For once, Miguel Torres needed all five rounds.
Fighting just 18 miles from his hometown, the revered World Extreme Cagefighting bantamweight champion passed a stern test from Takeya Mizugaki in a unanimous decision victory at WEC 40 on Sunday at the UIC Pavilion in Chicago. Scores were 49-46, 49-46 and 48-47.
The 28-year-old Torres has rattled off an astounding 17 consecutive wins, but he was taken the distance for the first time in nearly four years by the hard-nosed Japanese newcomer. Mizugaki’s stock soared in defeat.
“He came out and banged. He stood there the whole time,” Torres said. “No one has ever taken me that far in my career. I have a lot of respect for him.”
Blessed with one of the most diverse skill sets in the sport, Torres (37-1) needed every ounce of fortitude housed within his 5-foot-9, 135-pound frame. Violent exchanges between the two bantamweights marked the epic encounter, and the champion did not escape unscathed. Mizugaki (11-3-2) cut Torres in the third round and put a scare in the partisan crowd; a hush settled over the arena, as cage-side doctors were called in to examine the vertical gash above the titleholder’s right eye.
“I didn’t get hurt real bad,” said Torres, his face dotted with other combat-related bruises and abrasions. “I just couldn’t see too good out of my right eye. I trained hard. I train for situations like that.”
Throughout the grueling five-round match, the unyielding Torres unleashed a steady stream of strikes to Mizugaki’s mid-section and head -- most notably piston-like jabs and knees to the body from the clinch. Still, he could not put away the Japanese import. In front on the scorecards, Torres did not sit idly on his title, however, as he waded into heavy fire in the fifth round and exchanged with Mizugaki. After the decision was read, Mizugaki broke down in tears, ever so close to pulling off a milestone upset.
“I want to fight the best guys in the world,” Torres said. “Takeya’s one of those guys.”
A new threat emerged for Torres in the co-featured bout.
Unbeaten Joseph Benavidez stuck an enormous feather in his cap with a unanimous decision victory against the experienced and respected Jeff Curran. Two of the cage-side judges scored it 30-27 in his favor; a third sided with the Urijah Faber understudy by a 29-28 count.
In his second WEC appearance, Benavidez (10-0) planted Curran on his backside with a counter right hand in the first round, spent a significant portion of their match delivering effective ground-and-pound from the top and neutralized the decorated Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt’s guard. Still only 24, Benavidez tightened his hold on the most important win of his 10-fight career in rounds two and three, as he pushed a relentless pace, kept the heat on Curran (29-11-1) with standing combinations and stuffed his submission attempts when the battle hit the ground.
“I feel like I’m prepared for anyone,” Benavidez said. “I’m not totally satisfied with my performance. I’m really happy to get a win over a great opponent like Jeff.”
Roller floored his 25-year-old foe with a two-punch combination in the first minute, but he could not capitalize. Henderson survived an attempted guillotine choke against the cage, snatched a defensive single-leg and waited for his head to clear.
“He caught me clean,” Henderson said. “It was a good setup.”
Roller’s inability to finish came back to haunt him. After the fighters returned to their feet, Henderson (9-1) drilled the three-time collegiate All-American wrestler with a beautiful straight left and dropped him where he stood. Henderson then went to work on the seated Roller (5-2), battered him with unanswered punches and forced the stoppage. The end to the action-packed bout came 1:41 into round one.
“I hit him hard,” Henderson said. “I think I caught him with a one-two and stayed on top of him to get the W.”
In the first main card match, highly touted featherweight prospect Rafael Assuncao dominated Jameel Massouh and cruised to a unanimous decision against the Pancrase veteran. All three judges scored it 30-27.
The 26-year-old Assuncao (13-1) controlled the exchanges standing and on the ground, as he zipped one power punch after another through Massouh’s defenses. The Atlanta-based Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt survived a first-round heel hook from Massouh, knocked down the Dave Strasser protégé with an overhand right and scored with takedowns in two of the three rounds.
Though he showed off a stout chin -- lesser men might have bowed out of the conflict much sooner -- Massouh (21-5) had no answer for Assuncao’s polished repertoire. Mounted briefly in round three, the Wisconsin native kept the match competitive but still saw his five-fight winning streak grind to a halt.
Njokuani knocks off Palaszewski in prelim action
Anthony Njokuani dropped Bart Palaszewski with a right hand in the opening round of their lightweight fight. Palaszewski recovered, but Njokuani dropped him again in the second and referee Robert Long called the fight at the 27-second mark.
Dominick Cruz was in control of Ivan Lopez before striking the grounded fighter with an accidental knee to the face. The fight was called and went to the scorecards with Cruz prevailing (30-27 twice and 29-28) on the strength of his wrestling and groundwork.
Grappling standouts Wagnney Fabiano and Fredson Paixao fought standing for most of their 15-minute featherweight fight. Fabiano held a clear striking edge, cutting Paixao with punches early and stunning him several times en route to a unanimous decision (30-27 three times).
Rani Yahya made short work of Eddie Wineland in a bantamweight bout. The Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt took Wineland’s back off a scramble and sank a rear-naked choke for the tap at 1:07 of the first round.
Akitoshi Tamura outworked Manny Tapia on the feet to win a unanimous decision (29-28 three times).
In the opening fight, Rafael Dias earned a unanimous nod (30-27 and 29-28 twice) after scoring several takedowns and controlling Mike Budnik on the ground.
T.J. De Santis contributed reporting on the prelim bouts.