pettis, then unify the belts. Let the winner of Edgar-Maynard and Henderson fight. If you have the belt in WEC and come into the UFC and beat everybody up, then you deserve to be the undisputed champion."

Landing a title shot is one thing; winning it is another. At least one man other than Henderson believes the current WEC champ will hold lightweight unification gold after the smoke clears.

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"Ben has world-class wrestling credentials, he's shown that he has good jiu-jitsu and he can strike," Henderson's manager, Malki Kawa, told "At the end of the day, if Ben beats Anthony Pettis, he will prove that he very much deserves a UFC title shot.

"He beats the Frankie Edgar-Gray Maynard winner hands-down. What is it that they have in their games that Ben doesn't? The only thing they have over him, and I respect both of them immensely, is their experience in UFC."

Henderson has every intention of becoming UFC lightweight champion, but that goal is on hold for the moment. A loss to Pettis, which isn't beyond the realm of possibility, will quash any UFC title aspirations Henderson currently harbors -- maybe permanently.

The WEC titleholder isn't looking past Pettis (11-1-0). Henderson considers this fight the most important of his career.

"I'm not thinking about the Edgar-Maynard fight at all," Henderson said. "I have Pettis to deal with; I have to make sure I am ready for that dance.

"That's the only thing I am concentrating on right now. Whatever comes after that will take care of itself."

F. McNeil covers MMA and boxing for

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