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
Bull versus matador. In its simplest form,
Eight months after clobbering
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.
Answer: Limbed spark-plugs.
Question: What is an accurate description of Miguel Torres and
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.
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,
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.