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Cruz Wins WEC Bantamweight Title; Benavidez Tops Torres

Frank Curreri, WEC – Those who labeled Dominick Cruz to be a light puncher must eat their words following his masterful performance Saturday night against WEC bantamweight champion Brian Bowles. The 4-to-1 underdog battered Bowles over two rounds with crisp punching combinations and leg kicks, and Bowles went back to his corner at the end of round two and did not return for a third round. The unbeaten champion told doctors his hand was broken and opted not to continue fighting, conceding his title to his tearful and overjoyed challenger.

By Frank Curreri

COLUMBUS, OHIO – Those who labeled Dominick Cruz to be a light puncher must eat their words following his masterful performance Saturday night against WEC bantamweight champion Brian Bowles. The 4-to-1 underdog battered Bowles over two rounds with crisp punching combinations and leg kicks, and Bowles went back to his corner at the end of round two and did not return for a third round. The unbeaten champion told doctors his hand was broken and opted not to continue fighting, conceding his title to his tearful and overjoyed challenger.

“The first punch I threw in the fight I broke my (right) hand,” Bowles explained afterward. “It threw me off. I kind of started thinking about that instead of focusing on fighting. You know, I broke my hand in my last fight so I was thinking about that.”

Bowles, who had finished all eight of his foes leading up to his first title defense, was supposed to be the more explosive puncher. Cruz, meanwhile, was hailed for his elusiveness but had not knocked out or finished an opponent in his past four fights. But Cruz’s unorthodox, catch-me-if-you-can style continually frustrated Bowles, bloodied his nose and had him winging punches in a desperate attempt to try and put away his nimble adversary. But with each passing minute, Cruz’s domination seemed to grow, culminating with a potent four- or five-punch combination to Bowles’ head in the second round that sent the barrel-chested Georgian retreating and then down to the canvas courtesy of a hard Cruz leg kick.

Bowles had his moments, occasionally tagging Cruz with a hard right hand, but Cruz would just shrug it off and kept darting in and out. He kept the champ even more off-balance by scoring two takedowns. The Bowles who had been steamrolling opponents looked out of his element.

The ending was anti-climactic and stunning.

“We did it baby! You’re a world champion, baby!” Cruz’s cornermen yelled while hoisting him on their shoulders.

In the cage, Cruz choked up and thanked his biggest fan.

“This belt is for my mom, without her I wouldn’t be able to do this,” he said with the belt fitted around his waist. “Brian Bowles is very good. He’s got heavy hands; he popped me in the mouth a few times. I just had to move a lot. That was my gameplan.”

In other action Saturday night:

Miguel Torres vs. Joseph Benavidez

Joseph Benavidez notched the biggest win of his career, tapping out a blood-soaked Miguel Torres with a guillotine choke midway into the second round. The Team Alpha Male product had controlled much of the fight by landing solid punches and scoring two takedowns. Torres, who had stalked opponents in the past, opted for more of a stick-and-move strategy to utilize his significant reach advantage. Torres (37-3) had scored with leg kicks, heel strikes to the body, and seemed to be finding a rhythm with his jab when Benavidez (12-1) scored a takedown and then opened a deep gash on Torres’ forehead with a hard elbow.

As blood gushed from Torres’ head, covering his chest and face, Benavidez scrambled and locked in a deep guillotine choke, forcing the Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt and former WEC bantamweight champion to tap out at 2 minutes 57 seconds of round two.

“I just went in there with a gameplan,” said Benavidez, who has now positioned himself for a possible shot at the WEC title. “I have been waiting for this fight forever. So I was totally prepared.”

Jens Pulver vs. Javier Vazquez

“Pulver! Pulver! Pulver!”

Jens Pulver walked into the Octagon tonight with a dark intensity that was powerful enough to make you think, “The old Jens is back.” The Jens of 2001. The Jens who once ruled the UFC’s lightweight division. Lil’ evil.

He had waited years to clash with Javier Vazquez. The stakes were high: The loser of their fight would likely be making his last appearance in the WEC. What followed was a thrilling three minutes and 40 seconds between an accomplished striker and a decorated grappler. Vazquez, a Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt, scored a takedown; Pulver fished for a guillotine and eventually scored a reversal. Jens stood up, but his fellow southpaw scored another takedown on the former Boise State University wrestler. Vazquez took Pulver’s back but Pulver again reversed the position, prompting fans to spontaneously erupt in more “Pulver! Pulver! Pulver!” chants.

Pulver couldn’t get off many punches. Vazquez again took him down, passed guard, and trapped one of Pulver’s arms. From the so-called “Beatdown” position, Vazquez rained down some short elbows and punches, raising a large lump on Pulver’s forehead. Vazquez then transitioned to Pulver’s back, then to mount, and then trapped Pulver in a tight armbar.

A hush came over the pro-Pulver crowd. Some booed Vazquez and the outcome.

“I’m just as big of a fan of Jens Pulver as anybody else,” said Vazquez, who improved to 14-4. “I couldn’t have scripted it any better.”

Pulver held his right arm and winced. He jumped onto the Octagon post, pointed into the crowd, and blew a kiss and touched his heart. It was his thank you to the fans who continue to support him, even after losing five straight fights and seven of his past eight.

“It’s over,” Pulver said. “I don’t know how many more times I can keep crying in front of y’all. I don’t know how many more times I can put y’all through this again.”

It had the somber mood of a retirement ceremony. Fans chanted “Pulver! Pulver! Pulver!” and

“You’re always a legend, Jens!”

So is this the end of the road for the 34-year-old fan favorite?

Pulver declined to say, holding true to his statements before the fight that he will not give a retirement speech or announcement in the cage, but will simply walk away from the sport without ceremony or notice.

L.C. Davis vs. Deividas Taurosevicius

For three rounds, even the most passionate fight fan had to be thinking: Please make it stop. “It” being this clinchfest between two of the featherweight division’s toughest fighters. How to score round one? Toss a coin. The fighters spent almost the entire round in the clinch, landing some light blows and knees here and there. At gunpoint you should probably have given the round to Davis, since he seemed to land the more solid shots – the difference perhaps being a few of his foot stomps. Yes, foot stomps.

In round two, fans at Nationwide Arena were further victimized. Taurovicius, a Lithuanian who lives and trains in Long Island, New York, finally scored a takedown and did nothing on top. Sadly, that takedown won Taurosevicius the round on two judges’ scorecards, since little else of note happened.

The crowd broke into some boos, but the ugliness continued in the third round. Taurosevicius landed a solid right hand and then more clinching ensued. It was a fight that played out like a pummeling drills practice. The lull was briefly interrupted when Taurosevicius buckled Davis with a leg kick, but Davis followed up with a key takedown. Taurosevicius then tied up Davis in rubber guard and landed short punches. When it was all over, the judges scored a majority decision for Davis by scores of 29-28, 29-28 and 29-29. Davis exalted in the ring and a lot of fans probably breathed a sigh of relief.

Bart Palaszewski vs. Karen Darabedyan

For the opening four minutes of this bout, Darabedyan was pitching a shutout. He swarmed Bart Palaszewski with punches and forced him to retreat against the cage. He took “Bartimus” down and smothered him with ground and pound shots. Yet as the final 30 seconds of the round ticked away, Palaszewski pulled off a stunning armbar that ended the fight. The end came at 4:40 of round one, pushing Palaszewski’s record to 34-13. Darabedyan, who was coming off a big win over “Razor” Rob McCullough, fell to 9-2.

“He was clipping me,” a jubilant Palaszewski said. “(But) he kept leaving his arms out. My corner was yelling at me telling me to spin, go for the armbar or the triangle.”

Scott Jorgensen vs. Chad George

Scott Jorgensen continued his march up the bantamweight rankings, moving to 5-1 in the WEC with a 31-second submission of Chad George.

The bout started, George shot on Jorgensen, and the former PAC-10 wrestling champ sprawled and secured ideal front headlock position and never let go.

“I capitalized quick,” Jorgensen said afterward. “I didn’t think I had it first, but then I got a little bit mean and got the tap.”

Chad Mendes vs. Erik Koch

In a battle of unbeatens, wrestling standout Chad Mendes used takedowns and top control to score a unanimous decision victory over the very scrappy Erik Koch. Though Mendes is said to possess considerable punching power, he wanted no part of a standup war with Koch, who repeatedly peppered him with punching combinations for the limited time he was on his feet. In fact, Koch held his hands dangerously low throughout the fight, inviting Mendes to charge him or shoot on him. It seemed that Koch was looking for a big knee or high kick, and in the third round – likely knowing he had dropped the first two rounds on the judges’ scorecards – he scored with a high kick that opened a deep gash over Mendes’ right eye that bled profusely and threatened to stop the fight. However, the doctor surveyed the cut and allowed it to continue, and Koch immediately loaded up on high kicks and punching combinations, particularly toward the right eye, in a desperate quest to stop the fight. Late in the fight, Mendes was able to score a takedown and suffocate Koch to earn the unanimous decision by scores of 30-27 across the board.

“I’m lucky they didn’t stop it. When you’re going against someone as good as Koch, you have to stick with what you’re good at,” said Mendes, a Division I runner-up wrestler in college. “I wanted to stand and bang, but that guy’s tough.”

Anthony Pettis vs. Danny Castillo

Following a referee break for a low blow, trainer Duke Roufus counseled his 24-year-old fighter, Anthony Pettis.

“Pump the jab and follow up with a kick,” Roufus instructed him.

Moments later, when the action resumed, lightweight Danny Castillo was lying unconscious on the mat. Just like that, at 2:57 of round one, Pettis’s night was over and he had rebounded from a disappointing split decision loss to Bart Palaszewski.

“This fight was important. I just lost a fight. I had some injuries that I had to take care of,” said Pettis, who claimed he was not fully recovered from shoulder surgery when he faced Bartimus.

Castillo (8-3) scored a takedown early in round one, but then retreated and let Pettis back to his feet, perhaps because Pettis is slippery and tricky on the ground. Choosing to stand with Pettis (9-1) would prove a mistake, marking the California’s second straight loss in the WEC. The high kick that Castillo fell victim to was a dead-on, full blast shin to the face and chin.

Leonard Garcia vs. George Roop

A questionable referee point-deduction cost George Roop victory in an emotionally-charged, wildly entertaining scrap with veteran Leonard Garcia that was worthy of Fight of The Night. In a fight that both gamers needed to win badly, Roop walked into the Octagon with a swagger and looked nothing like a man who only two months earlier had been battered by Eddie Wineland and nearly knocked out. That bout was Roop’s first at bantamweight, and the 6-footer declared the experiment over and with a meager 700-calories-a-day behind him he delivered what just might have been the finest performance of his career against one of the most dangerous featherweights in the game.

Round one was a dandy and it would be hard to condemn anyone who scored it one way or the other. Both men scored with kicks, with Garcia seemingly trying to set up his monstrous right hand. Out of nowhere, Roop – known primarily as a striker – leaped in with a textbook double-leg takedown and penetrated in a manner reminiscent of one of Brock Lesnar or Josh Koscheck’s takedowns (this is the same George Roop who didn’t attempt a single takedown against Wineland). Garcia, a Brazilian jiu-jitsu brown belt, seized the opportunity to slap on a tight guillotine choke onto Roop’s giraffe-like neck. Garcia was persistent, squeezing for a minute or more, but Roop fought free. Garcia eventually returned to his feet but not before Roop scored with a few shots on top.

Back on their feet, Roop continued with his leg kick assaults and Garcia answered with a solid right hand. Roop responded by clipping the Greg Jackson protégé with a right hand and a front kick, prompting the iron-chinned Garcia to shake his head, “no,” signaling that the blow didn’t faze him.

After a first round that was a coin-toss, Roop started the second stanza by cracking Garcia with two more solid right hands. Garcia charged forward, winging punches, and Roop gestured for him to bring it. Roop landed another clean shot, stopping Garcia in his tracks, and soon put Leonard on his back yet again with another textbook double leg. Garcia again attempted a guillotine in vain. With Garcia on the bottom, Roop attempted a knee that appeared to hit Garcia in the chest. The ref, apparently believing the knee was to the head area, immediately stood both men up and warned Roop.

Back on their feet, Roop clipped Garcia with another crisp right hand, then a jab. Garcia answered with a solid left jab, but Roop all three judges would score the second round for the transplanted Las Vegan.

In the third round, Garcia scored with a leg kick good, and then another. Roop scored with a partial high kick and again scored a double leg takedown and penetrated clear across the cage. Garcia soon got back to his feet. Roop scored with a punch and Garcia let loose a fistic flurry of his own.

Then came a pivotal moment in the contest: Roop landed a kick in Garcia’s groin area, causing Garcia to wince. It was not one of the harder low blows any seasoned MMA fan has witnessed. Garcia didn’t need 30 seconds to regroup and seemed fine. But the ref deducted a point from Roop.

When the action resumed, Roop again scored a takedown. Garcia got back to his feet and scored with a right hand.

The judges’ scores were all over the board. One scored it 29-27 for Roop. Another saw it as 29-27 for Garcia. And yet another deemed it 28-28, making the fight a split draw.

Fans greeted the announcement with a heavy chorus of boos.

“It was just a fun fight,” Garcia said. “I say let us go one more round and figure it out.”

“We can go another two (rounds),” Roop said. “Let’s make it a championship fight and give the fans what they want to see.”

Courtney Buck vs. Fredson Paixao

Do not let Fredson Paixao take you down. Do not let Fredson Paixao pass your guard and take your back with both hooks in. Because when those three things happen, the Brazilian jiu-jitsu world champion is likely to choke you unconscious, which is exactly what he did at 2:39 of the first stanza to Courtney Buck. It was a brief and predominately tentative affair until Buck (6-3) attempted a leg kick and Paixao (9-3, 1 no contest) pounced for a quick takedown, setting into motion the fateful conclusion.

It was Paixao’s first win in the WEC following a decision loss to Wagnney Fabiano and a no contest against Cole Province.

Ricardo Lamas vs. Bendy Casimir

Lamas revved up the Ohio crowd early with a wicked knee that wowed almost everyone in the arena and left Casimir staring up at the big screen projector to discover what had happened to him minutes earlier. A competitive standup battle dramatically ended when Lamas faked an attack and charged at Casimir, who dropped in for a takedown and absorbed a brutal head-snapping knee that sent Casimir’s mouthpiece flying and knocked the soft-spoken Frenchman out cold. The fight was called at 3 minutes 43 seconds of round one, improving Lamas to 8-1, 3-1 in the WEC. Casimir, a submission specialist who made his organizational debut and had won 15 of 16 previous bouts, fell to 19-6-2.