Every fighter in the UFC, whether champion, legend or debutant, has to start somewhere. That somewhere usually isn’t the big show. Occasionally, multiple future stars end up gathered on a single regional card. At the time, this card may not seem significant, but years down the road, we can look back in hindsight and marvel at how stacked that event turned out to be. That’s exactly what we’ll do in this series, called History Lessons.

So, let’s jump in the time machine and travel back. The date was June 10, 2006, and the location was the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas. It was time for World Extreme Fighting 19: The Rematch.

When Gray Maynard and Nate Diaz step into the Octagon at the TUF 18 Finale, they’ll do so on the backs of lengthy UFC tenures that started when each had only a few fights under their belts. That doesn’t mean they didn’t have a chance early in their careers to participate in events on the regional and international scene. Maynard only had two such chances, and the second came under the WEF banner.

Maynard, who was a three-time NCAA Division I All-American wrestler at Michigan State, was less than two months removed from his professional debut when he made his only appearance for the WEF. In his April debut, he used his fists to pummel Joshua Powell for a first-round TKO in a bout that didn’t even make it to the three-minute mark. Things would go differently in his sophomore effort.

On the WEF card, Maynard was paired with Brent Weedman, an undefeated 2-0-1 prospect at the time. Four years later, Weedman would become a regular in the Bellator tournament format as a welterweight, but here he was set to lock up with Maynard in a bout that would ultimately have much bigger implications than just the matter of which prospect could pick up a win.

The two men battled for the bout’s duration, with Maynard doing enough from top position on the mat to secure a unanimous decision victory. The win helped to secure the then 27-year-old wrestler a spot on the cast of The Ultimate Fighter 5, where he would go on to defeat Wayne Weems and Brandon Melendez on the reality show contest before losing via submission to Nate Diaz in the semifinals. Maynard made his UFC debut at the show’s finale in a bout with Rob Emerson that garnered “Fight of the Night” honors despite being ruled a no-contest when both fighters were knocked out.

After rebounding with a knockout win against Joe Veres, Maynard turned into a decision machine as he worked his way towards a title shot and subsequent rivalry with Frankie Edgar. He reeled off four straight unanimous decisions (including one over Edgar), then two split verdicts (including one against the aforementioned Diaz) and then another unanimous nod to earn his shot at gold. That bout, the second meeting between Maynard and Edgar, was an entertaining back-and-forth affair that ended in a split draw and earned Maynard an immediate rematch, which he lost via knockout. Despite a 1-1 mark since then, Maynard remains a top lightweight contender within the eight-sided cage to this day.

Although Maynard’s spot on the WEF card makes it a significant event, the real importance of the promotion’s visit to Vegas on that June evening lies elsewhere. In a way, promoter Jamie Levine and his WEF brand can be credited for playing a role in the boom of women’s MMA. It was Levine who offered a spot on this card to a 12-1-1 Muay Thai fighter by the name of Gina Carano.

Carano had trained in Muay Thai and was accomplished in the rings of that combat sport, but she had yet to grace a MMA cage or ring. However, the significance of the WEF’s inclusion of Carano doesn’t end there. Then 24 years old, Carano was to be one half of the first sanctioned women’s bout to take place in the state of Nevada.

Carano’s opponent that night was another debuting fighter, Leiticia “Trinity” Pestova. The two fought at the bantamweight limit, which would mark the only fight during Carano’s career in which she tipped the scales at anything less than a 138-pound catchweight.

After standing at range for a brief time, Pestova sought a takedown, which Carano stuffed. In doing so, Carano gained top position and transitioned to mount, where she delivered a barrage of punches and elbows that overwhelmed Pestova, who succumbed to a knockout just 39 seconds into the fight. Carano was on her way, whereas Pestova would lose to Lisa Ellis less than two months later and never return to action again after that.

Carano made one more appearance in Las Vegas in September of the same year, defeating Rosi Sexton by way of a second-round knockout. She then made her Strikeforce debut with a decision win over Elaina Maxwell, before heading to the EliteXC cage, where she engaged in an entertaining three-round scrap with Julie Kedzie that opened the eyes of the masses to the potential that the women held for putting on thrilling fights that could stand on equal ground with anything the men delivered.

The future movie star had done her part to spark a revolution in MMA, and she stuck around for four more wins under the EliteXC banner before vying for the Strikeforce title against Cristiane “Cyborg” Justino. Of course, Cyborg was too much for Carano, who fell via TKO just before the closing bell of the first round. It remains the last time fans saw Carano in action. She left for Hollywood shortly thereafter, and the torch of women’s MMA fell to Cyborg, Ronda Rousey and the ladies of Invicta Fighting Championships.

The list of significant fighters on WEF’s 19th offering doesn’t end with Maynard and Carano. Light heavyweight Marvin Eastman, who had already made two unsuccessful UFC appearances by that point, defended his WEF title with a decision win over Jason Guida, who had earned the challenge with a previous non-title win over Eastman months earlier. Neither man would go on to do much at the highest levels of the sports. Just two fights later, Eastman returned to the UFC to lose via knockout to Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, but “The Beastman” has just five wins (including his only UFC victory) in 15 total fights since his bout with Guida. Guida has had similar results, with just five wins in 18 outings since.

On the bright side, there were also two future UFC contenders in the lineup.

Alan Belcher was an 8-2 prospect when he set foot in the WEF cage that June to fight Evert Fyeet. Fyeet, who started his career as a 5-0-1 prospect, was well on his way to becoming a sub-.500 journeyman. At 8-14, he had already picked up what would be his final career victory long before he locked horns with Belcher and was on a six-fight losing streak that would eventually extend to 11 fights and leave his final tally at 8-19 through 27 career outings. Needless to say, Belcher had little trouble handing Fyeet a toe hold submission loss just over two minutes into their encounter. The win punched Belcher’s ticket to the UFC, where he debuted with a loss to Yushin Okami. Belcher rebounded with a win in his next Octagon appearance and has gone on to compile a 9-6 record through the present day.

Further down the WEF 19 card, Stefan Struve was just a 3-1 prospect entering into his heavyweight contest with Marcus Sursa. It was Struve’s first fight outside of the Netherlands, and the lanky, young fighter was able to find success. The 18-year-old secured a triangle choke just past the three-minute mark of the fight to force Sursa to submit. The victory was just one in a 16-2 stretch to kick off the “Skyscraper’s” career. His only losses in that span came against Romualds Garkulis in Struve’s second pro bout and future Bellator light heavyweight champion Christian M’Pumbu in the Star of Peresvit openweight tournament semifinals. Struve made his UFC debut in 2009 and was on the receiving end of a brutal TKO delivered by Junior dos Santos. With a 9-4 UFC mark through the present day, Struve has flirted with contendership, but his biggest battle has come more recently with the revelation that he suffers from a leaking aortic valve and an enlarged heart. Struve remains on the shelf, but he hasn’t given up on a future in fighting just yet.

Although credit for the development of women’s MMA often goes to a variety of promotions, World Extreme Fighting and its 19th event is an oft-overlooked contributor. The promotion was a trailblazer within the borders of Nevada as the first promotion to host a sanctioned female fight. For this, and for its role as a breeding ground for talent such as Carano, Maynard, Struve and Belcher, WEF 19 holds a significant place in the history of MMA.

Photo: Gray Maynard (Dave Mandel/Sherdog)