UFC 126 has been receiving a lot of praise for the depth of its card, with some commentators going as far as to call it the deepest card in UFC history. As Five Star Radio’s ($) Mike Coughlin pointed out the reason for this unusual depth is actually the merger between the UFC and its late sibling World Extreme Cagefighting. Last year this event would be split in two with the pay per view’s opener and the three broadcasted prelims being reserved for the month’s WEC telecast on Versus.
Leading the charge of former WEC mainstays is the former kingpin of the Bantamweight Division Miguel Torres. A veteran of at least forty-one fights (Torres actually disputes his official record) has only suffered only three loses having at one point having gone on a seventeen-fight winning streak. Much like Jose Aldo today, it was a run that saw him be talked about as a genuine pound for pound king contender despite skepticism at the quality of the opposition he was facing.
Unfortunately for Torres that all came to shuddering stop on August 9 2009 when heavy handed Brian Bowles was able to punish the technical flaws that had crept into Torres’ game. In a manner that befitted his standing as one of the most exciting and entertaining fighters in the sport, Torres rushed in to finish the fight after rocking Bowles and paid a devastating price. Bowles caught him on the counter and knocked him out in the first round. A comeback fight in March 2010 would see Joseph Benavidez trap him in a guillotine choke for the second round submission.
After the Benavidez fight, the received wisdom soon became that Torres had overly relied on physical advantages over lesser fighters in an era when the division was weaker, and now that more top quality fighters were fighting at 135Ibs his technical flaws were becoming match-losing liabilities. Torres seemed to take on board the criticism, overhauling his training and trying to adopt a more thoughtful, cautious style against Charlie Valencia. A relatively comfortably second round victory not only helped Torres put his back to back defeats behind him but also a move back into title contention. A win against Antonio Banuelos could lead to a world title match with champion Dominick Cruz or a superfight with fellow former WEC mainstay Urijah Faber. Either way Torres will be looking to make a postive first impression and successfully win over an entirely new fanbase in his UFC debut.
As will the six fighters competing in the prelims. In many ways the most important is the lightweight clash between Donald Cerrone and Paul Kelly that will air live on Spike. ‘The Cowboy’ is a former WEC Champion and was a fixture at the top of organization’s lightweight division whereas Kelly has never broken out of the middle of the pack in the UFC. Should Kelly get the win then it only confirm in many people’s mind that the WEC lightweights were actually fighting at a level below even journeymen UFC fighters and are undeserving of the high profile spots they’re receiving on forthcoming shows.
The other two broadcast prelims show how the move to the UFC will strengthen the featherweight and bantamweight divisions with both featuring Japanese fighters that for monetary reasons would never have even considered fighting for the WEC. The first is Michihiro Omigawa who after crashing out of the UFC after going 0-2 as a lightweight has rebuilt his career with a run of five victories at 145Ibs in a variety of Japanese promotions. He faces WEC veteran Chad Mendes in what will probably determine who gets the next featherweight title shot after UFC 129.
And in the special Facebook Prelim, Kid Yamamoto makes his UFC debut against Demetrious Johnson. Yamamoto is one of the most charismatic and popular Japanese fighters still active but has been struggling recently due to struggling against much larger opponents. That’s a feeling Johnson knows only too well with the lightening fast fighter struggling to make 135Ibs and openly campaigning for the UFC to introduce a flyweight division. This fight could very easily steal the show and is well worth logging onto Facebook at 8pm ET.
The four fights featuring former WEC fighters really highlight the advantages for the UFC,f ighters and for fans of the merger between the UFC and WEC. Not only are the featherweights and bantamweights finally competed on the world’s biggest stage but the move to the UFC means that the divisions will become deeper. And for the fan watching at home it gives us supercards like tonight’s show, when the eighth fight on the card features name fighters with large fanbases. This is the future and it looks like it’s going to be great.
Tags: Antonio Banuelos, chad mendes, demetrious johnson, Donald Cerrone, Kid Yamamoto, Michihiro Omigawa, miguel torres, Mixed Martial Arts, Paul Kelly, UFC 126, UFC Featherweight Division, ufc lightweight division, WEC