By Frank Curreri
LAS VEGAS – If Miguel Torres had a weakness, a part of his game that could be exploited, many presumed it was in his stand-up arsenal. Manny Tapia believed that to be the case – but not any more. Torres tore through Tapia on Wednesday night at the Hard Rock Casino & Hotel, using a 9-inch reach advantage to batter the No. 1 challenger with jab after jab and then finishing Tapia with a vicious combination in the second-round. In fact, Torres’ first punch of the night was a jab that sent Tapia reeling and falling backward into the cage, foreboding the kind of rough night it would be for Tapia.
“I wanted to fight calm this time,” said Torres, who retained his WEC bantamweight title. “Last time I fought (a win over Yoshiro Maeda) I got emotional and a little bit crazy. When I get real emotional I make a lot of mistakes. I wanted to use my range and my jab to loosen him up. I jab pretty hard. I had like nine training partners for this fight and busted them up with my jab.
“Manny talked a lot about standing with me. I knew he would come out and try to throw big haymakers. I knew I could hold him off with my jab … I’m not a big trash talker and when someone calls me out I’m going to do what I have to do.”
Boy did Torres ever use that jab. Though Torres is a highly-regarded Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt and would probably enjoy a huge advantage over Tapia on the ground, he elected to battle Tapia where Tapia was strongest. And Tapia, save for some occasional hard body shots, had no answer for that steady stream of stiff, potent jabs. The fight was strikingly similar to the strategy and performance that UFC lightweight champion BJ Penn used to methodically punish Sean Sherk. In round two, Tapia showed a sense of urgency. Torres fired a leg kick and Tapia greeted him with a hard right hand, then Tapia followed up with a hard left hook. From there, things quickly heated up. Tapia was bleeding from a gash over his right eye, which also had some swelling. Just when it seemed Tapia was gaining momentum, the champion upped the ante, landing a straight left and a crisp straight right hand that snapped Tapia’s head and sent him crashing to the canvas. To his credit, a woozy but game Tapia somehow got to his feet, trying to buy time to clear his head. Torres would have none of it. With Tapia in survival mode, Torres landed another pinpoint 1-2 combination that sent Tapia to the deck once more. Torres rushed atop his fallen foe and unleashed a hail of blows, forcing the referee to halt the action at 3 minutes and four seconds of round two.
“The next step is to fight the next (challenger) in line, whoever that may be,” said Torres, whose official record is now 35-1. “I’m here to fight the best in the world.”
Torres said he hopes to fight Brian Bowles next.
“I think Brian deserved a title shot awhile ago,” Torres said. “He’s a good fighter and a very dangerous opponent. I’d love to fight him.”
In other WEC action on Wednesday night:
Akitoshi Tamura vs. Wagnney Fabiano
There was little suspense in the opening stanza as the fight began and promptly turned into a Brazilian jiu-jitsu match between two high-level ground fighters. It was Fabiano who forced the fight to the canvas, scoring a double leg takedown and then trapping Tamura on his back for the remainder of the round. For the most part the first round was a technical affair that played out in Tamura’s half-guard, with Fabiano inflicting little damage to his foe from the top. That same sequence – a Fabiano takedown followed by top control and little punishment dished out – repeated itself again in the second and third rounds, respectively. In the second round, Fabiano opened up and went for an armbar but time expired. In the third round he again took Tamura down and peppered him with light punches and hammer fists. A gash opened up on Tamura’s head. As the seconds counted down, Fabiano passed Tamura’s guard and locked in a head and arm choke. Tamura tapped out at 4 minutes 48 seconds of the third round.
With the win Fabiano improved to 11-1.
Brian Bowles vs. Will Ribeiro
The big question coming into this bout was whether Bowles, known for his heavy hands, could hold his own standing against a fighter who has had 80 boxing matches and formerly trained with the Brazilian Olympic Boxing Team. Bowles answered that query about 40 seconds into the fight, cracking Ribeiro with Brazilian with a three-punch combination that consisted of a jab, hard right hand and left uppercut. Ribeiro, to his credit, seemed unfazed and soon responded with a two-punch combo of his own. Ribeiro, renowned for the diversity and creativity of his attacks, then landed a spinning back kick that hit Bowles in the chest and knocked him against the cage. The blow seemed to have lit a fire under Bowles, who responded with a hard right hand. Ribeiro then tried to surprise Bowles with a double leg takedown; he succeeded at getting Bowles to the mat but Bowles immediately clamped on his patented guillotine choke from the mount position. Ribeiro looked to be close to passing out but somehow reversed the position and freed his head.
In round two, Bowles again appeared to land the more telling blows, at one point catching a Ribeiro leg kick and hitting his opponent with a hard right hand as the Brazilian stood on one leg. Bowles scored a takedown but was immediately reversed by Ribeiro. Even from what is supposed to be a disadvantageous position, Bowles punished Ribeiro with a thumping upkick to the face (which was legal since Ribeiro was standing and not on the mat). As Bowles came to his feet, Ribeiro greeted him with two punches. Ribeiro later scored with a crisp uppercut and a solid left hook. Bowles finished the round with two more takedowns that seemed to win him the round.
When Bowles went to his corner at the end of round two one of his cornermen tried to inspire him. “Five minutes to glory! Five minutes to glory!” the trainer shouted. Bowles heeded the battle cry. Ribeiro fired a leg kick and Bowles again caught it and made the Brazilian pay with a hard straight right hand. Ribeiro shot in for a double leg takedown and Bowles instantly sank in a supertight guillotine choke, getting the tap at 1 minute 11 seconds of round three.
“The guillotine is my go-to move in the gym,” said Bowles, now 7-0. “I knew he had fast hands, but I knew my hands were just as good as his. I think I’ve earned a title shot. I’d love to fight the winner of tonight’s fight (between WEC bantamweight champion Miguel Torres and No. 1 challenger Manny Tapia). It would be an honor.”
Danny Martinez vs. Joseph Benavidez
Fans got their first glimpse of Benavidez, who faced the stiffest test of his career in Martinez. As you would expect from a guy who trains with Urijah Faber, Benavidez was high-energy and assertive throughout, attacking with three- and four-punch combinations and sprinkling in a flying knee, low kicks and loads of front kicks to the chest and mid-section. Martinez repeatedly fought for takedowns, and Benavidez usually stuffed them, save for a Martinez takedown late in the first round. Though both men have wrestling backgrounds, the fight predominately played out on their feet and it was Benavidez who repeatedly got the better of their exchanges. One of Benavidez’ best moments happened late in the first when he connected on a combination and followed it up with a front kick to Martinez’ face. Later in the first Benavidez landed another combination and topped it off with a headlock to a throw for the takedown.
In round two Martinez seemed to be waiting, hoping to counterpunch Benavidez and land a big shot. Benavidez continued to attack with combinations that didn’t land flush or hurt Martinez but likely made an impression with the judges. Round three was more of the same, though Martinez heated up in the final minute, teeing off with a flurry of punches that forced Benavidez to retreat for the first time. But it was too little too late as the judges awarded Benavidez a unanimous decision in his WEC debut.
“It’s always my game plan to go out there as hard as I can,” said Benavidez, now 9-0. “Danny is a tough guy. I expected it to be my toughest fight. It was my first that went to a decision and every fight will be tough now.”
Justin Haskins vs. Johny Hendricks
The highly-touted Hendricks had his hands full in this one. Haskins, a former Division I wrestler at Rutgers University, was the aggressor early, tagging Hendricks with punches and then slamming him to the mat with a double leg. Though Hendricks would return the favor with a takedown of his own, and a hard straight left to Haskins’ noggin, it was Haskins who clearly won round one by virtue of landing more punches and scoring yet another takedown to close out the round.
A different Johny Hendricks emerged from his stool in round two. Haskins charged yet again and landed a five-punch combination. Hendricks weathered the storm and landed an elbow that opened a cut on the top of Haskins’ head. With blood streaming down his head, Haskins seemed to cover up his head as Hendricks began swinging away on the inside. A left uppercut from Hendricks dropped Haskins, who curled up in the corner of the cage as Hendricks pounced with incredible urgency, raining down at least 17 unanswered punches. The referee intervened 52 seconds into round 2, and Hendricks exalted.
“Most of the time I finish (opponents) in the first round,” said Hendricks, a former two-time national champion wrestler who improved to 4-0. “I wanted to get comfortable in here, this is my new home. I can’t finish them in the first round every time.”
Hendricks also spoke of the spark that turned the tide in the match, saying that when he came out for the second stanza he told himself, “The second round is mine.”
Ricardo Barros vs. Mark Munoz
Is Mark Munoz ready for the UFC light heavyweight division? He sure looked like it against Barros, with both men fighting in what will be the final light heavyweight bout in WEC history. Barros looked to make a fight of it early, trying to muscle for a single leg takedown against the former NCAA wrestling champ. Munoz stuffed the takedown, and then attempted to throw Barros, who stubbornly thwarted the throw and landed on top in side control. This was exactly where Barros, a Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt under Ralph Gracie, wanted to be and where his best shot at victory lied. Munoz, however, killed the suspense quickly, reversing and ending up in Barros’ guard. A scramble soon ensued, with Munoz taking Barros’ back. Rather than pursue a rear naked choke – which might be difficult against someone with far more jiu-jitsu experience – Munoz simply distributed his weight toward Barros’ upper back and trapped him there. Then he fired off blow after blow after blow. They were not annoyances – they were thunderous shots, and Munoz had to unleash at least 35 unanswered punches and hammer fists to Barros’ face. Finally, at 2 minutes 26 seconds of round one, the referee halted the action and declared Munoz the winner by TKO.
“I just know when I take the back I have heavy hands,” the Filipino Wrecking Machine said. “When I was in that position I knew I was at home.”
With the win, Munoz improved to 5-0. Barros fell to 4-2.
Diego Nunes vs. Cole Province
This was one of those methodical, slow-moving fights where you can make a case for either guy having won the fight. Nunes and Province, both entering the fight unbeaten, seemed to spend an inordinate amount of time in the clinch trading knees to the midsection, though none of the blows appeared to be particularly damaging. On their feet, low kicks were the norm and crisp punches to the face were nowhere to be found.
The best action of the fight unfolded in the final two minutes of round one when Province scored a takedown with a trip. Province soon took Nunes’ back and relentlessly hunted for a rear naked choke. Nunes fended off the choke for over a minute, then fought back to his feet and tripped Province for a takedown as time expired.
Round two was again very tactical and, for the most part, slow-moving. Once again both fighters spent a lot of time in the clinch trading knees. No punches of note were landed, though Nunes did score with two knees to the head and landed more leg kicks, which caused welts to form on Province’s left leg. The round appeared to up for grabs and Province scored a takedown in the final minute, with little of consequence happening on the mat.
In round three, Nunes scored a takedown and landed some “baby” elbows on top that appeared to be more of an inconvenient than punishing. Province fished for an armbar in vain. Fittingly, the round ended with both men on their feet, in clinch.
In the end, in a fight that apparently could have gone either way, the judges unanimously awarded victory to Nunes by scores of 29-28, 30-27 and 30-27.
Alex Karalexis vs. Bart “Bartimus” Palaszewski
Conventional wisdom held that the outcome of this fight would be decided on the feet, and both notorious sluggers seemed to content to settle matters there. It was Karalexis who seemed to hit his stride first, repeatedly firing and landing leg kicks in an effort to loosen Palaszewski up, perhaps so Karalexis could set up some punches upstairs. A few minutes into the bout, with Karalexis controlling the action, Karalexis tagged Palaszewski with a hard overhand right and then followed it up with another, sending Palaszewski backward into the cage. Palaszewski stayed game and fired off a leg kick, with Karalexis making him pay with a crisp right hand.
Thirty seconds into round two Palaszewski caught Karalexis carrying his left hand low and stunned him with a booming head kick. Palaszewski followed up with a hard straight right hand. Karalexis went down but courageously got off the canvas and back to his feet. Palaszewski (30-11) sent Karalexis (9-4) to the canvas again with a left hook and then pounced on his wounded opponent, delivering a few punches on top until the referee called the fight at 1 minute 18 seconds of the second round.
Cub Swanson vs. Hiroyuki Takaya
Once considered a rising contender in the featherweight division, Swanson lost a lot of his luster in an earlier defeat to Jens Pulver. Yet the Californian’s peppy performance against Takaya proved that any reports of his demise are greatly exaggerated. Swanson was impressive early, landing a hard overhand right 45 seconds into the fight that proved Takaya has a pretty sturdy chin. Swanson would fire off three-punch combinations and then move out of harm’s way. Takaya answered with a few leg kicks and a solid left hand. Takaya even dropped Swanson with a sweeping leg kick. While Swanson owned the first half of the round, Tamura appeared to win the second half with his knees and leg kicks.
Round two featured Swanson again getting the better in the punching realm with Takaya effective with leg kicks. Takaya used a body lock to score a takedown but Swanson soon got back to his feet. Swanson then scored a takedown and took Takaya’s back with both hooks in. Swanson fished for an armbar but time expired. In round three both fighters traded some hard shots, and then Swanson made Takaya pay for a leg kick by taking him down. Takaya broke free earned a takedown with a trip. Swanson got to his feet and used a judo throw for a takedown. He then took the Japanese fighter’s back and searched for the choke in vain.
In the end the judges awarded Swanson (12-2) a unanimous decision with scores of 29-28, 30-27, and 30-27.
Mike Budnik vs. Shane Roller
In a battle of Oklahomans, Roller took control early by scoring a double leg takedown seconds into the bout. Budnik showed a crafty guard and secured a tight armbar. Roller appeared to be in trouble but violently shook off the armbar. Roller immediately transitioned to a guillotine choke from the mount position. Budnik desperately fought to free himself and managed to reverse Roller. But Roller kept a vise grip on the neck, sinking in the guillotine even deeper from the guard position and winning the tap at 1:01 of round one.
With the win, Roller improved to 5-1. Budnik, meanwhile, suffered his first setback as a pro, falling to 8-1.
Torres Retains WEC Belt, Bowles Still Unbeaten
Frank Curreri, WEC - If Miguel Torres had a weakness, a part of his game that could be exploited, many presumed it was in his stand-up arsenal. Manny Tapia believed that to be the case – but not any more. Torres tore through Tapia on Wednesday night at the Hard Rock Casino & Hotel, using a 9-inch reach advantage to batter the No. 1 challenger with jab after jab and then finishing Tapia with a vicious combination in the second-round. In fact, Torres’ first punch of the night was a jab that sent Tapia reeling and falling backward into the cage, foreboding the kind of rough night it would be for Tapia.