MMA Review: #584: WEC 25: McCullough vs. Cope

-Hard to believe really that of the two promotions that Zuffa bought out in 2006, it was the WFA that received all of the press, mainly because the shutdown that followed allowed the likes of Rampage Jackson, Lyoto Machida and Heath Herring over to the UFC. Meanwhile the purchase of the WEC flew largely under the radar for almost another year until Zuffa managed to secure the Versus TV slot for them and well, we all know what happened from there. I’ve looked at a bunch of the pre-Zuffa WEC shows and all of the televised Zuffa WEC shows too, but what a lot of people don’t realise is that Zuffa actually ran three WEC shows prior to the Versus deal that were only ever televised under clip shows called ‘Wrekcage’. Fight Pass however has those shows up now, so I figured I may as well do them for completion purposes.

WEC 25: McCullough vs. Cope

Las Vegas, Nevada

-Your hosts are Todd Harris and Frank Mir, who I hope can clear up this USADA suspension, retire and then be put back into a colour commentary position again. Dude is awesome.

Welterweight Fight: John Alessio vs Bryan Gassaway

Both of these guys had done recent stints in the UFC prior to this, and in fact both men lost to Diego Sanchez when he was first coming off his TUF win. This was actually Alessio’s first fight out of his UFC deal – he’d lost to Thiago Alves in his final match there – while Gassaway had been doing his usual journeyman thing on the regional circuits. Gassaway for the record is still one of the most shredded fighters in MMA history. If it were a low bodyfat contest he’d probably be unbeaten. Crowd don’t like him though and give him a nice chorus of boos. Maybe because Shonie Carter’s in his corner?

Round One begins and both men circle and throw out some jabs, with Gassaway countering a missed low kick with a straight right hand. Clinch from Alessio and he moves Gassaway into the fence, and they jockey for position before Alessio hits a nice outside trip down to half-guard. Looked like Gassaway landed hard there judging by the noise. He ties Alessio up well in the half-guard, but a couple of elbows open up the position and allow Alessio to slip into full mount. Big punches land for Alessio and this is looking like Gassaway’s fight with Diego again. He gives his back and Alessio sinks both hooks in, and begins to work for the choke. Gassaway defends, but he can’t shake Alessio off him and more heavy punches connect for the Canadian. Just under half a minute to go and Alessio manages to fully sink the choke, and Gassaway has to tap out there.

Really solid performance from John Alessio as he just dominated Gassaway on the ground basically as soon as he got the fight there. Pretty much a flawless victory in fact. Gassaway just got owned.

Bantamweight Fight: Antonio Banuelos vs Mike French

Banuelos was coming into this one following a strong win over Cole Escovedo, and in fact he’d recently lost a shot at the WEC Bantamweight title, as he was KO’d by Eddie Wineland at WEC 20 about six months beforehand. French meanwhile was making his WEC debut after a lot of experience on the regional scene, where he’d faced the likes of Ivan Menjivar, Miguel Torres and Fredson Paixao. Big reach advantage for French at 5’10” to Banuelos’ 5’3”.

Round One begins and the crowd seem slightly into Banuelos, but it just sounds like they’re dead overall. Actually it might just be a REALLY small crowd given it’s the Hard Rock Hotel. Couple of punches and a front kick glance early on for French. Banuelos isn’t doing much at all thus far. Clinch from French and he lands some knees as Banuelos tries to fire back with dirty boxing. Beautiful throw from Banuelos puts him on top in guard and he drops a heavy right hand through before passing into half-guard. Looks like French is rolling for a kimura, but Banuelos blocks that and then trips him back down as he stands. Kimura attempt again from French but Banuelos avoids it and really punishes the body with clubbing punches. Nice elbows from Banuelos and he’s really working French over here. He adds a couple of knees to the body for good measure, then avoids a reversal to pass into side mount. Banuelos tries for full mount but French catches him in half-guard, only to take some more shots to the body. Kimura attempt from Banuelos is avoided by French, but he remains on his back taking punishment as the round ends. Clearly a 10-9 for Banuelos.

Round Two and Banuelos circles on the outside as French stalks forward. Big right hand narrowly misses for French. Knee from French sets up a combo, but Banuelos counters with a BIG right and French goes down! Banuelos follows him down and mounts for a second, but French kicks him off, only to take some more punches as Banuelos gets on him again. Side mount for Banuelos and then French gets half-guard before taking more shots. Full guard now for French. Banuelos continues to work him over and then moves into half-guard, then into north/south where he looks for the Monson choke. French manages to hang on, so Banuelos gives it up to take side mount again. More ground-and-pound follows as French secures half-guard, but he needs more than that really. He’s taking a lot of punishment here. Kimura attempt from Banuelos but French avoids, so he switches to elbows and continues to destroy French. Round ends there and that has to be 10-8 really.

Round Three and French again pushes forward, landing a low kick, but he takes a counter right again from Banuelos. Left hand gets through for Banuelos. Head kick misses but another right hand lands for him. Big overhand right connects for Banuelos. Another low kick is countered by a Banuelos combo and he drops for the takedown and then hits a BIG RUNNING SLAM to side mount. Knees to the body follow before Banuelos practically puts himself into the full guard to continue with more ground-and-pound. This goes on for practically the last two and a half minutes of the round, with Banuelos easily avoiding a couple of armbars to punish French until the final bell. Call it either 30-26 or 30-25 for Banuelos really.

Judges have it 30-27, 30-27 and 30-26 for Antonio Banuelos. This was a very one-sided fight as French had nothing from his back and couldn’t stop Banuelos’ takedown at all, but the pace put on by Banuelos made it decent enough to watch. It’s just a pity that Zuffa didn’t bring in the 125lbs class until he was past his best really as I feel like he could’ve been a solid contender there; he was just way too small to ever properly contend at 135lbs.

Middleweight Fight: Logan Clark vs Blas Avena

Clark interestingly enough had one UFC appearance – a win at the original 2006 Fight For The Troops card over Steve Byrnes, and so he goes down as one of just two fighters in the Zuffa Era to win their lone UFC fight and never come back. The other was Jonathan Wiezorek, for those wondering! I also seem to remember – although the ring announcer here doesn’t use it – him sporting the nickname of the PINK POUNDER at one point. Really! Avena was largely unknown, but was unbeaten at 3-0 going into this one. And shit, I just checked his Wikipedia and he apparently passed away last year. RIP.

First round begins and Avena opens with a sharp leg kick. Couple more leg kicks land for him but he misses with a big head kick. He’s got Clark backing up a lot though. Flurry from Avena leads into the clinch, and Clark looks for a takedown as they spin around and jockey for position. Nice knee inside from Clark and they continue to muscle along the fence before Avena lands a knee to the groin. Josh Rosenthal has to call time for the low blow, but it was inadvertent and so no point is taken. They restart and Clark comes charging out with a jumping kick, but Avena shoves him to the ground and then stands over him to avoid some upkicks. He lands some punches down through the guard and then drops in, and it looks like Clark might be setting up for a triangle. Avena avoids it with a can opener and drops some elbows, then stands over the downed Clark and drops some more punches. Wild diving punch lands for Avena and he moves into side mount, but Clark moves back to full guard and they trade strikes from there. Avena avoids a possible armbar and keeps on punching, then hits a mini-slam to break the guard. Upkicks land for Clark from his back, but he takes a short axe kick to the body. Good hammer fist allows Avena back into the guard, but again Clark gets his legs high for a possible submission. They trade some hammer fists, and the round ends with Clark almost getting an armbar! That was close. Probably a 10-9 round for Avena, but you could argue 10-10 based on that armbar too.

Second round and a right hand and a knee from the clinch land for Clark early on. Avena moves Clark into the fence though and they exchange short knees to the body. Avena surprisingly decides to jump to guard, and the crowd don’t seem happy with that move at all. Clark does very little from the top as Avena works for a possible triangle, but Clark avoids that and settles into the guard. Avena keeps active from his back and largely ties Clark up, then goes for an armbar. It looks pretty deep actually but Clark drops some elbows to pull free, and continues to grind away with his forearm. Clark stands free of the guard and then decides to call Avena to his feet, and Avena looks tired suddenly with a minute to go. Big combination from Clark has Avena hurt and he has to clinch. Guillotine attempt from Avena slows him down and he tries to jump to guard to finish, but Clark pulls his head free and then ends the round on top with ground-and-pound, avoiding another armbar in the process. 10-9 Clark to even things up.

Third round and Avena comes out with a jumping…something, but winds up clinched by Clark. Don’t know what he was supposed to be doing there. Clark shoves him into the fence and lands a couple of punches inside, really working the body with right hands. Avena looks exhausted. Surprising takedown from Avena puts Clark down in guard though, but he takes some shots from the bottom. Big right hammer fist connects for Avena but it looks like Clark’s going for a triangle. Avena avoids and Josh Rosenthal calls a stand-up, and Avena comes in swinging sloppy punches into the clinch. Right hands break for Clark and the crowd are way into this now. Big combination from Avena rocks Clark, but Clark slows him down by grabbing a front headlock to deliver some knees. This s a really close fight. Both guys look gassed out now. More solid shots land from the clinch for Clark and then Avena jumps to guard. From there Clark postures up and drops some NASTY elbows, and Josh Rosenthal decides he’s seen enough and stops it with Avena badly cut up.

Pretty decent fight in the end as it went back-and-forth, both guys got in a lot of offense and in the end the difference seemed to be that Clark just had a little more left in the tank than Avena. Not the best fight I’ve ever seen – it’s understandable why neither man got into (or back to) the UFC once the division was absorbed, but yeah, this was fine.

WEC Featherweight Title: Urijah Faber vs Joe Pearson

Despite winning the WEC title back in early 2006 with a win over Cole Escovedo, strangely enough Faber had actually signed with Zuffa via the WFA, as he was contracted to them when that promotion was bought out and ended up in the WEC due to the UFC not having the 145lbs division. This was actually his first title defense then although he’d had four wins after the Escovedo fight. Pearson – fighting out of the Miletich camp – was coming off a surprising win in PRIDE at the last ever Bushido show – tapping out Yoshiro Maeda – but it was quite clear that he was almost a hand-picked opponent for Urijah here. Announcers are pushing the hell out of Faber as a star and quite rightfully so.

Fight begins and Faber opens with a leg kick. Combo from Pearson but he gets too close to Urijah and Faber SLAMS HIM DOWN HARD. Pearson pops right back up and they exchange knees, but Faber hits a HUGE belly-to-belly and slams him back down again. This time he rears up with some elbows and begins to work Pearson over, shrugging off the high guard attempts from the Miletich fighter. Big elbows begin to get through for Faber and then he delivers a mini-slam before hitting some elbows right to Pearson’s eye socket, and the challenger taps out even before referee Steve Mazzagatti steps in.

Fantastic showing as you’d expect from Faber as he was firmly in his ground-and-pound buzzsaw phase at this stage and he just destroyed Pearson as soon as the fight hit the mat. Post-fight he comes off like a total superstar too, saying this is going to be his show, and it’s really easy to see looking back why Zuffa decided to make him the poster-boy for the promotion. This was about the best sort of squash match you’ll find as it went a long way – along with his next fight, which is a pretty legendary one – to making Faber *the* guy to watch in the lower weight classes.

WEC Lightweight Title: Rob McCullough vs Kit Cope

This one was put together for the vacant WEC Lightweight Title, and the pre-fight talk and video package definitely point to Zuffa looking to position and push Razor Rob as the champion and big star. He was on a seven-fight win streak with stuff like the highlight reel knockout of Olaf Alfonso in his pocket. Cope meanwhile was 2-3 and hadn’t fought in MMA since his lone UFC appearance – a one-sided loss to Kenny Florian. I’m guessing he was given this opportunity with the hope that he’d strike with Razor Rob, but also because he was most likely to lose, giving another WEC poster-boy a title belt.

Round One and both men press forward with Razor Rob landing with a low kick. Body kick from Cope is caught and McCullough makes him pay with a pair of right hands, and Cope pretty much falls down into guard from there. Cope surprisingly goes to rubber guard (!) as Razor Rob lands some punches to the body. Oma plata attempt from Cope (!) but McCullough stands up and it looks like he’s going to pull his arm free. Cope tries to switch to a gogoplata but McCullough manages to free himself and land some punches. Kneebar attempt from Cope now but Razor Rob sits up to deliver some clean punches directly to the face, and that’s enough to free the foot. More punches from McCullough land before Cope sits up and reaches for a takedown. McCullough grabs a front headlock and then lands a knee to the body as they stand, and from there he muscles Cope into the fence before slamming him down. Side mount for Razor Rob and something’s clearly gone wrong for Cope as he turns onto his side and taps out suddenly. And then in a SICK VISUAL we see why he’s tapped, as he’s dislocated a rib and you can see it bulging pretty clearly.

Bad break for Cope as he was actually doing well on the ground surprisingly enough given his reputation as a one-dimensional striker. McCullough didn’t look bad or anything but realistically he was probably losing the round at that stage although he did seem to be turning the tide when the fight ended. Fight was frenetic and looked to be turning into a good one before the anticlimactic stoppage. Zuffa would attempt to push McCullough as a star ala Faber after this win but it never really panned out for him – he did have one fantastic title defence against Richard Crunkilton, but got KO’d by Jamie Varner in his next outing and never really recovered from that.

-Quick highlight reel follows and that’s it from the first Zuffa WEC.

Final Thoughts….

This was an okay-ish debut for the Zuffa incarnation of the WEC, although due to the crazy quality of shows that they were giving us at their peak (2009-10) it’s nowhere near one of the best ones. The Faber title defense was great and we didn’t get a truly bad fight, but really nothing outside of that Faber fight really shone and so it’s probably not worth checking out on Fight Pass outside of historical curiosity. Find the Faber/Pearson fight though because Urijah looked awesome there. Thumbs in the middle.

Best Fight: Faber vs. Pearson
Worst Fight: Banuelos vs. French

Overall Rating: **1/4

Until next time,

Scott Newman: