It's easy to marginalize World Extreme Cagefighting. Of course, it's easy to marginalize any promotion that's not UFC, but WEC suffers from being the little brother to the 600-pound gorilla itself. Zuffa's promotional efforts are generally focused on UFC and their pay-per-views as opposed to the free shows WEC puts on Versus. It's not helping that they're on a network that frequently airs such fringe sports as steer wrestling, competitive logcutting, and the NHL. (I tease because I love, hockey.) And while UFC showcases the "prestige" weight classes, WEC is filled with the little guys, closing down every division above 155 this past winter and absorbing the fighters into the UFC.
Well, perhaps the remaining fighters had an axe to grind in Vegas last night. WEC 42 put on a show that, excepting perhaps Silva/Griffin, was more exciting than UFC 101 in every way. The night was capped by a four-minute slugfest that saw unheralded Brian Bowles knock out bantamweight champion and consensus pound-for-pound top fiver, Miguel Angel Torres.
The first three fights on WEC 42's main card played out to almost the same results as UFC 101's: decision, decision, stoppage. The difference was the way they happened. Both decisions were tightly-contested, split affairs. Leonard Garcia's win over Jameel Massouh saw him go momentarily unconscious in a choke, but he powered through (and was lucky enough to not have the official notice), surviving a sloppy but exciting affair.
Takeya Mizugaki's reward for stepping in as a replacement and being the first man to take Torres to five rounds was a tough match against Jeff Curran, who was coming off a brutal trio of losses to top competition. Mizugaki controlled the fight, taking it to the ground on his terms. But whereas at UFC 101 we saw Josh Neer and Kendall Grove get lost on the bottom, Curran worked the whole time and nearly stole the fight in the last round when he forced Mizugaki to outlast a deep triangle until the final bell.
Instead of a controversial stoppage like former WEC fighter Johny Hendricks' win on Saturday, Danny Castillo finished his fight clean. He became the first man to blemish Ricardo Lamas' record in an exciting brawl that saw Castillo put Lamas' lights out with a huge overhand right straight down the pipe. Dominick Cruz then probably earned himself the next shot at the bantamweight title when he unanimously outpointed Joe Benavidez in a fast-paced battle with a lot of traded shots and a couple of decent submission attempts. Benavidez, too, experienced his first MMA loss in the fight.
I'd have taken any of those four fights over any of the UFC 101 undercard, but the capper was yet to come.
Conventional wisdom said Brian Bowles, in spite of his 7-0 record, didn't have a shot against Torres. Bowles was coming off an injury that necessitated having to wait for his shot, and Vegas put him off as about a three-to-one underdog. Meanwhile, Torres had been an animal of late, winning a staggering 17 straight fights, finishing 16. Torres was showing up in the top five of almost every MMA pundit's pound-for-pound list, behind Silva, GSP, Fedor and often Lyoto, but also frequently ahead of such luminaries as BJ Penn, Mike Brown and Brock Lesnar. (That didn't stop Versus from hyping him as "the best pound for pound fighter" in commercials, however).
So when Bowles walked into the cage (to Johnny Cash; well done, sir) I expected Torres to come out and put an end to things quickly.
Well, things were over quickly, but not the way Torres expected. The pace was blazing; the fighters came at each other, each landing major shots early on. Bowles scored an early takedown; but Torres countered with some high-velocity upkicks from the guard to get back to his feet.
And then: the finish. Torres put Bowles on his heels with a combination, followed by a quick flurry; but the flurry left an opening and Bowles jumped all over it. Firing back, Bowles landed shot after shot in a row, moving Torres down… and then out. Bowles was still executing the combination when the KO shot put Torres all the way out; all that was missing was an excitable Killer Instinct announcer screaming "ULT-i-mate Combo!"
Torres will be back, of course, and this fight sets up a great rematch. It honestly could have gone either way; both men were throwing bombs. Bowles just happened to be the last one to connect. That's to take nothing away from Brian Bowles' performance, though: you earn your wins over Torres, and Bowles is a worthy champion tonight.
Maybe you planned your weekend around the show from Philly and regarded tonight's festivies as an afterthought. But if you have cable TV and you're an MMA fan, there's no excuse to be missing WEC. Don't sleep on the little guys; tonight they put on a show that the bigger, better-paid fighters of UFC had to be jealous of.