Josh Gross
Friday August 7th, 2009

Fighters are quick to recognize their own. So when Brian Bowles tore through patrons of the HardCore Gym's introductory mixed martial arts course three years ago, a speedy decision was made to spare civilians from the tiny terror.

"Even though he didn't necessarily have the ability or techniques to get out of that class, we realized pretty quickly that his personality, his athleticism, he was going to be a danger to some of those newer people who aren't necessarily in it for fighting," said Bowles' trainer Rory Singer, who, with his brother Adam, operate the Athens, Ga., facility.

Sunday in Las Vegas (Versus, 9 p.m. ET), Bowles faces the toughest and most meaningful test of his young career when he challenges WEC bantamweight champion Miguel Torres.

Standing 5-foot-7 and fighting at 135 pounds, Bowles is among a growing cast of talent in MMA's lightest divisions benefiting from Zuffa's drive to promote smaller fighters through the WEC. In four fights with the organization, Bowles improved his record to 7-0 by impressively winning significant bout after significant bout. Victory over Torres -- the highly regarded No. 1 bantamweight regularly mentioned with Anderson Silva, Fedor Emelianenko, Georges St. Pierre and Lyoto Machida as one of the five best mixed martial artists competing today -- would propel Bowles to the top of the sport.

"I figured I'd catch on quick," Bowles said. "But I didn't think I'd get to the point I am now."

If the 29-year-old former police officer manages to end Torres' 17-fight win streak dating back to 2004, count on it being a muted escalation to the ranks of champion.

"He's reserved," said Forrest Griffin, an original member of the HardCore Gym who was there the day Bowles signed up for classes with an old wrestling buddy. "He's good people once you know him, but he's a quiet guy."

That's just one more example of where Bowles and Torres differ. The challenger is a wrestler first. Torres, a boxer augmented by aggressive jiu-jitsu. Bowles, anti-trash talking. Torres, cocky and loud. For all his success in a short span, Bowles is markedly inexperienced next to the WEC champion, a veteran of nearly 40 professional fights and nine years of competition, which includes several-five round championship contests.

Yet despite the contrast, similar attitudes in the cage have fans and pundits anticipating a war. To start, Torres carries the reputation of delivering exciting fights. SI.com called his stoppage over Yoshiro Maeda in 2008 the best bout of the year, and four months ago the 28-year-old from East Chicago, Ind., added another noteworthy effort by out-pointing Takeya Mizugaki. Bowles has been pushed into the third round just once, and his camp doesn't envision Sunday's title fight at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino reaching the championship rounds.

However for as great as Torres' wins over the surprising Mizugaki, who replaced Bowles in April after a serious back injury sidelined him, and Maeda were, Bowles believes they "revealed weaknesses" about the preternaturally focused champ.

"They just brought the fight to him," said the challenger, his back once again in good working order following a round of rehab and hard work. "They weren't afraid of him."

Listening to Singer and Griffin, it's unlikely Bowles will find himself intimidated standing across the cage from Torres, whose technique, athleticism, extra-long reach and tenacious style led him to a 37-1 record.

"I believe Brian has the piece that Mizugaki was missing, and I think he's got the hands for it also," Singer said. "I think he poses a threat. Torres can talk all the trash he wants to, but he's still got to get in there with Brian and fight him."

A collector of old MMA fights on VHS, Bowles is happy to pop in a tape of the classic Don Frye-Yoshihiro Takayama slugfest in Pride. Though he sees the fight with Torres as possessing similar intensity, the skill involved could make it the best bout of a weekend in which the sport's top two bantamweights are being overshadowed in part by his buddy Griffin and UFC 101.

Considering Bowles is single, he doesn't live with the added pressure that comes with having to support a family. Still, he doesn't like what he sees as a clear financial dividing line between purses being paid to heavier fighters in the pay-per-view driven UFC and those doled out to top talent on cable-bound WEC.

"I think someone in the UFC in my position would be making 10 times more money than money," he said. "I think we're just as skilled as they are. Our fights are more exciting than theirs. I'd like to see the money. It's pretty bad now."

He can help his cause, of course, by taking Torres' belt.

Griffin and the crew at HardCore Gym, an American Top Team affiliate, needed little time to know for certain that pulling Bowles from the intro classes was best for everyone. "He'd shoot in on me and I'd throw him on his head, and he just didn't want to quit," the former UFC light heavyweight champion remembered. When Griffin emerged as a star and left Georgia for Las Vegas and Xtreme Couture, Bowles became a focal point.

"He made it big before I went to the WEC," Bowles said. "It made me realize that I'm getting the right training and at HardCore everyone rallies around you. I've seen them rally around him making sure he gets what he needs. They're doing the same with me."

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