Here's my latest article.
Written by Brad Taschuk
I have to admit, right off the bat that I'm probably a little bit different than your average MMA fan. While most people were talking about UFC 105 and 106 and how two mediocre (by the UFC's standards) cards in a row certainly spelt impending doom for the organization, I was too busy literally shaking with anticipation for the showdown between Mike Thomas Brown and Jose Aldo to even really notice. When people needed to be put on suicide watch in regards to the UFC's judging, I'm baffled as to how Sengoku can allow their poster boy to lose an even more contentious decision with such little fanfare.
Some may read those types of remarks and think that I'm an elitist or a snob about MMA, but in reality, I'm just a guy who loves the sport. Whether it be in front of a crowd of 20,000 or 200, I'm just interested in seeing as many quality fights as posssible. With that being my goal, years ago I expanded my horizons beyond the stable of weightclasses carried by the major organizations (LW up to HW), and started really examining the lighter guys. In doing so, I found what I consider to be my home in MMA. If you give me a choice between a WEC event and a UFC event, I'll choose the WEC 12 times out of 10. I have come to embrace the speed and technicality of the smaller fighters, as well as simply relating more to them, being 5'5 myself.
Given this love for the lighter weights, I have been eagerly awaiting the arrival of the WEC's newest addition, the Flyweight (125 pound) division. Even though the inception of this division has been postponed for the time being (it is now slated to start sometime in 2010), I think it's important that since the 125ers have mostly been flying under the radar, fans get primed on some of the guys they will see featured when this division does come into the equation. This is the one purpose of this article, to let you know some of the fighters the WEC needs to have in their fledgling Flyweight division. One last note, I only looked at non-Japanese fighters in this article, because the WEC may not have the power - or the desire - to draw the likes of the BJ Kojima's and Mamoru Yamaguchi's away from their contracts and sponsors in Japan.
1. Jussier da Silva
First and foremost, the WEC needs to get this young Brazilian on it's roster. "Formiga" is widely considered the number one Flyweight in the world right now, after his unanimous decision victory over previous Flyweight kingpin, BJ Kojima back in July. Prior to that fight, Kojima had not lost in the Flyweight division since 2003. Jussier will likely rematch BJ for the title in early 2010, and all signs point to him taking another decision (and this time the title along with it). Despite only having a documented record of 3-0, Formiga is more seasoned than you would believe and his record is likely much larger, as is often the case with Brazilian prospects. In his fight with Kojima, Formiga simply outworked his opponent to get takedowns and showed glimpses of a very slick Jiu-Jitsu game in the 3rd round when he mounted BJ and took his back with ease. He could still stand to work on his striking, but Formiga is on top of the division right now, and would be a valued addition to the WEC's 125lb division.
2. Pat Runez
Runez is on this list simply because right now he is the best Stateside 125er. Like Jussier da Silva, he only sports a 3-0 record. Also like Formiga, that record doesn't necessarily tell the entire story. Runez trains with a very good camp in ACS, and is the Flyweight Champion in two different organizations. He won the Palace Fighting Championship Flyweight tournament, although in doing so a potential showdown with Rambaa Somdet never materialized. More recently, Runez defeated John Dodson, a Greg Jackson product, for the Ultimate Warrior Challenge Flyweight Title, in what was the biggest 125lb fight to take place in the United States to date, and showed tremendous heart in doing so, bouncing back from a brutal second round which saw him dropped on two separate occasions - once by a left hook and once by a liver kick. Runez's heart, tremendous aggressive pace and all-around skills would be an instant hit with the WEC fans, and would put him right in contention for the title from day one.
3. Rambaa Somdet
Somdet covers one of the three aspects of the MMA game, and his addition would instantly make him the best striker in the division. "M-16" is a native of Thailand, and as one might expect he possesses a thorough background in Muay Thai. When I say that, I don't mean he has a background in Muay Thai like say the guys from Chute Boxe. I mean real Muay Thai. Like Lumpinee or Rajadamnern Stadium experience. When you watch Somdet fight you can clearly see this background in force, as he displays probably the fastest kicks in the sport of MMA. You'd think that someone with such as extensive Muay Thai background would also be saddled with a particularly weak ground game, however Somdet has developed an effective Spider Guard which he uses to get the fight back on the feet if his opponents manage to take him down. Somdet's addition would set up some great potential matches, and we would at some point likely see the Runez fight which we never got a chance to see in PFC.
4. Alexis Vila
Vila is the Flyweight wrestler I'd most like to see the WEC pursue for its 125lb division... for now. Down the road, it would be nice to see 2008 Freestyle Gold Medalist Henry Cejudo make the transition to MMA, but he's still only 22 and likely won't seriously consider MMA until after the London Games of 2012. Vila is no slouch in the wrestling department either, as he picked up a Freestyle Bronze Medal at the 1996 games. The Cuban however, is 38 years old and despite only having a 2-year MMA career under his belt, it is hard to imagine he has too many years left in his career, Randy Couture exceptions aside. In the time Vila has left in his career, he can be an absolute force at 125 though. Holding a 6-0 record - including 5 stoppages - Vila has already shown that he can use his wrestling well in an MMA context, and he has both the power and enough submission savvy to be able to stop fights regularly. In the mix at 125, Alexis Vila would present issues for every fighter simply because of his wrestling, but if the rest of his game continues to come along as well he would be a bonafide title contender.
5. Daniel Otero
My final pick is probably also the most questionable of the 5. Whereas all 4 others mentioned have shown a complete dedication to MMA, Daniel Otero is still blurring the line between BJJ and MMA. As such, he has not fought in an MMA match since July of 2008. Still, Otero fits that third tenet of MMA, by being a World Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Champion at the black belt level. He's also faced the highest consistent level of competition of the five fighters profiled in this piece, and has compiled a 6-1-1 record - with the one loss being by way of DQ - along the way. From the interviews I've read of Otero he seems to genuinely enjoy MMA, and as fans we should hope that once a financially viable outlet exists for the smaller fighters he will focus his vast talents on MMA alone. That should also serve as a note to the WEC to get this division up and running, so at the very least, the best 125ers in the world have somewhere that will consistently give them quality fights, and somewhat quality paychecks to go along with it.
These are five fighters the WEC needs to pursue for their Flyweight division. Not only because each of them brings something different to the division, but because they are all elite talents at the weight and would lend instant credibility to the new division. At the same time, these five are only a taste of the diverse talents that a Flyweight division in the WEC would bring to the table.
As I stated at the beginning of the article, I intentionally left out the Japanese Flyweight scene - which has traditionally been the hotbed of the weightclass - simply because I wanted to focus on some of the fighters who are more likely to appear in the WEC's division - as Zuffa has never really pushed an Asian fighter - as well as some guys who may not have the name recognition of the Japanese stars, and finally because I wanted to illustrate the truly international flavour this division has to offer. Make no mistake, the majority of the top 125lb talent still either hails from Japan (Kojima, Yamaguchi, Yasuhiro Urushitani, Ryuichi Miki, Yuki Shojo and Mitsuhisa Sunabe, to name a few) or fights in Japan (Formiga and Somdet), but never before has the division had so much talent, or so much interest, outside of Japan. This is a great time for the WEC to be unveiling its Flyweight division and I, for one, simply cannot wait. I hope that if you are new to the 125lb weightclass that this article gave you some insight into what is soon to be one of the most entertaining divisions in all of MMA.
I'm sure few others are as excited as I am for the Flyweight division, but hopefully this can serve as a bit of a primer to get people to start talking about it.