Live at WEC 40 in Chicago: My Cup Runneth Over

By Nicholas Bailey (nbailey@mmaratings.net)

The Chicago arm of MMA Ratings was able to view WEC’s 40th installment live from cageside. We were able to enjoy front-row seats until rapper Twista showed up with his posse prior to the last few fights and made us return to our ticketed 7th-row seat, which still afforded a great view of what turned out to be a fantastic night of fights.

I want to focus on the un-aired fights, since it can take so long for them to be made available, and everyone has seen the telecast.

Miguel Torres defeated Takeya Mizugaki via unanimous decision (49-46, 49-46, 48-47) to retain the WEC Bantamweight title

Mizugaki did a great job of making a name for himself here. He really took it to Torres in the first round, and busted him up throughout the fight. In fact, if Torres hadn’t been able to so successfully control him in the clinch against the cage, Mizugaki could very well have scored a huge upset here.

This fight really showed how difficult it is going to be for anyone to dethrone Torres, but also illustrated a possible method. Torres is such a challenge because he is such a multi-dimensional threat and has combined his skills in such a way that there is only ever a very narrow margin for victory for his opponents. On the feet, he has range, power, technique, and a fantastic chin. Mizugaki was hitting him very well, but Torres continued to exchange and wear him down. Torres has the ninja-like skills on the ground to threaten anyone, so chances of him being finished on the ground are very slim as well. Outlasting Torres to a decision victory is near-impossible, since he has such a damaging, finish-oriented style and great cardio as well, so it requires great toughness just to make it to the final bell, let alone win the 4th and 5th rounds.

However, Torres did show weaknesses. He made a strategic error, perhaps expecting an easy knockout, by not circling out behind his jab but instead letting Mizugaki continuously close the distance and work inside. This was a departure from the lethal jab Torres worked against Manny Tapia, so, combined with Torres remarking on how Mizugaki’s toughness surprised him, it seems to point to Torres expecting an easier knockout in this fight and looking to finish rather than win rounds. Torres ground game also served little more use than a deterrent, since Mizugaki was able to easily shrug off any attempts to pull guard or otherwise drag the fight to the floor. If there’s a 135 pound fighter out there that can handle Torres standing up, Torres may be similarly unable to work a submission game.

Torres showed that his championship belt is not made of leather and metal, but heart and blood, the sort of thing that elevates a champion in the eyes of fans. Though he (and his corner) sobbed uncontrollably in defeat, Mizugaki announced his presence on the world stage with quite a bang.

Joseph Benavidez defeated Jeff Curran via unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 29-28)

Curran hung tough, but Benavidez is the real deal, even if he appeared to be giving up at least 15 lbs to Curran. Curran right now looks likely to go the way of Karo Parisyan, although most likely with a less dramatic fall-off in wins.

Benson Henderson defeated Shane Roller via TKO (punches) at 1:41 of round 1

Yet another super-athletic wrestler emerges as a dangerous athlete with explosive punching power… at the expense of an explosive, athletic wrestler with punching power. No wonder so many fans love the uniqueness of Lyoto Machida’s style.

Rafael Assuncao defeated Jameel Massouh via unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27)

Jameel is an incredibly tough guy. He was getting hit as hard or harder as anyone on the card that night, and hung tough to the end. Assuncao is obviously the real deal, but it’s a shame Jameel had to make his big-stage debut by getting his ass whipped.

Anthony Njokuani defeated Bart Palaszewski via TKO (punches) at 0:27 of round 2

Anthony is a gigantic guy, looking a weight class larger than Bart. Add that to ultra-crisp striking and big power, and you have a great addition to any promotion’s 155-lb roster. His dominant victory was soundly booed by a Palaszewski-loving crowd.

Dominick Cruz defeated Ivan Lopez via unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 29-28)

This fight had some serious shenanigans in it. First of all, was the stoppage. As they were scrambling back to the feet, Cruz threw a short knee to a kneeling Lopez, which ended with Lopez writhing on the floor holding his eye, and the premature end of the bout. The highly partisan crowd was ready to tear Lopez apart for this one, with a riot averted only because the decision went Cruz’s way, as it should have, since apart from a few difficulties in the standup, he controlled the fight from bell to bell with wrestling and ground and pound, as an increasingly desperate Lopez futilely looked to change the fight’s momentum.

Now, I am strongly against accusing fighters of faking injuries, especially from fouls, and I think the reaction to the Cerrone/Varner fight by many fans was disgusting. It is unreasonable and dangerous to expect an impaired fighter to fight through a damaging foul, and sets a very bad precedent. That said, the foul appeared to be far short of fight-stopping. It looked like Cruz pulled the knee right before impact, and rather than the kneecap going directly into the eye as happened with Cerrone on Varner, it appeared that Lopez was struck by the meat of the thigh. He did not appear or act rocked, instead appearing to be injured to the eye, although during the official decision a close-up showed no redness or swelling of the eye. Only Cruz and Lopez know for sure what happened when knee met face, but the crowd’s reaction is understandable.

That wasn’t the strangest thing that happened in the fight. Midway through the first round, in what have been an MMA first, Lopez lost his cup. Yes, during grappling, the plastic protector inside his jock strap somehow came free and shot onto the mat next to the struggling fighters. The referee seemed quite confused, picked the cup up, and let the fight continue on. Realizing that he was holding another man’s jock, the referee did something very surprising: he returned the cup to the mat in the middle of the fight, in what he thought was an out-of-the-way corner! Now, placing a semi-foreign object (assuming the cup became estranged as it left the fighter’s shorts) is a real refereeing faux-pas, as was soon evident when Cruz executed a takedown, nearly dumping Lopez onto his own cup, and then a scramble occurred that saw the fighters roll and narrowly avoid rolling onto the cup. The supporter was only returned to its proper place between rounds, as an anonymous WEC official entered the ring with a towel to permanently remove Lopez’s protection, but the referee returned it to the fighter and the fight proceeded more normally until the foul. It was certainly very strange stuff, but it showed the importance of sound snap judgment in a referee.

Wagnney Fabiano defeated Fredson Paixao via unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27)

Fabiano looked sharp in this fight, controlling it throughout with his standup and working body kicks, although his striking volume was pretty low. Paixao simply had no answer for the superior striking skills of Fabiano, hanging tough but being outmatched. In the moments of ground work, Paixao seemed able to come close to threatening, but Fabiano always had a counter or escape in his back pocket, and generally chose to work on the feet. As Paixao wore down, Fabiano at first became more dominant, but just coasted to the end of the fight.

If there is any criticism to be made of Fabiano’s performance, it’s that he didn’t show a lot of killer instinct. While he clearly controlled Paixao from bell to bell, and the ground ace proved quite tough, Fabiano didn’t really seem to be pushing his advantage, content to rack up control and points. At one point Fabiano seemed to hurt Paixao to the body, forcing him to retreat for the first time of the fight and stand straight up against the fence, apparently ready to be finished, but Fabiano, rather than going for the kill and pouring on the strikes, clinched up and gave Paixao time to recover. Fabiano needs more experience at the high level to work through these kinds of mental errors, although he is already quite the finisher on the floor.

Rani Yahya defeated Eddie Wineland via submission (rear naked choke) at 1:07 of round 1

Wineland came into this fight as an exciting prospect, if an underdog. Rani simply ran through him, taking the back standing and working a nice trip to control him and get his hooks in, at which point it was all academic. This was an impressive showing for the diminutive grappler, who appears to be on the comeback trail with a real fire in his belly.

Akitoshi Tamura defeated Manny Tapia via unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28)

Tapia’s pretensions of being a high-octane banger hit another wall here, as Tamura used a dual-range strategy to control the fight throughout. From outside Tapia’s range Tamura continually circled away and threw body kicks, while Tapia tried to step in with one-two combos or winging overhand rights, all of which fell on Tamura’s gloves. Whenever Tapia would get into the pocket, Tamura would clinch up and throw a steady stream of knees to the body. All three rounds continued in this fashion, with each fighter having moments of success, but Tamura controlling the distance and landing the more effective strikes. In the third round Tapia turned his aggression up in the last minute and stole the round, although Tamura was never in danger. With this impressive late-fight surge and the crowd strongly behind Tapia, the well-earned decision victory for Tamura was met with howls of derision, as if Tapia had been robbed. There should be no doubt, however, that Tamura was rightfully the winner of this fight, even if Tapia was competitive.

What Do You Think of This Fight/Event?