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WEC 17: Halloween Fury 4 review
by Scott Newman (MMA)
Posted on December 2, 2010, 6:23 AM

WEC 17: Halloween Fury 4

Lemoore, California

-With the official announcement that the WEC is to be folded into the UFC as 2011 begins, I figured it’d be a cool time to revisit some of the old-school WEC shows – those prior to the Zuffa buyout of 2007, when the show was based at Lemoore’s Tachi Palace Casino and acted as one of the top regional promotions in the US, producing some quality prospects that would go onto bigger fame in the UFC and PRIDE – men like Chris Leben, Mike Swick, Gilbert Melendez and Joe Riggs. This show was arguably the high watermark for the promotion, as not only did the card feature some UFC and PRIDE veterans, but the main selling point was a one-night tournament for the vacant WEC Light-Heavyweight Title, featuring four of the 205lbs division’s top prospects in Justin Levens, Jorge Oliveira, Scott Smith and Tim McKenzie. At the time the word was that the winner had a UFC contract right there waiting for them, and with the TUF boom just taking off, what better time for that?

-The version of the show I’ve got is the HDNet one – the old WEC was the first MMA promotion on that network – and so before the show starts we get a long introduction segment called WEC Exposed. This is hosted by Ron Kruck and mostly explains the premise behind the tournament. WEC promoter Reed Harris also points out that because of the possibility that one of the tournament entrants will get injured, they’ve got an alternate bout (Vernon White vs. Alex Stiebling) as well as another alternate (Tait Fletcher) waiting in the wings. A later segment on this show is a big feature on none other than Shane Carwin and how he’s a mechanical engineer as well as a cage fighter, and then a ring girl search thing. It’s also worth pointing out that the card was shown by HDNet in two parts, with the second part featuring Gabe Ruediger defending his Lightweight Title, but my version doesn’t have that part so it’s the tournament show only.

-Your hosts are Ryan Bennett (RIP), Jeff Blatnick and Stephen Quadros.

WEC Light-Heavyweight Title Tournament: Semi-Finals: Scott Smith vs Tim McKenzie

Coming into the tournament, Smith was the big unknown factor and the announcers sell him mainly as a ground-and-pound wrestler, which sounds odd today. Training partner James Irvin had warned that Smith hit hard, though. McKenzie meanwhile was still with the Cesar Gracie team and actually had the most experience of anyone in the tournament despite losing his previous WEC fight to Alex Stiebling, and so I was expecting him to roll over Smith en route to the finals.

First round begins and they look to trade right away. McKenzie looks for a single leg but Smith stuffs it and they end up clinched. Good combo from McKenzie and Smith looks hurt for a second, but he fires right back and lands to slow McKenzie down. They clinch again and Smith muscles him into the fence, then breaks off. McKenzie looks for the takedown again, but Smith stuffs it and lands a knee, and then stuns McKenzie with a combo! McKenzie backs up and Smith shoves him to the ground and comes over the top with some punches before dropping into the guard. Smith postures up to deliver some ground-and-pound, then stands and drops a HUGE RIGHT HAND over the top that knocks McKenzie into next week. He’s clearly done and Smith follows with some more ground-and-pound for the stoppage.

Upset win for Smith who really showed his punching power, as he was actually in trouble first but once he landed on McKenzie who got too wild it was all downhill for the Cesar Gracie fighter. So Smith advances into the finals with a pretty quick win after taking very little damage.

Light-Heavyweight Tournament: Alternate Bout: Vernon White vs Alex Stiebling

I always liked Stiebling from his PRIDE days but here he’d fallen on harder times, losing a lot of his fights and in fact he hadn’t fought in a year prior to this one after a WEC loss to Chael Sonnen. White meanwhile had lost his last three. He’s wearing a rashguard here for some reason – no idea why as it’s not like he’s out of shape!

They begin and a combination lands for Vernon early, nice left hand. Kick lands for White but he slips and Stiebling gets on top in guard. Stiebling moves White into the fence and lands some shots to the body and head, and the Lion’s Den fighter looks a bit stuck from his back to be honest. Nice elbows from Stiebling. White tries for an armbar and then looks for a leglock, but he ends up giving his back and Stiebling lands some punches before trying to get the hooks in. You can actually spot Jeff ‘Sherdog’ Sherwood taking pictures outside the cage there. Good reversal from White using the cage puts him on top in Alex’s guard, and he lands with some punches and hammer fists. Good elbows from Stiebling on the bottom but White postures up to deliver some big shots from the top. Man, Stiebling always seems to take a beating in guard in his WEC fights! Vernon stands above him and looks like he’s trying to pass, but he drops back into the guard and Stiebling lands some more short elbows and tries a triangle, but White shrugs it off and passes to side mount to end the round.

Between rounds the announcers point out Ken Shamrock in Vernon’s corner, mentioning he’s fighting in Japan soon. That’d be the ill-fated PRIDE match with Kazushi Sakuraba.

Round Two and Stiebling walks right into a CRUSHING LEFT HOOK that turns out his lights! Wow. Replay shows Stiebling was unconscious before he hit the mat and the follow-up shots were unnecessary. Really good win for Vernon White who was in dire need of it after that string of losses. Total highlight-reel knockout; picture perfect in fact. So Vernon White is our tournament alternate.

Heavyweight Fight: Shane Carwin vs Carlton Jones

The pre-game show pushed this fight as one of those that shows that MMA fighters aren’t barbarians, as Carwin’s a mechanical engineer and Jones is a firefighter and a councilman. At this stage Jones was 1-0 while Carwin hadn’t actually made his MMA debut. Of course Carwin would go on to bigger things while Jones hasn’t, but such is MMA. Cool to see one of today’s biggest stars in his first fight, that’s for sure. Carwin is even more jacked here than he is today, probably because he’s at 285lbs here.

Jones catches Carwin with a one-two off the bat and causes him to shoot, but Jones actually stuffs the takedown early. Carwin forces him into the cage though and then drags him to the ground in half-guard. Jones tries to hold on as Carwin slugs at the body before sliding into full mount. Carwin manages to break the grip, then postures up and Jones gives his back for a moment before taking some HUGE PUNCHES that force him to tap out.

Typical Carwin fare, amazing though that he was able to do the same thing to pretty much all of his opponents all the way up to his UFC title fight with Brock Lesnar! This fight didn’t really make you expect Carwin to go as far as he has if we’re honest, but then it was his professional debut so it was never going to be perfect.

WEC Light-Heavyweight Title Tournament: Semi-Finals: Justin Levens vs Jorge Oliveira

The late Levens (he’s been gone nearly two years now which is scary) was seen as probably the top prospect and the favourite to win this tournament, as he was 6-0 at this point with all of his fights being finished pretty sharpish. I was certainly on his bandwagon and figured he’d be going all the way to success in the UFC. Interesting note – he enters here wearing an Affliction t-shirt, which is like the first time I can remember seeing anyone doing it in MMA. Remember this was 2005! Oliveira meanwhile had debuted by shitkicking the much smaller Shonie Carter, earning the nickname ‘Van Damme’, and he’s representing the US branch of the infamous Chute Boxe academy. Oliveira’s official record is 1-0, but the announcers explain he’s fought a lot more than that on unsanctioned shows in Brazil.

We get a CRAZY staredown between these two as Oliveira gets right up in Levens’ face and Justin laughs it off and kisses him, just pissing him off further. Justin looks incredibly relaxed prior to this one and you have to wonder how the demons were able to get to a guy who just seemed to be having fun.

First round begins and Van Damme throws a left hook that clips Levens, but the Ruas protégé takes it and gets a quick trip to guard. Oliveira goes for an oma plata right away but it’s too loose and Levens slips free and grabs a rear waistlock as they stand. Oliveira turns into him and Justin muscles him into the cage and looks for another takedown, but Oliveira switches position and tries a takedown of his own. Levens blocks and lands an elbow in the clinch, but takes some knees to the body from the Brazilian. Action slows down a little as Levens blocks a trip, but Oliveira keeps working for it and takes him down right into full mount! Levens looks to tie the wrists up, then pushes off the cage with his feet and hits a nice sweep to take top position! Good right hand over the top from Levens and then he attempts a cartwheel pass, but ends up in the guard. Triangle attempt from Oliveira but Levens slips free, only for the Brazilian to use an oma plata to sweep into top position again. Levens ends up in turtle position with Oliveira over him with an over/under. Oliveira lands a knee to the body but can’t do much else as Levens shows some solid defence, and the ref calls a restart. Odd to see a stand-up from that position but to be fair Oliveira wasn’t doing anything with it. They restart and Levens lands a HEAVY combo that stuns the Brazilian, causing him to clinch. He uses the fence though and hits a nice judo toss, dropping Levens onto his back and from there he steps into full mount! Levens immediately rolls, but finds himself in a deep triangle choke...so he lifts Oliveira up and DROPS HIM WITH A JUMPING POWERBOMB!~! Oliveira is OUT on impact and the ref stops it there!

WOW. Amazing finish to what was a really great fight. These guys went at it full tilt for the whole fight, with some great (if a little sloppy) grappling exchanges, but in the end Levens channelled his inner Rampage Jackson with the powerbomb for the knockout. It’s easy to see why Levens was considered a red-hot prospect at this point, and he fought here like he had no worries, which seemed to be the difference between this period and how he was after he’d had his brief UFC run. Hell of a fight.

Heavyweight Fight: Lavar Johnson vs Corey Salter

American Kickboxing Academy fighter Johnson – despite his unfortunate ‘Big Johnson’ nickname was being pushed as a solid Heavyweight prospect at this point, as it was before a nasty injury and then I believe a shooting incident sidelined him for a long time. I still remember his god-awful debut in WEC that saw him destroy Doug Marshall before a trio of disgusting low blows turned the tide on him. Never heard of Salter but he’s a big dude.

They trade right off and a pair of big right hands land for Salter, who also uses some decent head movement to avoid Johnson’s haymakers. Big knee lands for Johnson though and he drags Salter into a clinch. They muscle for position and Salter hits a beautiful trip takedown, right into full mount! Johnson holds on and tries to push off the fence with his legs to escape, but Salter prevents that nicely. Johnson holds on, but Salter breaks free and lands some punches to the face. Again Johnson clings on, and in a nice reversal he gives his back for a second before turning into Salter’s guard. Johnson moves him towards the fence and then sits up to deliver some ground-and-pound, and right away Salter ends up covering up. Johnson passes to full mount and keeps on smashing him and Salter ends up tapping to the strikes.

Announcers act impressed with Johnson but to be fair he was dominated early and a more experienced fighter than Salter might’ve put him away. Still, I guess that’s why he was seen as a prospect rather than a contender. Who knows how good he could’ve been had he not been injured for so long? I doubt he’d be a UFC contender but I guess stranger things have happened.

-Ron Kruck is backstage with WEC President Scott Adams, and he gives us some shitty news – Justin Levens injured his shoulder against Oliveira and the doctors have pulled him from the tournament, and to make matters worse Vernon White, the alternate, has a broken hand and has been pulled out by Ken Shamrock. So the finals are now Scott Smith vs. Tait Fletcher. Boo! He does promise Levens against the winner though which is cool.

WEC Welterweight Title: Mike Pyle vs Bret Bergmark

This is apparently for the WEC Welterweight Title, but it doesn’t seem like either guy is the reigning champion so I guess it was vacant coming in. Don’t know if he’s still with them, but at this stage Bergmark was with the Cesar Gracie camp and stuck out like a sore thumb in terms of looks and personality, as he’s known as ‘The Angry Hick’ and looks that way too and the rest of that team are all Californian guys. Pyle was considered at this point one of the better guys outside of the UFC and PRIDE and amazingly he’d remain that way until 2009.

They circle and Pyle lands with a jab, but Bergmark answers with a combination into a takedown attempt. Pyle stuffs it though and gets a takedown of his own, landing some nice punches from the top with Bergmark on his back. Scramble follows and Pyle tries to clamber onto the back, but he can’t get his hooks in and Bergmark takes a risk and dives backwards, slamming Pyle down with him! Pyle looks alright though and scrambles right back to his feet in the clinch. Action slows down as Bergmark lands a few knees to the thighs, but Pyle trips him down again and lands on top in half-guard. Few good punches from Pyle but Bergmark rolls for a heel hook and almost has it, but Pyle rolls nicely and avoids, taking the back with an over/under in the process. Elbows from Pyle and he almost gets the back properly, but Bergmark manages to work free, only to turn right into a triangle choke, and Pyle synches it up and hooks the leg to cause Bergmark to fall down and tap!

Pyle looked very slick there in winning the title and I’m surprised he wasn’t signed by the UFC sooner considering his connections with Randy Couture, as the majority of the WEC champs at this point ended up there. He would end up there eventually of course, but even so. Really fun fight too with some excellent grappling.

WEC Light-Heavyweight Title Tournament: Finals: Scott Smith vs Justin LevensTait Fletcher

Ha, this would be prior to Tait’s disastrous TUF run where he came off as one of the most whiny characters ever and also ended up on the rare list of TUF contestants not given a chance in the UFC after the tapings, probably due to him turning down a semi-final opportunity for no good reason. Here he was 3-0, but I’m thinking Smith was rubbing his hands together at the chance to face him rather than Levens who had looked so impressive earlier.

We begin and Fletcher uses some flailing punches to close the distance into the clinch. Smith gets a bodylock though and trips him down to guard. Smith looks to posture up and drop some elbows, as Fletcher tries to set up for some sort of submission. Fletcher looks for the rubber guard, which the announcers mistake for a triangle attempt, but Smith manages to stand free. He avoids a couple of upkicks and then decides to bring the fight back to standing. Combo misses for Smith and Fletcher grabs a plum clinch and lands with a combo, but Smith fires back. Smith breaks and a right hand wobbles Tait, followed by a left uppercut and another right. Fletcher tries to clinch, but his stand-up looks sloppy and Smith just eats up his shots. Fletcher comes in swinging again, but a big left-right combination sends him crashing down and Smith follows up with more shots for the knockout.

Well, Fletcher tried and he did land numerous times on Smith, but his stand-up was sloppy and didn’t do much damage and when Smith landed clean it was all over. Big coming out party for Smith who was unknown coming into this tournament, but of course there was unfinished business with Levens and despite winning the WEC title it was clear that he’d have to fight the Executioner before he could really consider himself champion. Post-fight Smith himself admits this and says he wants to fight Levens ASAP.

-Announcers wrap up the tournament talking about the future Smith-Levens fight, naturally. Show ends there.

Final Thoughts....

This was a great show for a smaller promotion back in 2005. You can see why WEC was seen as one of the top feeder shows as no fewer than six of the fighters showcased here ended up going onto the UFC, while another two (White and Stiebling) had already fought there as well as in PRIDE too. All of the fights save for Johnson-Salter (which was sloppy) were either really good or had hot finishes, and while the tournament ran into the usual problems that one-night deals have due to injuries, the fights themselves definitely lived up to the hype and gave both Smith and Levens a lot of steam en route to their UFC runs. Overall it’s an easy thumbs up and if you can track it down (you’re looking at a download I would say as I very much doubt Zuffa will ever give these shows a DVD release...) then do it and you won’t be disappointed. Thumbs way up.

Best Fight: Levens-Oliveira
Worst Fight: Johnson-Salter

Overall Rating: ****1/2

Coming Soon....

UFC: 118-122, Fight Night 22
King of the Cage: Various shows

Until next time,

Scott Newman:

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