Pep Talk: A Question of Focus

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(Dominic Cruz takes the WEC Bantamweight belt at WEC 47.)

Coming into the WEC’s first visit to the infamous Arnold Sports Festival weekend, much of the media hype and pre-event talk centered around the stage being set for a Brian Bowles/Miguel Torres rematch. Miguel was a 5-1 favorite over Joseph Benavidez while the oddsmakers had Bowles decidedly keeping the Bantamweight Championship belt.

Apparently neither Cruz or Benavidez cared.

No one could deny that Torres was the main story of interest in the promotion of the event. Why wouldn’t he be? The former champ was widely regarded as one of the top five pound for pound fighters in the world, amassing a 37-1 record and a five year, 17-fight unbeaten streak before getting knocked unconscious and losing the title to Bowles at WEC 42 last August. The question of how one of the top fighters in the world would respond to his first time being knocked out and first loss in years created plenty of ink and intrigue. Miguel changed his training partners, did part of his camp in Las Vegas with BJJ wizard Robert Drysdale and promised to look for the clearest path to victory instead of trying to be entertaining and beat the opponent at their best game. And in one interview after another, he revealed what some might call an obsession with a Bowles rematch. “I think about him every day. I would rather fight Bowles than fight for the title if Cruz wins.” It begged the question…was he looking past Benavidez and focusing too much on Bowles?

Properly focused or otherwise, Miguel stepped in the cage with an ungodly 11 inch reach and five inch height advantages. It wasn’t nearly enough. A “patient” Torres looked like a fighter who drastically overcompensated for his prior loss. Whether he was gun shy from the KO or trying a new gameplan, he never got it going against the better wrestler and quicker opponent. Joseph deftly took Miguel down in both rounds, controlling the action on the ground and staying relatively untouched on the feet. When he blasted a double leg takedown in the second and quickly nailed Miguel with a big elbow that opened up a huge gash on his forehead that poured blood, the end was near. A minute and a guillotine choke later, Torres tapped and Joseph was on his way to a title shot. Benavidez looked incredible in the cage, controlling the fight from start to finish, sticking to his gameplan and capitalizing on any split second lapse or error on Miguel’s on part.

But Joseph’s biggest edge had little to do with the physical fight. (And I’m not referring to all the AMP Energy drinks he must have guzzled.) I had the opportunity to interview both fighters weeks before the fight and was struck by Miguel’s focus on Bowles juxtaposed against Joseph’s singular laser on Torres. When he came on Pro MMA Radio two weeks ago, he was confident and crystal clear that this was the biggest fight of his career and that when he beat Miguel, all of that Torres aura and cred would be his. I think it’s a very dangerous thing when a fighter is focused on anyone other than his opponent and Miguel may have learned that lesson tonight. (Frank Mir, are you listening?).

While most expected that Benavidez would find out his title shot would come against Bowles when the dust settled on the main event, Dominick Cruz used a perfect gameplan to take the belt back to Alliance MMA. Cruz got the better of almost all the exchanges on the feet through a combination of crisp counterpunching and a mix of strikes that seemed to have the champ consistently lacking any real answer. Cruz’ herky/jerky style makes him very hard to hit, but not impossible. In fact, it was Bowles’ ability to land early that led to his breaking his hand and losing all focus on the task at hand (pun intended). “The first punch that I threw in the whole fight, I broke my hand. I knew it right then. It kind of threw me off. Then I started thinking about my hand. You know, I broke my hand in my last fight. That started going through my mind instead of concentrating.” When Bowles couldn’t answer the bell for the third round, Cruz was awarded the title in somewhat anti-climactic fashion.

One former Bantamweight Champion lost focus before he ever stepped in the cage while another lost his in the cage. And in the end, they both notched unexpected losses and set up a title fight that few saw coming. Few, except of course, Joseph Benavidez and new champion, Dominick Cruz. They both looked the best they ever have in their entire careers in dominating former top ten pound for pound fighters. And something tells me they’ll both be thinking about nothing but each other for a while.

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