Soon after it was announced that Zuffa had acquired World Extreme Cagefighting, many pundits assumed the WEC would serve as a "feeder" organization to the more well-known UFC.
Not so, according to Zuffa. From Day 1 they've maintained the WEC would be built up as a rival organization to the UFC in spite of the fact that it falls under the same ownership umbrella.
There are those who are very skeptical of Zuffa's contention, but their company line was given a major boost in credibility when it was revealed that Paulo Filho had signed with the WEC.
Filho, 14-0 lifetime, went 8-0 while fighting for the Pride organization in Japan. His wins include victories over current EliteXC middleweight champion Murilo "Ninja" Rua, current Bodog Fight middleweight Amar Suloev, Ryo Chonan and Pride welterweight (183 pounds) Grand Prix winner Kazuo Misaki.
According to MMAWeekly.com's world rankings, Filho is the third-best 185-pound fighter in the world, a ranking he's earned based in large part on jiu-jitsu skills that are unrivaled in his weight class.
Based on his credentials, it's no surprise that the Brazilian-born Filho will be competing for the vacant WEC middleweight title when he debuts for the promotion Sunday night in Las Vegas at 9 p.m. ET on Versus against former UFC fighter Joe Doerksen (39-9).
Soon after arriving in Vegas for his first fight on U.S. soil, Filho granted CBS Sports an interview.
CBS Sports: What fight camp are you currently affiliated with?
PF: My own, Paulo Filho's team.
Q: This will be your first fight since the Fertittas acquired Pride. What was it like fighting for Pride, and do you think there will ever be another Pride show?
PF: Yeah, it would nice to see them have another event sometime. Pride has a history in the sport and if the opportunity ever arose for them to have another event I'd love for them to do it based on what they've done in the past.
Q: When Zuffa first approached you, did they give you a choice between fighting for the UFC or WEC?
PF: No. I wasn't given a choice. I was offered a chance to fight in the WEC and that's what I took.
Q: Was any detail provided as to why they wanted you for the WEC as opposed to the UFC?
PF: There was no detail given. The WEC is a huge organization, and I feel it's one of the best in the world, and right now I think the opportunity for me to be in the WEC is a much better situation. There's a lot of big names in the UFC, and I don't have a huge name in the U.S. With the WEC, we'll both be able to grow together. The WEC and Paulo Filho will be able to grow their names in the U.S. together, and that's why I feel it's a better choice for me.
Q: There were reports that one reason why you're in the WEC is because you're good friends with current UFC middleweight champion Anderson Silva and don't want to fight him. Is that correct?
PF: We're under the same management and we train together. That is true, but that's not really the case (of why I'm in the WEC) as we chose to go to the WEC because I wanted to. But we are friends and I wouldn't want to have that fight happen, but if that fight were to happen, then hey, we'd fight and it would be a phenomenal fight and then we'd go out to dinner after.
Q: What do you think of the level of competition in the UFC's middleweight division? Where do you think you rank?
PF: No. 1.
Q: There were published reports that after Martin Kampmann suffered an injury that Rich Franklin was offered a choice between fighting you or Yushin Okami. Do you know if those reports are true?
PF: I don't know if it's true or not. My manager never got a contract offer for me to fight in the UFC, and I have no idea if Rich Franklin chose to fight Okami instead of me. As far as I know, it was never offered to us and we were already signed with the WEC and very excited to be fighting for the (vacant WEC middleweight) title.
Q: You'll be fighting for the vacant WEC middleweight title this Sunday in Las Vegas against Joe Doerksen. Did you do anything in your training to prepare specifically for him?
PF: I trained and prepared for this fight like I always do, to have a very aggressive fight and go in for the finish.
Q: While in Pride, you fought in a ring. The WEC uses an eight-sided cage that is smaller than what the UFC uses. Do you think you're prepared to handle the transition from the ring to the cage?
PF: I've already fought in a cage before in Brazil, and I felt very comfortable in it. My style of fighting is actually geared better for the cage, and I'm very excited to have my first fight in the U.S. and I promise a phenomenal performance.
Q: Do you have a prediction for the fight?
PF: I'm going to submit him in the first round.
Q: If you defeat Doerksen, is there a specific fighter in the WEC you'd like to fight next?
PF: Whoever they put in front of me, I'm ready to fight them.
Q: Is Jason "Mayhem" Miller someone you'd like to fight?
PF: If they put Jason "Mayhem" Miller in front of me, I will take that fight.
Sam Caplan is a Philadelphia-based sports talk show host and freelance sportswriter. He can be reached via e-mail at SCaplan8@comcast.net. Sam also has a blog at: FiveOuncesofPain.com and can be reached via MySpace at MySpace.com/FiveOuncesOfPain.