Josh Gross
Tuesday April 7th, 2009

In case we forgot, last weekend served as a pretty nice reminder that fights in a ring or cage are far more entertaining than ones perpetrated on YouTube. And so, after watching nearly 20 bouts in a day and a half, there's no shortage of things to discuss -- starting with another tremendous effort from Miguel Torres.

With Zuffa placing a newfound emphasis on World Extreme Cagefighting events, there is a need now more than ever to promote stars who can draw ratings for Versus and, eventually, sell pay-per-views. In his five WEC fights, four of which featured an up-for-grabs title, Torres (37-1) has done more than enough to earn a place alongside Mike Thomas Brown and Urijah Faber as the organization's most important fighters.

During his 17th consecutive win Sunday, Torres showed that even when he can't finish a fight, it's going to be exciting. It helped, of course, that he had a game opponent standing across from him. And Takeya Mizugaki more than measured up to pre-fight expectations.

Closing out my blog of the bout, I finished with a quick thought on potential challengers out of Japan. It's pretty clear, based on the long tradition of 135-pounders fighting overseas, a ring-tested talent pool is ready to meet its moment.

One contest after Yoshiro Maeda combined with Torres for what I thought was the best fight of 2008, Mizugaki, a largely unheralded 25-year-old bantamweight, gave the champ all he wanted. While Torres easily put away undefeated American challenger Manny Tapia last December, Mizugaki -- who wasn't a Shooto champ, and alternated losses with draws in his last four bouts under the organization -- left no doubt that, as future tests go, it's smart to expect many will emanate from Japan.

The obvious name to consider is Norifumi "Kid" Yamamoto. While fans have wanted to see him take on America's best at featherweight, Yamamoto (17-1) really belongs in the bantamweight division despite fighting at 155 most of his career. When healthy, there isn't a more explosive fighter on the planet. He's wild. Dangerous. A grappling, flying-knee-delivering version of Manny Pacquiao.

Only injuries have stymied Yamamoto, who last summer failed to follow in his father's footsteps and wrestle for Japan at the Olympics, in part because of a severe knee injury.

If he can work his way through the ongoing Dream 139-pound tournament, Yamamoto will immediately be thrust back into the discussion regarding pound-for-pound consideration, and will quickly become the name uttered most when it comes to a desirable opponent for Torres.

Yamamoto would appear to have the style and physical attributes to really trouble the WEC champ. He's unquestionably the better wrestler. If he's right physically, "Kid" is faster. He hits harder, too. Torres, as usual, would have a significant edge on height and reach, and submissions would favor him, as well. At worst, it appears to be an even fight.

This may all be moot, however. Yamamoto is under contract to FEG, which puts on Dream and K-1 events. Zuffa won't co-promote. Unless fan interest gets to the point where organizations don't have a choice but to put on fights like these for fear of alienating their paying customers, we may never see the Japanese star take on the likes of Torres or Faber. If you recall, we already missed out on Fedor Emelianenko versus Randy Couture for similar reasons.

I'll happily argue that winning is the only thing that matters when determining the best fighters, which is why Pride Fighting Championships were so highly regarded. There was a true sporting element to them: win and the rest should take care of itself. In today's fight world, where title shots aren't assured unless a mixed martial artist can impact pay-per-view numbers, brackets could provide a necessary change of pace.

I don't think there's any doubt that if the UFC selectively embraced the format -- say, to crown a No. 1 contender, find a champion for a weight division in which the belt lost its relevance (such as heavyweight after the Couture affair), or to create intriguing catch-weight matchups -- it would captivate audiences.

When Zuffa floated around the idea that a four-man tournament would decide the organization's heavyweight champion, how many of us really predicted Brock Lesnar and Frank Mir would decide the answer?

That's the fun of tournaments -- unless you were like everyone else and had the Tar Heels winning the NCAA Division I Championship.

Bellator Fighting Championships, which debuted Saturday on ESPN Deportes, is set to crown four tournament winners from 185 to 145. Lightweight would appear to be the organization's strength, what with top-five ranked Eddie Alvarez heading a field that includes some pretty tough guys. Following Jorge Masvidal's rather easy triumph, the potential for a contest against Alvarez remains intact. It's nice to see Toby Imada -- a very young 20-year-old judoka who fought in Los Angeles on the first live card I attended in May 1999 -- return after a decade of ups and downs, in the ring and out. It's easy to imagine what an upset over Alvarez or Masvidal would do for his career.

Absent the format, I doubt anyone would pay attention to Imada, or the likely fourth semifinal participant, Thomas Schulte. And therein lies the tournament's real benefit.

Picking up where Pride left off, Dream is also tournament-heavy this year -- including the previously mentioned featherweight grand prix, which seems destined to produce more than one great fight along the way. Last Sunday, in Japan, its welterweight version kicked off with one of the best fighters in the world getting crushed in 27 seconds. Clearly, Shinya Aoki no longer belongs at 167 pounds (tourney limit). He weighed just 161 against, arguably, the most dangerous Japanese welterweight of all time, Hayato Sakurai.

Outside of "Mach," however, the bracket doesn't possess much star power, not a surprise considering the UFC has long since dominated the welterweight division has. But if a star emerges from Dream's ranks (and that has to be FEG's hope) the event will have fulfilled its mission.

• By a large margin, strangest fight of the week goes to Lithuanian Marius Zarmoskis against Japan's Seichi Ikemoto, who met in an opening-round Dream welterweight bout. Ikemoto launched lunging double-fisted attacks that seemed straight out of Street Fighter. Not to be outdone, Zarmoskis, who advanced by unanimous decision, attempted something I'd never seen before: a back-flip guard pass that doubled as a kick. Had former CSAC Executive Director, Armando Garcia, seen it, he would have probably tried to suspend Zarmoskis.

Wagnney Fabiano's fights in the WEC should be featured live on Versus. He's good enough to challenge for Brown's featherweight title, but unless the promotion and network do a better job of building him up, most casual fans won't have a clue or care about him when he finally gets a crack at the belt.

• Early prediction: Brown will topple Faber a second time when they meet June 7. The current WEC champ is too strong and competent in the clinch. Faber needs to dart in and out with speed. At some point, Brown will snare him.

• This one comes at the urging of more than a few of you who e-mailed: Mir's commentary of the Torres-Mizugaki fight sounded noticeably one-sided. Calling fights straight shouldn't be too much to ask. I'm also a proponent of watching on mute, so there's always that option.

Jeff Monson made himself relevant again with a quick tap of heavyweight Sergei Kharitonov. The Russian wasn't featured in most top-10s, but he was in mine. Time for an update.

• And finally, it was great to see Vitor "Shaolin" Ribeiro return to the ring at Dream 8. Once ranked in the middle of the top 10 at 155 pounds -- and soon to return with a couple wins -- Ribeiro (20-2) suffered a career-threatening detached retina against Gesias Cavalcante 19 months ago. A dominant Brazilian jiu-jitsu fighter, "Shaolin" gashed his overmatched opponent, Katsuhiko Nagata, for a first-round stoppage Sunday.


WEC 40 BLOG: Torres outlasts Mizugaki in five-round war

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