In its three-plus years under the umbrella of Zuffa LLC, the WEC aggressively has recruited talent from overseas, particularly among the ranks of Japanese fighters who've traditionally dominated the rankings in lighter weight classes.
They've been partially successful in doing so, nabbing competitors such as Takeya Mizugaki, Yoshiro Maeda and Akitoshi Tamura, among others.
One of the biggest prizes, Norifumi "Kid" Yamamoto, seemed to elude their grasp even as posterboy Urijah Faber continued to call out the then-dominant fighter early in his featherweight title reign.
But with a merger already in motion between the WEC and UFC, those doors have opened again, and Yamamoto (18-3) is in active talks with the UFC, sources close to the organization confirmed with MMAjunkie.com (www.mmajunkie.com
If signed, his debut could come as soon as February or March.
During a conference call Tuesday in support of the WEC's final event, WEC 53, MMAjunkie.com asked WEC General Manager Reed Harris whether the merger could set the stage for a new influx of Japanese talent.
"I know that we are actively working on that as we speak," Harris said.
Harris declined to mention any names who are under consideration.
UFC president Dana White, meanwhile, often has expressed interest in bringing Yamamoto aboard, though he hasn't addressed the possibility since the merger became a reality.
"I've been a 'Kid' Yamamoto fan for a long time," White said following UFC 94. "I'd love to get him over here.
"There's two fights left on [Yamamoto's] K-1 contract, and he told me his dream is to end his career over here with us. So I'd like to see it happen."
White's comments came just days after he was seen palling around with Yamamoto on a video blog in support of the January 2009 pay-per-view event. The appearance sparked intense speculation that the Japanese fighter could be Zuffa-bound, though nothing came of the meeting.
Yamamoto was due in May to make his U.S. debut in a fight against Federico Lopez at "Strikeforce: Heavy Artillery." But he subsequently was pulled off the card at the request of DREAM officials and instead fought Lopez at DREAM.14, where he delivered a first-round knockout. The win snapped a two-fight skid that included decision losses to Joe Warren (in the quarterfinals of the 2009 DREAM featherweight grand prix) and Masanori Kanehara (at DREAM "Dynamite!! 2009").
Once the top-ranked featherweight in the world, Yamamoto considered a run for the 2008 Olympic games in freestyle wrestling but was forced to abandon that goal by a serious elbow injury.