The Weekly Wrap walks readers through the last seven days in MMA, recapping and putting into context the week's top story, important news and notable quotes.
A card that featured five of the game’s 10 best bantamweights saw a changing of the guard at the top of the division and the first submission loss of a former dominant champion. It may have also marked the end of the road for Jens Pulver as a fighter.
Dominick Cruz brilliantly seized his opportunity against World Extreme Cagefighting 135-pound titleholder Brian Bowles at WEC 47 on March 6. Cruz, the betting underdog, used superior speed and footwork to stay ahead of Bowles’ power shots and land stinging punches and leg kicks that had Bowles flustered. Bowles, making his first title defense since becoming the first fighter to stop Miguel Torres, suffered a broken right hand on the first punch he threw, leaving him without weapons to answer Cruz’s sharp-shooting style. Cruz was also strong in the wrestling department, taking that option away for Bowles.
Damage piled up to the point that Bowles did not come out for the third, thus marking the first pro loss for the Georgian, who had broken his other hand in his title win over Torres. The finish was a bit awkward for television viewers, as the bout was waved off during a commercial break and left announcers scrambling to explain upon returning to broadcast. Cruz told Sherdog.com following the fight that he had injured his hand and foot in the fight. Cruz had MRIs for both on Friday and is expecting news next week. The victory shot Cruz from No. 4 to No .1 on Sherdog.com’s 135-pound rankings.
The bout headlined WEC 47 before 8,345 at the Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio, as the WEC took the calendar spot on which the UFC ran shows in 2007, 2008 and 2009 to coincide with the Arnold Sports Festival, the popular fitness and bodybuilding expo that takes place annually in Columbus. The UFC did its record U.S. crowd on the weekend in 2007 with 19,049 (17,358 paid) at the Nationwide Arena for a Randy Couture-Tim Sylvia main event.
WEC General Manager Reed Harris told MMAJunkie.com some 7,000 of the 8,345 tickets for WEC 47 were paid, a turnout that likely means a return to the city next year. Nationwide Arena was reconfigured for the WEC show, with most of the upper deck sectioned off. It was the largest crowd the WEC has done outside of California.
The crowd also witnessed former champion Torres, who was riding a 17-fight winning streak when he lost the title in August, drop his second straight fight, as Joseph Benavidez became the first fighter to tap the mulleted battler.
Despite a five-inch height and 11-inch reach disadvantage, Benavidez got inside Torres’ jab and connected with tight combinations. He also exploited Torres’ defensive wrestling holes to get the fight on the floor. Off a swift double-leg takedown in the second, Benavidez opened a nasty gash on Torres’ forehead with an elbow, and then latched on a strong guillotine in the scramble. Both men were slicked with blood, and Torres was forced to tap out. Benavidez received a $10,000 bonus for hitting the night’s best submission, which added to his $29,000 event-high disclosed salary. Torres earned $26,000 in defeat. Cruz took home $18,000, along with his title belt.
The two fights seemed to set up a rematch of the August 2009 clash between Cruz and Benavidez, which Cruz took by decision. WEC matchmaker Sean Shelby told the Sherdog Radio Network’s “Savage Dog Show” that the amount of time Cruz needs to recuperate would determine who gets the next title shot, as most contenders will not be willing to sit on the sidelines for long. Shelby said the challenge of a Cruz-Benavidez rematch is selling the public on a different outcome from their first fight. Other potential contenders are the winner of the Damacio Page vs. Antonio Banuelos fight on April 24, Charlie Valencia, Scott Jorgensen and Frank Gomez.
The emotional highpoint of the night came after Pulver, the grizzled veteran and sentimental favorite, dropped his fifth straight fight by submitting to Javier Vazquez. With the audience shouting chants of “Pulver,” the first UFC 155-pound champion attempted to use leg kicks that Vazquez, a jiu-jitsu black belt, caught en route to bringing the fight to the mat. Vazquez located an armbar that wrenched Pulver’s arm and forced the tapout.
It was the fourth straight time Pulver has lost in the first round. He still proved one of the WEC’s most popular fighters in the post-fight ceremonies, however, drawing huge cheers for emotional remarks about his desire to “not put you guys through this.” Pulver did not make a retirement proclamation, but it appeared WEC brass was firmly on the side of transitioning Pulver out of fighting. The post-fight press conference saw fighters serenade Pulver with praise and anecdotes about how he motivated their careers.
In the other two main card bouts, Bart Palaszewski armbarred an over-active Karen Darabedyan in the first round, while L.C. Davis eked out a third straight razor-close decision against Deividas Taurosevicius. The bout was so close that judge Jeff Blatnick ruled it a draw; two other scorecards for Davis gave him the majority decision. Also making air on Versus was Jorgensen’s violent standing guillotine submission of Chad George -- which actually saw George levitate in the former Boise State University wrestler’s clutches -- and lightweight prospect Anthony Pettis’ resounding left leg headkick KO of Danny Castillo. Pettis earned the best knockout bonus for the victory.
The night's “Fight of the Night” payout went to Leonard Garcia and George Roop for their three-round war on the undercard. Roop appeared to be pulling ahead but was questionably deducted a point for a third-round groin shot, leading to a rare split draw with tallies of 29-27, 27-29 and 28-28. Also picking up wins were Chad Mendes (decision over Eric Koch), Fredson Paixao (first-round submission over Courtney Buck) and Ricardo Lamas (first-round knockout over Bendy Casimir).
The Versus broadcast of WEC 47 did a 0.46 rating for an average of 373,000 viewers. That represents a big drop from the 640,000 average for WEC 46 on Jan. 10, featuring top WEC star Urijah Faber. It was the second-lowest rating for a WEC event in at least two years (WEC 45 in December, headlined by Donald Cerrone vs. Ed Ratcliff, drew 330,000 viewers). The promotion’s potential television universe continues to suffer by the loss of Direct TV, which is locked in a programming dispute with Comcast, which owns the Versus network.
The promotion’s next event, WEC 48 on April 24, will be its first pay-per-view. That event received effusive hype on the WEC 47 broadcast, though interestingly, the event was titled only “Aldo vs. Faber,” with no sign of the WEC logo. Also programmed with the March 6 fights was a “Countdown” special previewing the first UFC-branded event on Versus on March 21, headlined by Jon Jones vs. Brandon Vera. The show was a bit repetitive and formulaic but represented a higher level of promotional effort than is typical for the UFC’s free TV events.