LAS VEGAS – In mixed martial arts, every second of every fight is like overtime in a hockey playoff game. Every fight can end at any moment.
Miguel Torres found that out Sunday when he met Brian Bowles at the Hard Rock Hotel for the World Extreme Cagefighting bantamweight championship.
Torres was raining blows upon Bowles and backing his unbeaten challenger to the cage when, almost out of nowhere, Bowles let loose a right hook.
In an instant, Torres was in a heap on the canvas and referee Josh Rosenthal was yanking Bowles off of him, completing the WEC's second major upset in a year. Last year, Mike Brown accomplished a similar feat when he blew out the highly touted and heavily favored Urijah Faber in a featherweight title bout.
Bowles won his belt by technical knockout at 3:57 of the first round, ending Torres' 17-fight winning streak and definitively putting an end to any discussion that Torres should be considered the world's best pound-for-pound fighter.
"I was on top a long time and it's hard to keep pushing," said Torres, who fell to 36-2.
Bowles, now 8-0, is a wrestler who had torn through the best the WEC had to offer but was still a considerable underdog to Torres, who entered the fight at No. 4 in the Yahoo! Sports pound-for-pound rankings.
From the moment the fight first became a possibility, Bowles exuded confidence. Torres had one of the most complete skill sets in MMA and his gym feats were legendary. There were reports that he was knocking down middleweights and was sparring evenly with heavyweights in his training camp, but Bowles never let it get to him.
Even as he prepared to make the often long and lonely walk to the cage, Bowles was placid and confident.
"I kind of confused myself back there, because even when it was time to go out to fight, I wasn't nervous," Bowles said. "I thought I had to psyche myself up."
But Bowles thought of elite fighters like ex-UFC heavyweight champion Randy Couture, who never let his emotions get to him, and he maintained his cool demeanor.
It paid off big-time when he was in the middle of a firefight with Torres bearing down for the kill. Torres is, by trade, a jiu-jitsu expert, but he also has great hands with knockout power in each.
He landed several flush shots to Bowles' chin, backing the one-time police officer toward the cage. It was the kind of scene seen many times in a Torres fight, the moment before he ended the bout.
But instead of crumbling, Bowles set his feet and ripped off a right hand that probably ended the fight by itself. Torres dropped instantly to the mat and the fight had turned 180 degrees.
Bowles pounced and landed 10 or 11 flush shots to the head before Rosenthal halted the carnage. The turnaround was stunning in its swiftness.
"This is why we fight the fights," WEC general manager Reed Harris said. " … The level of competition is so high that anything can happen on any show."
Torres had to carry the promotion and was a familiar presence on the interview circuit, pitching the WEC in particular and MMA in general. He's one of the most insightful, well-spoken fighters in the game, and he is frequently sought after by the media.
But Torres suggested on Sunday that the demands on his time somehow contributed to his defeat. He said life will change for Bowles now that he holds the belt.
"No excuses," Torres said. "Brian is going to be a good champion, but he'll see that the responsibilities that go along with being the champion are not easy."
Bowles, who had an ice pack on his left hand which he believed may have been broken, is willing to find out what it's like.
He's legendary at his gym for his work ethic and has frequently been compared to ex-UFC light heavyweight champion Forrest Griffin for his meticulous preparation. There may be more gifted fighters, but few are going to outwork Bowles.
Bowles is hardly the most charismatic champion in the world, but the power in those fists will speak volumes.
"He throws a lot of heat," Torres said in admiration. "He has a lot of power in those hands."
Bowles listened to Torres speak with a placid look on his face and his head bowed. He wasn't flamboyant or outspoken as a challenger, and now, after the biggest win of his career, he wasn't about to change.
He was asked how he planned to celebrate, but shrugged. He was going for X-rays and then said he'd hang out with his teammates.
"I'm just going to enjoy this," Bowles said, "and then get back to work."
The WEC has yet another blue-collar, power-punching champion in its stable. This one scored a dramatic and significant win just as when it looked like he was in trouble.
Harris couldn't have been thrilled to see his top draw get knocked out in the first round, but he paid tribute to a sport in which anything is possible at any time.
"Things like this happen," Harris said of the major upset. "It's why MMA is so exciting. It's why people watch. Anything can happen. A guy can lose every round and pull a submission out of nowhere. This kind of thing is what makes it such an exciting sport."
- Miguel Torres
- Brian Bowles