History in the making: Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) purchases World Extreme Cagefighting (WEC)

Copyright: Martin McNeil

"I’m really proud of what we did, man. And Dana’s proud of what we did. We were so successful that UFC had no other option than to bring these guys in and put them in their show. The WEC built these divisions to a point where they are now going to be featured on the largest stage in MMA." --WEC co-founder Reed Harris following the sale of his upstart MMA promotion back in 2006.

Demetrious Johnson will defend his 125-pound title against division number one contender Joseph Benavidez in the main event of UFC on FOX 9, which takes place this Saturday night (Dec. 14, 2013) at the Sleep Train Arena in Sacramento, California.

And "Sac-Town" happens to be home base for "The California Kid."

It should come as no surprise then, to learn that longtime mixed martial arts (MMA) veteran Urijah Faber will continue his climb back up the bantamweight mountain when he tangles with fellow top contender Michael McDonald, with the winner finding himself perhaps one fight away from a crack at the crown.

What do all four of those combatants have in common?

They were, at one time, featured attractions in World Extreme Cagefighting (WEC), one of the few combat sports promotions to accommodate smaller fighters. In fact, nearly half of all participants slated to do battle this weekend, including Chad Mendes, Scott Jorgensen and Danny Castillo, among others, cut their teeth inside the Pentagon.

It was a smaller cage designed for smaller fighters.

But even with its small package, it was making big waves in the fight industry. WEC was being nationally televised on HDNet in 2004, almost a full year before UFC landed its Spike TV deal on the heels of a successful first season of The Ultimate Fighter (TUF).

And you know the old saying: "This town ain't big enough for the both of us."

WEC 24: "Full Force" took place on Oct. 12, 2006, and featured a lightweight main event that saw Hermes Franca armbar Nate Diaz to retain his 155-pound title. Elsewhere on the card, Rameau Thierry Sokoudjou got KTFO by future UFC light heavyweight number one contender Glover Teixeira.

But none of the aforementioned winners -- or losers -- were the stars of the show.

That honor when to UFC President Dana White, along with UFC CEO Lorenzo Fertitta, who were spotted sitting cageside for the duration of the show. Naturally, their cameo set the MMA forums on fire, as fans speculated as to why the ZUFFA brass would travel all the way to Tachi Palace in Lemoore, California, for a simple night on the town.

It was, in fact, reconnaissance.

Two months later the rumors were put to rest and WEC became a part of the ZUFFA family. Unlike other acquisitions, WEC was encouraged to continue operating independently and found a broadcast partner with VERSUS. In addition, the roster was whittled down to just a handful of weight classes featuring smaller combatants.

The big boys, including reigning 170-pound champion Carlos Condit, along with ex-205-pound titleholder Brian Stann, were boxed up and shipped off to "Sin City" to test their might under the UFC umbrella, part of White's "three-year plan" for WEC.

Give or take six months.

The two promotions merged in early 2011 with UFC adding the featherweight and bantamweight classes to its existing roster. Not long after, a flyweight division was established for those puffed-up 135 pounders who wanted a more natural place to call home.

The results speak for themselves.

UFC on FOX 9 has a main and co-main comprised of ex-WEC fighters, who are still relevant so many years after the promotion was bought and ultimately absorbed by its big brother. In the beginning, critics refused to believe a guy like "Mighty Mouse" could headline a televised fight card.

Then again, they said the same thing about women.

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