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WEC 37: Preview and Predictions

Wednesday’s WEC 37 event featuring Miguel Torres making his second career defense of the WEC bantamweight against Manny Tapia hasn’t garnered much publicity in recent weeks. And that’s a shame, as Torres is one of the top ten best pound-for-pound fighters in the world and those who elect not to watch Wednesday’s telecast (8 p.m. ET on VERSUS) will be missing out.

With Urijah Faber having lost his WEC featherweight title to Mike Thomas Brown at WEC 36 in early November, one could make the case that Torres is now the promotion’s top dog. But whether Torres can be a box office draw remains to be seen, as even Faber only managed to draw a 0.5 rating last month.

But Torres won’t have to carry Wednesday’s show alone, as he will be flanked by an impressive undercard that will feature top bantamweight prospects Will Ribeiro and Brian Bowles; world class featherweight newcomers Wagnney Fabiano and Akitoshi Tamura; and the WEC debut of Urijah Faber protege Joseph Benavidez. has a complete preview of the four bouts scheduled to make the VERSUS telecast on Wednesday.

Miguel Torres vs. Manny Tapia for Torres’ WEC bantamweight title - Torres, owner of one of the most impressive records in MMA at 34-1, is finally getting a great deal of press and is being positioned as the WEC’s number two star behind former featherweight champion Urijah Faber.

The Chicago native was recently featured on the cover of FIGHT! magazine and the added exposure has caused some to speculate that the attention might be going to his head. However, the reality is that Torres holed himself up for his most recent camp in order to shut out all outside distractions, most notably Jeff Curran’s recent calls to begin to promote a future showdown between the two.

Curran is dropping to bantamweight for his next WEC fight and has aspirations to challenge for the 135 pound title sooner rather than later. However, Torres must get past Tapia first.

Tapia, undefeated at 10-0-1, had been scheduled to challenge Torres for the bantamweight title at WEC 34 on June 1 but had to pull off the show due to injury and was replaced by Yoshiro Maeda. However, Tapia wasn’t heading into the fight with a great deal of momentum following a disappointing showing in his last fight against Antonio Banuelos at WEC 32 this past February.

Tapia was declared the winner via split decision but the outcome caused a great deal of controversy, as Banuelos was originally announced as the winner to the crowd but an error in reading the scorecards was later realized and Tapia was named the winner.

As good as Tapia is, he might be outgunned. At 5’8”, Torres is freakishly tall for the bantamweight division. Torres’ height alone make him tough to gameplan for, but his outstanding groud game and standup skills makes him almost impossible to prepare for.

While he was only just recently promoted to black belt, Torres’ jiu-jitsu has been black belt level for several years now. Tapia is no slouch on the ground, but it’s an area where he doesn’t want to test Torres. The problem is, Torres’ striking has really improved over the course of the last 2 /12 years and standing and trading with him could prove to be a losing proposition for Tapia as well.

If Tapia pushes the fight and stays in Torres’ face for five rounds, perhaps we could see an upset. But I don’t see that being the case and I see Torres being able to finish Tapia in the third round via TKO.

Brian Bowles vs. Will Ribeiro - Brian Bowles and Will Ribeiro are prime examples of why the WEC is doing away with its light heavyweight and middleweight divisions. In events prior, there likely would have not been enough room to get this fight on the air, which would have been a crime because it has the potential to contend for “Fight of the Night” honors. Furthermore, it’s paramount that the WEC begin to build fighters such as Bowles and Ribeiro up more because the winner of this fight could be challenging for the bantamweight title in short order.

Training out of former UFC fighter Rory Singer’s Hardcore Gym in Atlanta, Bowles is an impressive prospect with a 6-0 record. In three fights under the WEC banner, Bowles has won all three in two rounds or less.

Making his WEC debut against Charlie Valencia at WEC 28 in June of 2007, Bowles submitted the hard nosed veteran with a rear naked choke at 2:50 of round 2. He returned in December of the same year, knocking out Marco Galvao at 2:09 of round 2 during the undercard of the same show that featured Urijah Faber defending his title against Jeff Curran.

However, it was Bowles’ win first round submission over the Greg Jackson-trained Damacio Page at WEC 35 this past August that finally garnered him some press. That being said, Bowles is still vastly underrated and is in dire need of the television exposure that Wednesday’s show will provide.

But Ribeiro is in the same boat, because despite an impressive 10-1 record, only the hardest of hardcores know about him. The native Brazilian earned a spot in the WEC following a first round knockout over Andre Lobo during a Shooto event in Brazil.

The win over Lobo was then proceded by his WEC debut at WEC 34 this past June against former WEC bantamweight champion Chase Beebe. Beebe, who represented Ribeiro’s toughest competition to date, would go on to lose via unanimous decision in a mild upset.

Despite his strong record, there are still questions about whether Ribeiro is truly ready to contend for the WEC 135 pound title. Most of his early wins were built up against inferior competition and his only victories over quality competition were against Beebe and William Vianna.

Beebe might be more experienced than Bowles, but Bowles still represents the greatest challenge of Ribeiro’s career. The uncertainty over Ribeiro’s degree of readiness for the spotlight makes the pick of Bowles via unanimous decision an easy one.

Wagnney Fabiano vs. Akitoshi Tamura - The WEC continues to expand its roster of talent and this bout will feature not just one, but two, top ten-caliber featherweight newcomers.

Leonard Garcia is expected to get the first crack at Mike Thomas Brown’s featherweight title but the winner of this fight could move themselves into a position where they are one to two wins away from from a shot at the 145 pound belt.

Fabiano is a former IFL featherweight champion who originally began competing for the promotion as a lightweight. The native Brazilian performed quite well as a lightweight, compiling a 4-0 record before moving down in weight. However, once he made the move, Fabiano began to earn recognition as a world class fighter.

Known for his tremendous submission game, Fabiano is an underrated wrestler. His slick jiu-jitsu coupled with his ability to control position makes him a very dangerous fighter. Making him even more lethal is are his improving standup skills. In his first IFL featherweight title defense this past April at the Izod Center in East Rutherford, N.J., Fabiano needed just one punch to knock out Shad Lierley 37 seconds in their fight.

Fabiano was favored but the quick finish was still surprising because while competing at 155 the year prior, Lierley took Chris Horodecki the distance in what will go down as one of the greatest fighters in IFL history. Already considered a top ten featherweight in most major polls, Fabiano will be a consensus top five pick if his standup continues to evolve.

Tamura is a veteran of Shooto, a Japan-based promotion that essentially the Far East equivilient to the WEC in that it features lighter weight fighters. At 12-6-2, Tamura’s record may not be the overly impressive but he’s ranked as a top ten featherweight because he’s surged over the course of the past two years.

In his last six fights, Tamura is 5-1 with his only loss coming via split decision to Hideki Kadowaki, another highly-ranked featherweight. His most recent victory was on May 3 against Rumina Sato, a lighterweight pioneer who might have been a little before his time. The year prior, Tamura avenged a previous loss to Takeshi Inoue, another fighter considered to be one of the best in the world at 145.

Tamura will be able to hang with Fabiano on the ground and may even be more versatile when it comes to the standup, however, the concern here is that Tamura is not a finisher. If it the fight goes the distance, which I believe it will, Fabiano will hold the advantage.

Joseph Benavidez vs. Danny Martinez - Benavidez is a top bantamweight prospect who will be making his WEC debut. He’s been flying under the radar for quite some time now but garnered some press after submitting Junya Kudo with a guillotine choke at DREAM 5 this past July.

Benavidez was originally scheduled to face Kid Yamamoto in that matchup, with DREAM promoters looking to capitalize on Benavidez’s affiliation with former WEC featherweight champion Urijah Faber. Benavidez trains out of Faber’s “Ultimate Fitness” gym in Sacramento and the idea was to play up a future dream match between Faber and Yamamoto.

Much like Faber, Benavidez is a good wrestler with a slick submission game. Undefeated at 8-0, he’s a tremendous addition for the WEC’s bantamweight division and is future championship material. However, he’s not being given a tomato can in his debut.

Martinez is 12-2 and trains out of Southwest MMA in Tempe, Arizona. Thus far, Martinez has made his bones on the Arizona regional scene competing for promotions such as Rage in the Cage and Total Combat.

TKO promoter Stephane Patry brought Martinez out to lose to Mark “The Machine” Hominick at TKO 31 in Decemember of 2007. Despite fighting a class up in weight, Martinez hung tough and took Hominick the distance, losing a unanimous decision.

Seeing Martinez win here wouldn’t be a surprise, as he might be better as far as standup. However, Benavidez has an advantage on the ground and I believe he’ll end up winning a unanimous decision.

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