Since being acquired by Zuffa LLC, I’ve been staunch about my belief that World Extreme Cagefighting has been the best pound-for-pound fight promotion in the world.
However, the formula for recent shows had become a little stale and some of the matchups just weren’t meeting my high expectations.
But last night, the promotion delivered with one of its best fight cards in quite some time. The production was smooth and it was felt like a big show again as opposed to a vehicle to help promote a Sports Soup lead-in.
The matchmaking was logical and made sense. Fights were booked last night to establish a ranking order for a title shot as opposed to just being made to draw a rating (i.e. Faber vs. Pulver II).
And once again, the WEC displayed the best technical fighting you will see on live television. As far as last night was concerned, the WEC that I have come to know and love was back.
There was not a single bad fight on the card. There was even enough time to seamlessly sneak in an undercard bout between Bart Palaszewski and Anthony Njokuani. With just two wins in his last seven fights, Palaszewski’s future in the WEC is in question. Hopefully, he’ll be given another chance to stick because he’s a very exciting fighter.
Njokuani is a former member of Chuck Norris’ World Combat League, which has developed a surprising amount of solid MMA prospects (Lyman Good, another WCL alum, will be competing in the Bellator Fighting Championships’ upcoming welterweight tournament). If Njokuani can find a ground game, he could be something special. In the interim, I’d love to see his next fight against another unconventional striker, Ed Ratcliff.
As for the main event, it was one of the best fights I’ve seen in a long time. There might not be a more dominant number one ranked fighter in any weight class than Miguel Torres. I don’t think there’s anyone out there at 135 pounds that can hold a candle to him. Kid Yamamoto could sign with the WEC tomorrow and I would still consider Torres a significant favorite. Urijah Faber could move down to bantamweight and I’d still put my money on Torres.
Following Torres’ unanimous decision win over Takeya Mizugaki, the undefeated Brian Bowles, who was supposed to fight Torres at WEC 40 prior to getting injured, is considered the next likely challenger. Bowles is a tremendous fighter, but he’s not close to being on Torres’ level.
Mizukgaki certainly looked like a top ten bantamweight. His striking was fluid and impressive. More than capable on the ground, he showed good tactical ability by refusing to test Torres’ submission game. You don’t have a puncher’s chance when you’re trapped in someone’s guard.
It’s a shame that Mizugaki was introduced to the American public the way he was because if they had built him up before giving him an immediate title shot, he could have been built up into something special. Going the distance with Torres is a moral victory and Mizugaki’s top ten rating should not be affected by last night’s result.
Unfortunately in the WEC, now there’s no place for him to go but down the ladder. However, you can’t blame the WEC for “hot shotting” Mizugaki because desperate times calls for desperate measures. When Bowles pulled out, the WEC need a replacement and two of their best bantamweights, Jeff Curran and Joseph Benavidez were already scheduled to compete in a co-main event.
Curran vs. Benavidez was a tremendous fight in its own right. Curran looked great in his first fight since dropping to bantamweight but Benavidez’s wrestling and athleticism proved to be too much in rounds two and three after Curran took round one with solid technical boxing ability. You know the WEC is deep when lighter weight pioneers such as Curran and Jens Pulver both find themselves at a crossroads in their respective careers.
I believe Benavidez is tremendous but I think it’s a smart idea for Bowles to get the next shot at Torres because Benavidez still has not hit his peak. He’ll probably reach his apex in 1-2 fights but even then will he be any match for Benavidez. We’re reaching a point where it’s time to talk about Torres moving up to featherweight.
Ben Henderson also looked great with a TKO just 1:41 into his fight against three-time All-American Shane Roller. Henderson is a great athlete who looks like he can handle himself wherever a fight goes. Still a little on the green side, the WEC needs to keep building Henderson up because he has the potential to challenge for the WEC lightweight title.
Rafael Assuncao also made his WEC debut last night a successful one, recording a decision over Jameel Massouh. Massouh has some skills but didn’t seem WEC-ready to me. I was a little surprised that Assuncao didn’t finish him but he still looked impressive. Assuncao’s standup was solid and of course, no one can question his ground game.
On the undercard, Rani Yahya, Wagnney Fabiano, and Akitoshi Tamura were all victorious. That’s a pretty star-studded lineup of fighters not to make the VERSUS telecast. If the WEC doesn’t start doing monthly shows, is there really a need to add a flyweight division when you’ve got talent like that saved for WrekCage?
Next up for the WEC is what’s being promoted as the company’s biggest rematch between featherweight champion Mike Thomas Brown vs. Urijah Faber on June 7 at WEC 41. Additionally, Donald Cerrone is expected to return to action against Richard Crunkilton with Leonard Garcia also likely to fight on the card.