Two former WEC champions collide on the main card of Saturday night's UFC 139: Henderson vs. Rua pay-per-view. Urijah Faber (25-5), the longstanding WEC featherweight champion from 2006-2008, meets Brian Bowles (10-1), the man who snapped Miguel Torres' seventeen-fight winning streak to nab the bantamweight crown in 2009.
"The California Kid" was the baby faced poster boy in the promotion's early epoch, stopping a soaring Cole Escovedo to win the strap way back at WEC 19. Faber picked off a pile of contenders, defending the title five times throughout his reign, four of which were memorable finishes, one of which was versus Dominick Cruz. The surge vaulted Faber into the top pound-for-pound mix as one of MMA's most dominant champs.
After the higher weight classes were nixed in the WEC, the little guys riddled each and every event with nonstop, accelerated action. As more global talent migrated to the states and the WEC began to established itself as the premiere organization for feather and bantamweights, the roster started overflowing with tremendous talent.
One of those new entries was former lightweight and ATT fire hydrant Mike Brown. Faber's flashy and creative style had propelled him to a thirteen-fight roll and distinguished him as an exciting fighter, but it also left room for Brown's drilling right hand when Faber attempted a risky spinning back-elbow. The loss was only Faber's second in twenty-three fights. He rematched Jens Pulver, this time choking him out, but broke his hand against Brown while seeking revenge when the two met again.
Flaunting his ever-improving mat skills, Faber hit a third round rear-naked choke on Raphael Assuncao before he got caught in the Jose Aldo wood-chipper. At this point, he needed a change and the bantamweight division beckoned. Two immediate top-shelf wins (Takeya Mizugaki and Eddie Wineland) carried him to an unsuccessful title shot against Dominick Cruz in UFC 132's headliner.
Brian Bowles is more simple and straightforward in just about everything he does -- but an equally voracious finisher. He ignited his pro-fighting career by decimating three opponents, all in the first round. Expedited to the big leagues, Bowles tore through five more in the WEC -- again, all finishes -- consummated by flooring Miguel Torres and wrapping championship gold around his waist.
His tenure at the top was brief. Bowles broke his hand on Dominick Cruz's head, resulting in his first career defeat and the belt changing hands yet again. The WEC was then folded into the UFC, where Bowles notched two straight: submitting Damacio Page in a mirror image of their first match and his first decision over Takeya Mizugaki in a bout where the broken hand curse struck again.
Gifs and analysis in the full entry.
Faber has really filled out his skill-set nicely and started fighting a lot smarter after losing to Brown the first time.
He's much more comfortable with his boxing, his punches are flowing smoother, his timing and accuracy are sharper, and his footwork and head movement have come along well.
He was always an explosive wrestler, so now his continuously expanding submission knowledge endows him with more options to exercise. The cut to 135 has made him one of the stronger fighters, but he doesn't enjoy the same quickness advantage he had at 145.
Now that Faber is about an equally formidable threat standing or shooting, it's his intelligent aggression and frenetic pace that create opportunities.
Confronted with the aggravating hoppity-skip style of Cruz, I was impressed by the way Faber reverted to simple basics effectively.
He picked his spots and launched himself at the champ with controlled but ferocious punches. Cruz's movement often keeps him at the helm to steer the direction of the action, but Faber gave him a respectable run for his money and stayed on him for all five rounds.
Dedicating at least three-quarters of this article's intro to Faber might be construed as unfair to Brian Bowles.
MMA always has a nice balance of consummate sportsmen and villainous heels; quiet performers and outspoken eccentrics; Randy Coutures and Chael Sonnens, if you catch my drift.
Brian Bowles fills the nice guy quota. He's not going to filet his opponent with clever jeers in the pre-fight interview or magnetize fans with a comical walk-in gimmick. What he will do is offer a sheepish smile, shake your hand and wish you good luck, then proceed to knock your melon into the cheap seats.
He epitomizes an all-business, no-frills, no-bullshit, no-weakness fighter with a blue collar and spartan work ethic.
Similar to how I described Faber's approach for Cruz, when confronted with a wildly dynamic foe, Bowles protected himself well, chambered a devastating right hand and timed it perfectly to dethrone Miguel Torres (above).
He does nothing fancy yet he's a straight A student in every subject: striking, wrestling, clinching, and submissions.
In all of these animations of Bowles, it's apparent what a fundamental machine he is.
His hands and reactions are lightning fast, he has his chin tucked tight when blasting crisp counters and he always keeps his feet active and underneath him. Staying firmly on-balance translates directly to staying composed, and Bowles' rigid but agile base does the same for his offense.
Additionally, he's very selective in unleashing his prime firepower -- punches and submissions -- so as never to sacrifice his ongoing poise.
I'm a little surprised to find Faber favored in the mid -200s for this bout. He definitely has the bigger name and broader career profile, but Bowles has flattened everyone he's ever faced, save his sole defeat at the hands of the world's apex bantamweight and his recent decision over Mizugaki, which he gutted through without his best weapon.
I think Bowles presents a challenge much like Mike Brown did: a smart, quick and calculating wrestle-boxer who will mercilessly prey on the tiniest of mistakes. This will be a huge test for Faber's maturity, as he'll be faced with the timeless dilemma of blazing the cannons to uphold his highlight reel reputation (and risk getting caught) or walk that fine line of being smart and strategic without forgetting what got him here.
I'm taking Bowles in this one, but Faber has all the abilities and instincts to win. Bowles' chin has been phenomenal and his hand speed is astounding. I'd rate their wrestling, clinch and sub games pretty equally, and I can't help but envision Bowles sniping punches through the tiny holes in Faber's defense with sharper striking.
My Prediction: Brian Bowles by decision
Bowles x Torres gif via MMA-Core.com
All others via Zombie Prophet of IronForgesIron.com