Cruz (16-1) scored the first major title defense of his career Wednesday at WEC 50, outworking
Despite talk coming into the fight that the 135-pound mixed martial artists evolved so much over the past year that the midweek title tussle would look different from their first go, when Cruz used his superior size and wrestling to control Benavides as needed, it really wasn't.
Cruz still danced all over the cage and initiated takedowns, mostly as rounds wound down, in an effort to sway the judges. He put Benavides on his back in each round, and connected on six of seven attempts, according to CompuStrike.
"I'm a little disappointed I didn't get the finish," Cruz said. "I was really looking for it. I landed a lot of shots that I felt like should have finished him, but he's tough."
Benavides, who appeared undersized next to Cruz and would be best served competing at 125 pounds if and when WEC opens that division, walked through most of the champion's attacks. Cruz darted around the cage, feinting and attacking from off angles. And when it came time to hear the judges' totals, Benavides said he figured he didn't do enough to win.
"So when the judge did say my name, it was quite a surprise," said the 26-year-old challenger, ranked No. 2 at 135 coming into the fight. "I was like, 'Wow, could this happen? Is this, like, the work of God or something?' "
No, it wasn't. Just the work of an official who thought Benavides (12-2) found success by letting off the gas to fire in short, powerful bursts, which surprised the champion's corner. Trainer
"I'll have to go back and watch video [of the fight]," Del Fierro said in a text message. "I hate if I'm giving him the wrong advice."
Speaking to the media after the fight, Cruz agreed with his trainer.
"In my humble opinion, I thought I won all the rounds," Cruz said. "I think that the crowd has a big part to play in the judges' opinion sometimes. Also, he caught me with a real slick knee up against the cage that made me bleed real bad. I would assume the blood could have swayed the judges a little as well."
Cruz's victory secured his place atop the competitive and exciting bantamweight division, which had seen the WEC belt switch hands the last two times it was contested.
"I rank among the best in the world," Cruz said. "There's not a doubt in my mind."
Cruz, 25, is headed for a showdown against
Either way, we know Jorgensen (11-3) is next after he earned a hard-fought, unanimous decision against England's
"I think I'm a better striker than Dominick," the 27-year-old would-be challenger said. "He just moves at a great rate and creates different angles. My wrestling is better than his. If I want to take someone down, I will. I'll find a way. If he wants to stop it, I've got a few tricks in my bag. For me, it would be a great fight. I feel stronger in every area. I'll bring the belt back."
Also, it appears WEC lightweight champion
Mendes, a powerful wrestler, would need to try to stay on top of Vazquez (15-4) without playing into the veteran's top submission game. Vazquez could almost certainly strike with Mendes, who wings hooks and straights but remains fairly green when it comes to fighting on his feet.
This matchup tests both fighters and sets up bigger bouts down the road.