What do you get when half of of the 10 best bantamweights in mixed martial arts appear on the same card? A couple things. The obvious response this week is WEC 47, which takes place Saturday evening in Columbus, Ohio. The more pertinent answer, though, is a compelling start to a tremendous stretch of fights that should last through at least May.
As fighters, promoters, fans and, yes, media gear up ahead of the first weekend in March, which features top-ranked mixed martial artists competing in promotions around the globe, three bouts are worth paying serious attention to.
(Before breaking down the headliners in Ohio and a timely rematch in Japan, there are updates to SI.com's MMA rankings, included below, that deserve a mention. As expected, heavyweight Cain Velasquez and middleweight Chael Sonnen now reside in the top five of their respective divisions following terrific victories in February. Also, Paul Daley fills a void left by the departure of 10th-ranked welterweight Mike Swick, this despite my belief that the British slugger must defeat a grappler to fully earn the spot.)
Brian Bowles (No. 1 at 135, No. 8 P4P) vs. Dominick Cruz (No. 4)
Bull versus matador. In its simplest form, Brian Bowles' first title defense of the WEC 135-pound belt is exactly that. And Dominick Cruz, the fancy-feet, sword-wielding challenger, knows it.
Eight months after clobbering Miguel Torres to earn the bantamweight title -- and a pound-for-pound ranking -- Bowles, a 29-year-old former police officer from Athens, Ga., is being asked to corral yet another swift, shifty foe. For someone with the reputation as a bruiser, that's hardly news in a weight division where quickness is more requirement than intangible.
They don't get much faster than the 14-1 Cruz though, which makes Saturday's showdown a potential contender for bout of the year.
To be fair, Bowles (8-0) is much more than just a stamping, wild man. He stands with strikers and submits jiu-jitsu specialists. And, having never gone the distance, he's an equal-opportunity finisher. During a fight slated for 25 minutes, Bowles' trainers talk of the two additional rounds that come with a title fight as little more than time, should he need it, to inevitably connect on something flush, mangle an arm or squeeze closed the carotids.
Not surprisingly, Cruz and his camp are operating under the belief that a wilting pace, fluid movement, and an accumulation of strikes will payoff in victory. Cruz would be foolish to stand in front of the champion, and the 24-year-old ex-wrestler from Arizona, who now makes his home in San Diego, Calif., isn't interested in making mistakes. Bowles, however, might just be good enough to force some. I suspect he is, even as Cruz refuses to concede anything.
Either way, WEC 47's main event appears destined to be a nitrous-oxide-paced war.
Miguel Torres (No. 2 at 135) vs. Joseph Benavidez (No. 5)
Answer: Limbed spark-plugs.
Question: What is an accurate description of Miguel Torres and Joseph Benavidez?
As good as Bowles-Cruz looks on paper, this co-headlining matchup of bantamweight contenders might be better.
Throughout his 10-year-long career, Torres developed a reputation for attacking opponents at their strength. It took Bowles knocking Torres (37-2) silly for the longtime No. 1 ranked bantamweight to realize winning smart wasn't some kind of sin. He axed old training partners, set up camp away from the distractions of his gym near Chicago, and focused on things in his game that needed work, i.e. wrestling. But, most importantly, said the 29-year-old Torres, he found maturity and patience. It'll be some trick altering traits that have been overwhelmingly positive.
Benavidez, who suffered the only loss of his career to Cruz last August, is an energetic wrestler and can certainly push hard for 15 minutes. Yet the 25 year old is considerably shorter than Torres and could find trouble against a significant reach disadvantage.
Benavidez (11-1) will need to close distance and fight on the inside, though that's a Torres' strength, or manage takedowns and work around the long arms and legs of a pretty good submission fighter.
I like Torres to rebound strong, win a rousing decision, and get a crack at regaining the WEC belt.
Mamed Khalidov (No. 10 at 185) vs. Jorge Santiago (Unranked)
It's not quite as alluring as the dustups in Columbus, but this rematch in Tokyo for the Sengoku middleweight belt is quality.
Fighting in a division that, like lightweight, is wonderfully deep across promotional borders, Mamed Khalidov, a Chechen-born Polish star, emerged in the top 10 for the first time last November when he stopped Brazil's Jorge Santiago, the Sengoku champion, in a non-title affair.
They meet again Sunday, this time with the title on the line. (Unlike WEC 47, which airs live in the U.S. on Versus at 9 p.m. ET, Khalidov-Santiago gets tape-delayed treatment via HDNet on March 12.)
Santiago (21-8) is plagued by a weak chin -- five of his eight losses, including the one to Khalidov (20-3-1) came after he was tagged -- and he'll need to negotiate around that against a stout challenger. Santiago's best bet is to fight on the floor and work from top position, otherwise he'll have to contend with a foe that can scramble and find power in unlikely spots.
Khalidov, 17-0-1 since October 2005, is among the best mixed martial artists to emerge from Poland, a fight-crazed country in which upwards of 5 million people have watched the sport on television, this despite zero presence from the UFC.
I don't think it was any kind of fluke that Khalidov defeated Santiago last November. And I expect he'll do so again.
1. Fedor Emelianenko (31-1, 1 NC) 2. Brock Lesnar (4-1) 3. Frank Mir (13-4) 4. Cain Velasquez (8-0) 5. Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira (32-6-1, 1 NC) 6. Alistair Overeem (32-11, 1 NC) 7. Shane Carwin (11-0) 8. Junior dos Santos (10-1) 9. Brett Rogers (10-1) 10. Andrei Arlovski (15-7)
Others receiving consideration: Fabricio Werdum, Gabriel Gonzaga, Antonio Silva, Aleksander Emelianenko, Todd Duffee
1. Lyoto Machida (16-0) 2. Mauricio Rua (18-4) 3. Rashad Evans (14-1-1) 4. Quinton Jackson (30-7) 5. Antonio Rogerio Nogueira (18-3) |6. Anderson Silva (25-4) 7. Forrest Griffin (16-6) 8. Gegard Mousasi (28-2-1) 9. Thiago Silva (14-2) 10. Luis Arthur Cane (10-2)
Others receiving consideration: Randy Couture, Jon Jones, Rich Franklin, Vladimir Matyushenko, Ryan Bader
1. Anderson Silva (25-4) 2. Dan Henderson (25-7) 3. Chael Sonnen (25-10-1) 4. Nate Marquardt (29-9-2) 5. Vitor Belfort (19-8) 6. Jake Shields (24-4-1) 7. Robbie Lawler (17-5, 1 NC) 8. Demian Maia (12-1) 9. Yushin Okami (23-5) 10. Mamed Khalidov (20-3-1)
Others receiving consideration: Jorge Santiago, Yoshihiro Akiyama, Ronaldo Souza, Wanderlei Silva, Hector Lombard
1. Georges St. Pierre (19-2) 2. Jon Fitch (21-3, 1 NC) 3. Thiago Alves (16-6) 4. Paulo Thiago (13-1) 5. Josh Koscheck (14-4) 6. Matt Hughes (43-7) 7. Carlos Condit (24-5) 8. Nick Diaz (21-7, 1 NC) 9. Dan Hardy (23-6, 1 NC) 10. Paul Daley (23-8-2)
Others receiving consideration: Martin Kampmann, Jay Hieron, Matt Serra, Dan Hornbuckle, Mike Swick
1. B.J. Penn (15-5-1) 2. Shinya Aoki (23-4, 1 NC) 3. Eddie Alvarez (19-2) 4. Tatsuya Kawajiri (26-5-2) 5. Gray Maynard (9-0, 1 NC) 6. Frankie Edgar (11-1) 7. Gilbert Melendez (17-2) 8. Kenny Florian (12-4) 9. Sean Sherk (33-4-1) 10. Tyson Griffin (14-2)
Others receiving consideration: Josh Thomson, Gesias Cavalcante, Evan Dunham, Jim Miller, George Sotiropoulous
1. Jose Aldo (16-1) 2. Mike Thomas Brown (23-5) 3. Urijah Faber (23-3) 4. Hatsu Hioki (20-4-2) 5. Raphael Assuncao (14-2) 6. Bibiano Fernandes (7-2) 7. Manny Gamburyan (10-4) 8. Masanori Kanehara (16-7-5) 9. Michihiro Omigawa (9-8) 10. Deividas Taurosevicius (12-3)
Others receiving consideration: Takeshi Inoue, Marlon Sandro, Josh Grispi, Joe Soto, Takafumi Otsuka
1. Brian Bowles (8-0) 2. Miguel Torres (37-2) 3. Masakatsu Ueda (10-0-2) 4. Dominick Cruz (14-1) 5. Joseph Benavidez (11-1) 6. Scott Jorgensen (8-3) 7. Takeya Mizugaki (12-4-2) 8. Damacio Page (12-4) 9. Rani Yahya (15-5) 10. Eddie Wineland (16-6-1)
Others receiving consideration: Antonio Banuelos, Eduardo Dantas, Charlie Valencia, Akitoshi Tamura, Wagnney Fabiano
1. Jussier da Silva (3-0) 2. Shinichi Kojima (10-4-5) 3. Mamoru Yamaguchi (23-5-3) 4. Yuki Shojo (9-5-2) 5. Yasuhiro Urushitani (16-4-6) 6. Ryuichi Miki (10-3-3) 7. Pat Runez (3-0) 8. Kiyotaka Shimizu (5-3-1) 9. Mitsuhisa Sunabe (11-6-3) 10. Masaaki Sugawara (9-4-1)
Others receiving consideration: Alexis Vila, Ayumu Shioda, John Dodson, Isao Hirose, Hiroyuki Abe
1. Anderson Silva (Brazil) 2. Georges St. Pierre (Canada) 3. Fedor Emelianenko (Russia) 4. B.J. Penn (U.S.) 5. Lyoto Machida (Brazil) 6. Jose Aldo (Brazil) 7. Dan Henderson (U.S.) 8. Brian Bowles (U.S.) 9. Miguel Torres (U.S.) 10. Shinya Aoki (Japan)