Photo by Scott Petersen via MMA Weekly
I was disappointed by UFC 126. That isn't to say the show was horrible, simply that I had huge expectations for a stacked card and it didn't quite play out the way that I had hoped. In the week leading up to the event I told my casual MMA fan friends that this was going to be a great show filled with non-stop action and included in my descriptions of how things should play out was a fun slugfest between former WEC champion Miguel Torres and Antonio Banuelos. I talked to them as the boxing fans they are, explaining that Torres is known to fight much like the legendary Mexican boxers, willing to take one on the chin to deliver two in return. And Banuelos was always happy to let his hands go and bring the action.
Instead of the non-stop slugging that ran through my head when envisioning the bout we were treated to Torres standing on the outside, using his freakish reach to pop Banuelos over and over with a jab. It was far from a "bad" fight but it was also horribly one sided and not particularly intriguing.
Some MMA fans have been extremely vocal about Torres' performance. There is nothing worse to a segment of the fanbase than to fight "safe" and choose to cruise to victory rather than do everything in your power to stop the fight. This led Torres to hit up Twitter with the following:
Thanks to all of my friends & fans who support me. My old style was very fun 2 watch but reckless. Now the plan is set & I will follow.
Torres is entirely correct on this point. He is a better overall fighter than Brian Bowles but his reckless style led to him getting caught and knocked out. Similarly, he really should not have been pushed as hard as he was by Takeya Mizugaki at WEC 40. But he was content to ignore his god-given gifts and allow fighters to get inside and slug it out.
Against Banuelos we saw a Miguel Torres that realized his 76" reach was a weapon. The foundation of his gameplan was (as it should always be) to stick his jab in his opponent's face and make him uncomfortable trying to close distance. Occasionally you follow the jab with a straight in a basic one-two combination. Once it became clear that Banuelos would not have an answer or any strategic idea of how to get inside the jab it would have been foolish to try to throw anything other than straight punches and aid the opposition in closing distance.
I have no doubts that there was a second stage to the strategy that involved how they would work if Banuelos got inside but, outside of the flurry at the end of the fight, the time never came to leave the foundation of the gameplan.
The idea that a safe fighter who dominates his opponent with basic boxing technique is a fighter that will be relegated to the undercard is a stupid one. With as often as we chide fighters like Stefan Struve for an inability to use their length effectively, we should applaud a fighter and trainer who are able to gameplan around the fighter's assets and then execute the gameplan perfectly in the cage.
Banuelos is the culprit in making this fight less than what it could have been because he was not ready to deal with what Miguel brought to the table. What we got at UFC 126 may have been a lackluster fight from an action perspective, but we also got a clear view of just how dangerous a focused and smart Miguel Torres can be. The idea of Torres trying to stick out a hard jab every time Dominick Cruz tries to dance in and out is pretty damn appealing to me (much more than Miguel flailing with hooks after Cruz has already left the area) and I'm not sure why such an interesting technical fight wouldn't be appealing to anyone else.