Dominick Cruz has a great head on his shoulders. He's a crafty guy who stuck to his game plan of movement and fakes. Apparently, his head is made of granite, too. When Brian Bowles could actually catch him, the former WEC bantamweight champ landed a few big shots. But it hurt him more than Cruz. On the doctor's advice, Bowles couldn't come out for the third round because of a badly injured right hand, giving the 24-year-old Cruz his first world title via TKO stoppage in the main at WEC 47 in Columbus, Ohio.
"The first punch that I threw in the whole fight, I broke my hand," Bowles told WEC play-by-play man Todd Harris. "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."
Just before WEC GM Reed Harris put the belt around his waist, Cruz said, "Can't touch me, baby." He was right.
"It's a little heavy, dang. It's great though, man," Cruz said about his new belt. "Brian Bowles is a great champion. He fought his heart out, I fought my heart out. I worked really hard for this, people. You'll see lot more of me."
Cruz (15-1, 5-1 WEC) also made it difficult for Bowles to stay composed because of his dancing, bobbing and dodging. He was faking kicks, ducking his head into the strikezone and then out of it. Too often, Bowles found himself swinging at air and then getting blasted with counter right hands. By the end of the first round, Bowles was dropping his hands to reset and his nose was bloodied. It got worse in the second round. Cruz pushed forward and so did Bowles. It just meant Bowles got nailed more often. The defining moment of the fight came with three minutes left in the round, when Cruz charged forward with a five-punch barrage before dropping Bowles with a leg kick. It looked to have broken Bowles' spirit. He was too slow and was without his best weapon, his right hand.
It was clear that Cruz's move from Tucson to San Diego's Alliance MMA, home of UFC light heavyweight Brandon Vera, is paying dividends.
"We train, train, train and we spar a lot," said Cruz, who's looked fresh in all 14 rounds of his wins. "Brian Bowles is very good. He's got heavy hands; he popped me a few times in the mouth, man. I just had to move a lot just like I said I was going to do. I executed the game plan."
That's an understatement. He's the champ now in front of a long line of fighters waiting to either regain their belt or get revenge for a Cruz victory. Joseph Benavidez has to be the guy who gets the next shot. Cruz grinded out a decision win over Benavidez back in August. "Little Joe" moved right back to the front of the line by smashing Miguel Torres just minutes earlier.
It was the first loss of Bowles' career. And it probably won't be the last with the growing depth at 135 pounds. That's not said to diminish his abilities. The top four bantanweights are all under 30 and still improving. It's grouping of four fighters that could headline cards for the next few years.