Looking to expand its brand, the UFC is absorbing its sister World Extreme Cagefighting circuit.
The consolidation immediately gives the mixed martial arts juggernaut two more weight classes - featherweight (145 pounds) and bantamweight (135 pounds) - while the WEC lightweights will be rolled into the UFC's existing 155-pound division.
The merger adds some 60 to 70 new fighters to the UFC ranks, swelling the roster to 260.
Those extra resources will help make it easier for the UFC to continue spreading its tentacles round the globe. And given the UFC has bigger name value than the WEC, it will get more bang for its buck from the WEC fighting alumni.
"It's time," UFC president Dana White said on a media conference call. "As we continue to grow globally, and now we're going into these new markets like China, India, Mexico, we're doing enough fights et cetera, et cetera to fold this thing into the UFC."
"Our goal is build this sport worldwide and continue to add weight divisions until we have every single weight division in the UFC," he added.
The UFC bought the WEC in 2006, streamlining it to focus on lighter weight classes from 155 pounds on down.
That year, the UFC put on 18 shows - all in the U.S. with 12 in its home base of Las Vegas and the rest in California. In 2009, it was 21 shows in five countries and the count this year is expected to reach 24 events in six countries.
Under the merger, WEC featherweight title-holder Jose Aldo - the organization's biggest star - immediately becomes the UFC champion at that weight.
"This kid could be a huge star," White said of the 24-year-old Brazilian who has lost just once in 19 fights.
"He's a kid who can dominate at that weight class and can probably move up to 155 and challenge the guys there. Who knows. Anything can happen."
Aldo, billed by White as one of MMA's top three pound-for-pound fighters, will defend his 145-pound crown at UFC 125, the UFC's traditional marquee New Year's show.
The new UFC bantamweight champion will be the winner of the bout between current WEC title-holder Dominick Cruz and challenger Scott Jorgensen on Dec. 16 in what will be the last WEC card.
"Super excited for the merger!" Jorgensen said on Facebook. "It's like if you took peanut butter and chocolate and merged 'em."
And the winner of the fight between WEC lightweight title-holder Ben (Smooth) Henderson and Anthony (Showtime) Pettis on Dec. 16 will meet the winner of the UFC 125 main event between UFC lightweight champion Frankie (The Answer) Edgar and Gray Maynard in a unification bout.
The UFC previously had five weight classes: heavyweight (265 pounds maximum), light-heavyweight (205), middleweight (185), welterweight (170) and lightweight (155).
"What's exiting for these lighter weight guys, they're finally on the biggest stage in the world now," White said of the WEC fighters.
"I'm stoked," former WEC featherweight champion Urijah (The California Kid) Faber said in a video posted on his website.
"No more explaining to people why I'm not in the UFC . . . Finally we'll be under one banner, which means bigger opportunities, more exposure and less misunderstanding."
The WEC is shown on Versus in the U.S. and The Score in Canada. Versus, which also aired two UFC shows this year, will now show four UFC events in 2011.
"I think Versus was very happy with the ratings that they pulled with that," said White. "But is the UFC going to pull bigger ratings? Absolutely."
With no WEC shows after December, Versus will be offering less content under the merger, however.
White acknowledged that the UFC is "already maxed out" on how many pay-per-view shows it offers.
"If anything, as we add more weight classes and do more things, it's more free fights (on TV)," he added.
There has long been talk of the UFC adding a U.S. network broadcast partner, although White has consistently said it will be done on the UFC's terms.
The UFC airs TV cards and content on Spike TV and Rogers Sportsnet, in addition to its pay-per-view content.
The new weight classes also offer more variety for "The Ultimate Fighter" reality TV show.
"That could happen soon," said White of a season showcasing featherweights or bantamweights.
White said no one from the WEC will lose their job under the merger.
"There's so much work to do over here, believe me, nobody's going to be sitting around," he said.
Still, fighters who lose and fail to put on a show can expect a quick pink slip if current conditions continue.
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