Previous weeks of “Throwback Thursday” have looked at two promotions: UFC and Pride FC. This week, we’ll introduce a third promotion into the mix, that being WEC.
WEC is an incredibly important promotion in MMA history. Its short yet impactful run saw it build up a big roster of fighters and eventually get acquired by the UFC.
In 2002, WEC wasn’t that prolific of an MMA promotion just yet. This week we’re watching their fourth-ever event. I thought instead of picking them up much later in the series, we can watch their evolution instead.
This week was not a big show for WEC, although it includes many names that I think you will recognize. Let’s begin.
Previous WEC events available online showed the promotion hosting fights outdoors. This was an interesting look, as fights started during the day and finished under the sun. However, the setting was different tonight. This event was inside the Mohegan Sun Arena, a venue that is still a frequent host to Bellator events nowadays!
The venue was still quite new at this time, having opened just over a year before this event. Anyway, that’s some small Mohegan Sun Arena trivia for you.
A Few Prelims Start Us Off…
The show starts with a familiar face. Ryan Bennett, who we saw frequently on early UFC cards these years, was on the call for the event.
The first fight saw Jeff Curran and Bao Quach meet. Neither fighter made a big appearance prior to this, although Curran later appeared in the UFC and numerous more times in WEC.
Quach was focused on takedowns, getting Curran down many times in the fight. However, it was likely the stand-up skills from Curran that earned him the win. It was given to him via majority decision in the end.
Quach continued to fight until 2011, although he never made any real major appearances (apart from a 2010 loss to Georgi Karakhanyan in Bellator).
Slick Work From Swick!
A young Mike Swick appeared in the next fight, facing James Gabert. For those who don’t know, present-day Swick is a 15-fight UFC vet and the founder of MMA gym AKA Thailand. A big name in the sport!
But this Swick was only making his third pro fight. Before this bout, he had two wins from 1998 to 2002. As you might expect, Swick worked towards a comfortable victory in this bout, getting the win via decision.
The striking for Swick here was overwhelming for Gabert. Swick was able to unload with combinations that Gabert had no response to. While Gabert didn’t get finished, he also didn’t have much of a chance.
We won’t see Gabert again in our watches.
Something You Don’t See Often
An odd one is next. Both fighting for their first win following a few losses, Randy Rowe and Jason Jones fought.
This fight came to an abrupt end in-between the first and second rounds, as Jones swung on Rowe after the bell. And let’s be clear, this wasn’t slightly after the bell, it was numerous seconds after. While the blood-thirsty crowd erupted and cheered for this commotion, they weren’t as happy as the fight ended via disqualification later.
The conflict clearly expired shortly after, as the fighters were seen shaking hands moments later.
We’re never going to see either of these guys ever again.
John Rallo won his pro debut in the next fight, stopping Erik Mainiai with punches.
While Rallo was threatened by submission on the ground, he got to the feet and finished the fight with strikes. Rallo charged at Mainiai with strikes, landing a few before Mainiai turned his back to him. This caused the referee to end the fight.
This fight is sort of an enigma on this card, as neither fighter fought ever again, per databases.
Wellisch Almost Loses, Then Wins
The next fight saw Christian Wellisch make his third pro appearance, facing Jay White. Both early in their careers, they entered this one undefeated.
White dropped Wellisch in the first round. This caused the referee to step in almost immediately, to the disapproval of the live crowd. This was certainly a more controversial stoppage compared to the one that came before it.
So, in a weird turn of events that we rarely see, the fight was resumed. This certainly wouldn’t be able to happen nowadays. A fight result would either stick or later get overturned to a no contest. But it wouldn’t be resumed.
The trouble continued for Wellisch in the second round, as White pelted him with hard punches.
Wellisch turned things around significantly in the third round. Earning a takedown, he was able to advance into full mount and stop White with hammerfist strikes.
Fatigue seemed to be what hurt White in this final round. He was down for numerous minutes afterward and carried out of the cage on a gurney.
Wellisch will disappear from mainstream MMA for the next few years, but we’ll see him have a short UFC run from 2006 to 2009.
White will fight in WEC again in 2006. Unfortunately, that fight against Jake O’Brien will only last 14 seconds and result in a loss for him.
Another Odd Outcome
Tom Fryklund is back in the next fight, facing Zach Light.
We saw Fryklund just two months before in 2002, scoring a stoppage win against Rodrigo Ruas at the low-key UFC 27.5 show. Light was also on that card but suffered a first-round submission loss to Pete Spratt.
Light suffered a similar fate in this one, getting finished in the fifth minute by a kimura applied by Fryklund.
Fryklund applied a kimura to Light while on his back. The ref seemingly didn’t see a tap but stepped in to end the fight. Light certainly disputed this, but the ruling that it was a “verbal tap” implies he asked for the fight to end. An odd night of finishes certainly continued here.
Pellegrino Wins Title In First WEC Appearance
A title was on the line for the next bout. No, it’s not the main event. Instead, pro debutant Kurt Pellegrino fought Max Danzig for the promotion’s vacant lightweight title.
While this was a championship bout, it was only three rounds. Also of note, it wasn’t that interesting to watch honestly. In the end, Pellegrino walked away with the win and the title. A lot of this came from the ground control he was able to put together throughout the fight.
Both of these fighters were very early in their careers, but they both had a decent career afterward – something that is quite rare from what I’ve seen. In most cases, one fighter has a career, and the other fades into obscurity.
Neither fighter will compete in WEC again. However, years later they’ll both have fairly long UFC runs. Of note, Danzig will win Season 6 of “The Ultimate Fighter” in 2007.
Quick Work From Crunkilton
These final two fights are quick ones. In the next matchup, Richard Crunkilton put his undefeated record on the line against Luciano Oliveira.
Crunkilton was able to submit Oliveira early with his grappling skills. The finish came from an armbar that he applied on Oliveira while trapping him in a triangle with his legs.
Crunkilton won his WEC debut at their previous event, stopping Cruz Gomez within a round just two months prior. He’ll establish himself as a WEC regular in the years to come.
Oliveira wasn’t seen in a major MMA event again after this.
Horn Sends The Crowd Home Early
The main event lasted no longer than a minute. A real veteran of the early 2000s, Jeremy Horn, submitted Aaron Brink early with a rear naked choke.
Horn attempted a single leg takedown only seconds into the fight. Brink stopped this attempt but was brought to the ground moments after from a clinch position. Horn was fast to hop on the back of Brink and apply the choke. Almost as fast was the tap from Brink, who clearly had no idea how to escape.
At this point, Horn’s pro record was already incredibly extensive. We saw him fight just two months before at Pride FC’s “Demolition” card, where he beat a surprisingly rule-abiding Gilbert Yvel.
Brink’s other big MMA event appearance was a similar outcome. In 2000, he lost a fight in the first round via submission to Andrei Arlovski.
So that was WEC’s fourth event. We’ll see their evolution over the years. There was much, much less blue at this show. That’s a color that will become synonymous with the promotion eventually. Also, there was a pretty low budget. I mean, top broadcasts like UFC and Pride FC were already not top-notch, but this was much lower than that.
We’ll see those things change in the future. Next week, we’re staying at the Mohegan Sun Arena yet again – but this time watching a UFC event. Make sure to come back next week when we re-live a heavyweight title fight between Ricco Rodriguez and Randy Couture.
NEXT WEEK: UFC 39: The Warriors Return