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Champions Faber and Torres Deliver in Instant WEC Classics

Frank Curreri, WEC – Urijah Faber came ready for a war. So did Miguel Torres. And Jens Pulver and Yoshiro Maeda made sure that is exactly what both champions got.

Faber and Torres both survived brushes with danger to retain their WEC titles at the packed Arco Arena Sunday night in what amounted to the toughest tests in each man’s career.

By Frank Curreri

SACRAMENTO – Urijah Faber came ready for a war. So did Miguel Torres. And Jens Pulver and Yoshiro Maeda made sure that is exactly what both champions got.

Faber and Torres both survived brushes with danger to retain their WEC titles at the packed Arco Arena Sunday night in what amounted to the toughest tests in each man’s career.

Faber, forced to dig deeper than he ever had before, revealed that he is as good as the hype and has a stronger standup arsenal than most imagined. While many presumed Faber needed to take the fight to the mat to win, he did exactly the opposite – he dominated in the realm of punches and kicks and beat Pulver at his own game. Sporting a cornrowed hairdo for the first time, Faber sent a message early to Pulver, cracking him with powerful right hands during the first one and a half minutes of Round 1. He aggressively hunted Pulver throughout the opening stanza and never shot on Pulver. Not once.

The second round was heavenly. Faber shot for the first time and took Pulver down, only to see Pulver soon return to his feet. Then, in the fight’s most dramatic moment, Faber rocked Pulver with a fistic flurry. Jens went down. Seemingly in a cloud, Jens tried to survive by clinging to Faber’s leg. Faber, smelling blood, unleashed a hail of hammer fists to the side of Jens’s face. And still Pulver kept coming. The challenger got to his feet; Faber went for broke. He swung and swung and swung with everything and yet a wobbly legged Jens absorbed it and kept coming.

Pulver returned the favor, waging a hard combination of his own and tagging Faber with a wicked uppercut. The champ appeared to be in trouble, before answering with his own three-punch combo.

As the fight unfolded, Faber kept rocking Pulver – with booming right hands, with kicks to the rib cage, with elbows – yet Pulver never relented and never stopped answering with blows of his own. In the end, the side of Pulver’s face was swollen like a golf ball. Faber, ever-conscientious of his legacy, added a unanimous decision for the record books and basked in his glory in front of an adoring hometown crowd.

As splendid as the Faber-Pulver was, the Torres-Maeda bout may have been even better. It was one of those breathtaking classics that makes you go, ‘Wow’ on 15 different occasions. After only three minutes of watching Torres and Maeda pound each other with fists, kicks and knees, you kept wondering when one of them was finally going to fall and not get up. And they reminded you how strong the human will to win is.

Torres, who prides himself on his conditioning, set a torrid pace early and stalked the challenger throughout. Neither fighter seemed to care what the other hit him with. The marquee moment of the night came in Round 2. Each man was lying on the canvas. Each man grabbed the other’s ankle and applied a toehold. Each man cranked for dear life, trying to force the other to tap. Feet are fragile things, full of little bones that break rather easy. The suspense escalated and escalated. The whole of Arco Arena erupted in a frenzy. Who will tap? They cranked and cranked. Both refused to tap.

And on they fought. The champion bled from the head. The determined challenger’s right eye swelled profusely and was swollen shut. And they punched and punched and kicked and kicked some more.

In the end, no punch could stop them. It was a ringside doctor who interrupted the fun. Maeda, considered one of Japan’s top bantamweight fighters, could not see out of that right eye. The doctor called the fight at the end of round three. Maeda, who speaks very little English, pleaded for more time. “No! No! No!” he said.

An exhausted Maeda lay on the canvas. Torres kneeled beside him and gave him a long and sustained hug. They stood to their feet. Torres honored Maeda by holding up his hand. Maeda returned the favor.

“I had respect for him before the fight,” said Torres, whose official record moved to 34-1. “I knew he‘d be a tough striker. I want to show my striking. I’ve bled before, but I wanted to show my stuff.”

In other action:

Mark Munoz vs. Chuck Grigsby

Munoz, a former NCAA wrestling champion, showed heavy hands during a knockout victory that sent his hometown fans into a hysterical frenzy. After eating a solid uppercut from Grigsby (a Cheick Kongo clone who boasted an 82-inch reach), Munoz scored a hard-earned single-leg takedown. Rather than lay and pray, he eluded a triangle choke attempt and turned up the heat on Grigsby. With Grigsby (15-4) lying on his back, Munoz stood over him, wound up deep and unleashed one booming right hand after another. At first the punches merely hurt Grigsby, then one of the blows put him out cold at 4 minutes, 15 seconds of Round 1.

Munoz’ record moved to 4-0, and the emerging Filipino sensation promised bigger things to come.

“He’s a pretty good boxer,” Munoz said. “I didn’t want to mix it up on my feet. I took him down and wanted to be creative on my feet and that’s what I did.

“I’m training my standup nonstop … Now I’m committing myself to MMA. It’s time to go baby.”

Rob McCullough vs. Kenneth Alexander

Both fighters fought tactically from the opening bell, with Alexander eager to take it to the mat and McCullough preferring to keep it standing. The essence of this fight was Alexander shooting, McCullough sprawling and, unfortunately, fans booing.

Alexander occasionally scored a takedown but did no damage from the top. McCullough was adept at quickly popping up to his feet. But little of consequence unfolded in that domain, with McCullough choosing to play it safe with punches and kicks designed more to protect him from being taken down than causing damage to Alexander. How bad was it? Well the best blow of the night was an illegal groin shot by McCullough that sent Alexander crumbling to the canvas. And McCullough, competing for the first time since losing his WEC lightweight title to Jamie Varner, suffered a small and inconsequential gash under his right eye.

Forced to determine a winner in a largely lackluster fight, the judges weeded through the ugliness and awarded McCullough a split decision. The win avenged an earlier loss to Alexander.

Donald Cerrone vs. Danny Castillo

Once again Cerrone, a former pro kickboxer, showed that his ground game is nearly as dangerous as he submitted Castillo early in the first round with an armbar. The lanky and no-nonsense Coloradan didn’t hesitate to go to the mat with Castillo, who defended a triangle choke but proved a step slow when Cerrone later transitioned to an armbar. Castillo, fighting in front of his hometown Sacramento fans, was filling in for Rich Crunkilton, who backed out of the fight due to injury.

Cerrone remains unbeaten and has notched the vast majority of his wins by submission.

Mike Brown vs. Jeff Curran

Brown, making his WEC debut, pounded out a unanimous decision over Jeff Curran by controlling the fight on the ground. The difference maker in the bout was Brown’s ability to score takedowns, secure top position and then pass Curran’s guard.

Brown’s best moment – and conversely, Curran’s worst – was when he passed Curran’s guard in the second round and trapped both of Curran’s arms. After securing the so-called “beatdown” position (think of how Matt Hughes finished B.J. Penn in their sequel), Brown reigned down punches. Curran, always game, showed tremendous heart by muscling out of the danger and getting back to his feet.

Neither fighter landed any devastating or damaging punches of note. The contest was close and competitive throughout, with Curran scoring several reversals from the guard, but ultimately it was not enough to overcome Brown’s superior strength and position control in the eyes of the judges.

Will Ribeiro vs. Chase Beebe

Ribeiro flashed a wide array of stand-up tricks, including spinning backkicks and backfists, to upend former WEC bantamweight champion Beebe in a topsy-turvy tussle. While much of the fight was a stand-up war, Ribeiro threatened Beebe on four different occasions with deep guillotine chokes. Each time, however, Beebe managed to escape. Beebe had his moments, cracking Ribeiro with a few big shots during the spirited affair, but Ribeiro never relented.

The judges gave it to Ribeiro by split decision.

Jeremy Lang vs. Tim McKenzie

Lang controlled the fight early with takedowns and threatened with two rear naked chokes. But McKenzie weathered the storm and, in Round 3, took advantage of Lang’s fatigue and rocked him with a vicious knee. As Lang struggled to regain his senses, McKenzie locked in a guillotine and put him out cold.

Luis Sapo vs. Alex Serdyukov

Sapo abused the Russian early with hard right hands and leg kicks. The Brazilian seemed well on his way to victory until, late in Round 1, he slipped in the corner of the cage. Serdyukov pounced, landed a few punches and the round expired. It didn’t look like anything serious. But when it came time for Round 2, Sapo was too woozy to answer the bell. Serdyukov was declared the winner.

Jose Aldo vs. Alexandre Nogueira

Jose Aldo, a well-kept secret in America, burst on the featherweight scene with a dominating performance over the highly-regarded Nogueira. Aldo shied away from a pre-fight staredown with his Brazilian countryman, but then schooled Nogueira on their feet in the first-round and continually stuffed Nogueira’s takedown attempts.

Though Aldo is a Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt, he repeatedly peppered Nogueira with kicks and power punches. By the second round, Nogueria – renowned for his guillotine choke – seemed more desperate to take the fight to the ground, shooting four times in a span of four minutes. After a scramble, Nogueira pulled guard; Aldo pounced immediately and unleashed five unanswered elbows, bloodying Nogueira and forcing a referee stoppage at 3 minutes 23 seconds of the second round.

Dominick Cruz vs. Charlie Valencia

Making his debut at 135 pounds, Cruz used his taller frame and longer reach to dominate Valencia in a boxing match. Cruz repeatedly tagged Valencia with three- and four-punch combinations and then danced out of harm’s way before Valencia could respond. Valencia, meanwhile, occasionally hit Cruz with hard right hands but couldn’t connect with much frequency on his nimble foe.

Valencia tried to take Cruz down early but was rebuffed each time. In the end, the judges gave Cruz a unanimous decision victory.