It was hard for WEC bantamweight contender Brian Bowles to watch champion Miguel Torres get taken to task by Takeya Mizugaki. Could have been me, he thought.
"If Mizugaki had been in a little better shape, or used a better strategy, he could have beat him," Bowles told MMAWeekly.com.
There were seven weeks left to go when Bowles shot in for a takedown during practice and felt a pop in his lower back.
"I got all stiff; I couldn't move right for a couple of days," he said.
The Athens, Ga., resident had quit his jack-of-all-trades job at a local bar to focus on the fight, and didn't want to drop out. The compressed vertebrae at the end of his spine, diagnosed by an orthopedist days later, argued otherwise.
In the end, though, he had no choice, and was forced to withdraw from his title shot with Torres on April 5 at WEC 40.
Mizugaki's attack that night, peppering Torres with punches on the inside, was his idea. After five hard-fought rounds, Torres persevered by outworking the Japanese fighter, but he looked a lot more hit-able.
"That was supposed to have been my title shot then," he said. "I think I deserve it. Most people think I deserve it."
It wasn't the first occasion he had injured his back -- just the first time it took away a major opportunity. This time around, he made sure to follow a strict rehab regimen that would give him a better shot at avoiding the problem in the future.
"(The doctors) said there are no promises it won't happen again, but I'm doing a lot of stuff to focus on getting my back stronger."
In a couple of weeks, he'll be training full-time again. On Monday, he starts grappling, having spent the last month lifting weights and boxing.
"In my mind, that's how you have to fight him anyway," Bowles said of the WEC champ. "You have to get inside on him. He's got that long reach; he just towers over guys like Tapia and Maeda and does a good job of picking them apart from the outside. I think Mizugaki wasn't afraid of him, and just came forward and brawled with him."
Of course, if Mizugaki had taken the title that night, Bowles would be facing an entirely different type of fight, with maybe not as much upside. Mizugaki was a last minute import; Torres graced many top 10 pound-for-pound lists. In that way, things might have worked out better.
Bowles' frame won't support a full on brawl right now, but he hopes by the summer, possibly July or August, he'll be ready to stake his claim in the 135-pound division.
"I think I'm going to be ready," he said. "I'm going to be fine."