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WEC 35: The WEC delivers yet again

Is it possible for Zuffa-owned World Extreme Cagefighting to have a bad card?

Sunday night was yet another shining example of why the WEC is the best representative of our sport to the mainstream public. Despite being held in a small concert venue at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas, WEC 35 looked like a major league event: strong production; fast pacing; a display of a variety of fighting styles; and compelling matchmaking.

With four fights guaranteed for the telecast and three of them being title fights, the WEC still managed to squeeze in six total fights in a telecast that clocked in just slightly over two hours. Thanks to an early-arriving crowd in attendance to see a strong undercard, the insertion of bouts between Josh Grispi vs. Micah Miller and Brock Larson vs. Carlo Prater in the live telecast looked seamless and appeared as if the bouts were airing live when in reality, they were being shown on a tape-delay basis.

VERSUS was able to show the two additional bouts because they ended early, but that is just typical of the WEC: everything breaks right for them during their shows.

Well, maybe not everything, as one of its most marketable fights, Brian Stann, suffered an upset to Steve Cantwell, losing the WEC light heavyweight title in the process. Stann, a retired Marine lieutenant and Silver Star recipient, had defeated Cantwell in convincing fashion close to a year and a half ago. However, a much-improved Cantwell was well-prepared for Stann’s dangerous, but limited, offensive arsenal.

“No disrespect, but he does need to mix it up more,” Cantwell said during his post-fight interview with commentator Todd Harris. “He did exactly what I thought he was going to do.”

Stann is still new to the sport and there were existing questions about his ground game. After last night, there are now questions about his standup. No one can question Stann’s punching power and his chin, but he lacked the diverse striking skills that Cantwell put on display.

While the loss of Stann probably wasn’t what the WEC wanted, the quality of their main event was everything they wanted and more. Carlos Condit’s successful welterweight title defense over former middleweight Hiromitsu Miura is a bout that is worthy of Match of the Year consideration.

The Condit vs. Miura fight proved to be a war that offered the viewer great parity. On several occasions during the four round affair it appeared as if Miura was on the verge of pulling off the second major upset of the night.

The end came at 4:43 of round four when Condit was declared the winner via TKO after referee Josh Rosenthal called a stop to the bout. Just seconds earlier, Miura appeared to be on the verge of winning after executing a sweep on the ground that put him in top position. From Condit’s guard, Miura unleashed a fury of punches that a visibly exhausted Condit was having trouble defending. However, a spent Miura stopped firing strikes and eventually a scramble allowed Condit to get back to his feet and deliver a knee to the face of an out-of-position Miura.

The end of the fight was cause for some controversy on several highly-visible MMA message forums as some felt it was an early stoppage. While Condit’s knee strike was delivered to the face of Miura’s, it also appeared to be soft. Also appearing soft were the punches Condit delivered to Miura after the fight went to the ground following the knee strike. Rosenthal felt compelled to stop the fight because Miura was making no attempt to defend the punches.

“Right at the end, when I hit him with that knee, I knew he was hurt,” Condit said of the ending sequence. “Most of the time, when he would go down, he would kind of turtle up and then explode out of it. But that time, he didn’t really move.”

After the fight was stopped, an exhausted Miura laid on his back on the mat for an extended period of time. Based on Miura’s inability to get back on his feet, it’s hard to fathom why so many people were outraged by the stoppage. Could it be that a sentimental attachment was developed for the underdog who put on an amazing performance and was in striking distance of pulling an upset?

While Condit looked good at various points of the fight, it was also the first time he had been tested since arriving in the WEC.

“It ranks up there with the toughest fights I’ve had,” he said after the victory. “I was tired. I didn’t really have a lot left. It was all heart,” he said. “He definitely had me in danger, but he never had me hurt. He was landing shots, but he never really buzzed me or rang my bell.”

Despite appearing to be in shape, Condit began to experience labored breathing early on in the fight. However, it’s possible that he was a victim of taking damage early on from Miura’s strong standup display. On the ground, Condit looked like a lightweight battling a middleweight at times. A skilled submission specialist, Condit’s wrestling did not look good as Miura was able to reverse position on multiple occasions.

Despite looking less-than-dominant for a change, Condit was able to improve his overall MMA record to 23-5 and his WEC record to 5-0. With notable wins over John Alessio, Larson, Prater, and now Miura, he is left without an obvious challenger. Larson looked outstanding during his undercard win over Prater, but having already received a title shot a year ago, it remains to be seen whether there is just cause for a rematch.

Additional thoughts:

Jamie Varner looked outstanding in his first defense of the WEC lightweight title. However, despite a losing effort, Marcus Hicks still managed to impress by being able to absorb an extreme amount of punishment. While the fight only lasted 2:08 and was largely one-sided, it was still extremely entertaining.

Hicks has a professional boxing background and had learned a strong guillotine as a way to counter fighters who tried to take him down. Varner escaped a guillotine attempt by Hicks and after the fight revealed that he had spent months trying to defend the hold.

“I wasn’t worried about (the guillotine) during the fight, but I was worried about the position during training,” Varner said after the fight. “We put a lot of work into defending the guillotine. (During a fight), I just react and let my training take over.”

After the fight, Varner seemed to be under the impression that a lightweight bout between Donald Cerrone and Rob McCullough to be held during the WEC’s Sept. show will determine his next opponent. Varner won the title from McCullough earlier this year.

— 19-year old Josh Grispi needed just 0:50 of round 1 to finish 21-year old Micah Miller. Miller, the brother of UFC lightweight Cole Miller, had been rather boastful leading up to the fight. However, it was the New England-based Grispi who improved his WEC record to 2-0 with wins over Miller and Mark Hominick. Training out of Southshore Sportfighting in Boston, Grispi now also had an overall record of 9-1.

Team Takedown member and former NCAA wrestling standout Shane Roller was victorious in his WEC debut, submitting Todd Moore in round 1. Roller accepted the bout on short notice after Alex Karalexis had to pull out with an injury. Roller’s teammates, former NCAA champions Jake Rosholt and Johny Hendricks, will make their WEC debuts during the promotion’s next card on Sept. 10.

— Several fighters were shown on camera, including UFC light heavyweight Rashad Evans as well as WEC featherweight champion Urijah Faber and WEC bantamweight champion Miguel Torres.

— The next fighter to get a shot at Torres could be Brian Bowles. Bowles improved to 6-0 overall and 3-0 in the WEC after a first round submission over Damacio Page during the show’s televised opener.

— The WEC returns to VERSUS with WEC 36 Wednesday (in order to avoid competing with the NFL on Sunday), Sept. 10 at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Hollywood, Fla. Headlining the show will be two title bouts: Faber will defend his WEC featherweight title vs. number one contender Mike Brown and Paulo Filho will return to defend his WEC middleweight title in a rematch vs. Chael Sonnen.

Former NCAA champions Rosholt, Hendricks, and Mark Munoz will all also be on the card. Rosholt will take on American Top Team black belt Danillo Villefort; Hendricks will face Alex Serdyukov; and Munoz will square off against Steve Steinbeiss.

Other bouts include McCullough vs. Cerrone and a yet-to-be confirmed bout between light heavyweights Tim McKenzie and Doug “Rhino” Marshall. The winners of the two bouts could earn title shots. Jens Pulver could also be added to the card.

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