Torres, solidifying his place as one of the sport’s premier pound-for-pound fighters, measured Tapia early and then unleashed a punishing second-round barrage that brought a conclusive end to their WEC 37 main event Wednesday at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas.
A victor in 16 straight fights, Torres dropped his challenger twice in the second round before calling it a night. He followed the second knockdown with a wicked assault on the ground that left Tapia bleeding and bewildered and forced referee Josh Rosenthal to intervene on his behalf 3:04 into round two.
Torres (35-1), who dictated the action with a stinging jab, has finished his last 11 opponents and appears to have no equal at 135 pounds. This was a measured, tactical performance from the WEC champion.
“I wanted to fight a little bit calm this time,” he said. “Last time I fought, I got kind of emotional and got kind of crazy. If I calm myself down, I fight like this pretty much all the time. I knew Manny was gonna come with big punches. I wanted to keep my range, use my jab to measure him up and then throw a couple of feints and a big right hand.”
Once the right hand found its mark, the conclusion was a formality. Tapia (10-1-1) entered the bout undefeated in 11 professional fights and departed knowing there was a vast gap between himself and the reigning bantamweight king.
“The next step is to fight the next person in line, whoever that may be,” Torres said. “The WEC has a lot of great 135-pounders out there. To me, they got the best in the world. I’m here to fight the best in the world.”
Meanwhile, former International Fight League featherweight champion Wagnney Fabiano made a successful, albeit less than spectacular, WEC debut, as he submitted one-time Shooto titleholder Akitoshi Tamura.
Having opened a cut on Tamura’s forehead with elbows from the top, Fabiano hammered away at the Japanese standout in the closing seconds of their duel, passed his guard seamlessly and cinched a head-and-arm choke for the finish. The end came with only 12 seconds left on the clock in round three.
Tamura (12-7-2), who entered the match with wins in five of his last six fights, had never been submitted in 20 career bouts prior to his encounter with Fabiano.
In a pivotal showdown between two of the world’s top 135-pound fighters, Brian Bowles emerged as a clear No. 1 contender in the WEC’s bantamweight division with a submission win against Brazilian Will Ribeiro.
Bowles (7-0) -- who has finished all seven of his opponents -- caught Ribeiro in a guillotine choke, locked him down in full guard and coaxed the tapout 1:11 into round three. The 28-year-old Georgian threatened with the same hold in the first round, but Ribeiro (10-2) escaped. He was not as fortunate the second time.
“The guillotine’s my go-to move in the gym,” Bowles said. “I get a lot of people when they shoot on it.”
Bowles held his own standing and even won some of the exchanges with the Brazilian boxing and muay Thai champion. He got Ribeiro’s attention with an early combination and doled out as much punishment as he received throughout the fight. The victory likely cinches a title shot for Bowles, who trains out of the American Top Team-affiliated Hardcore Gym in Athens, Ga.
“I think I’ve earned a title shot,” Bowles said. “It’d be an honor.”
Finally, top bantamweight prospect Joseph Benavidez flashed his diverse skill set, as he remained unbeaten as a professional with a unanimous decision victory over the hard-nosed but overmatched Danny Martinez.
A protégé of former WEC featherweight champion Urijah Faber, Benavidez (9-0) controlled the bout with strikes, as he chipped away at Martinez with front kicks, knees and punches. The 24-year-old had never gone the distance previously; all three judges scored it 30-27 in his favor.
Benavidez set the tone early, as he stunned Martinez with a first-round flurry, capped by a stout front kick to the face. He later scored with a monster takedown in the final half minute of the round and worked hard for a submission until the horn sounded.
Rounds two and three provided more of the same, as Martinez (12-3) wilted under Benavidez’s relentless pace and seemed to grow increasingly discouraged as the fight unfolded. A former Rage in the Cage champion, Martinez surged late with short punches and knees, but by then, Benavidez was in total control and had no trouble weathering the storm.
“That’s always my game plan, to go out there as hard as I can and never stop,” Benavidez said. “I was expecting this to be my toughest fight, and it was. I’ve got a lot of improving to do.”
Click here to read Sherdog.com’s WEC preliminary card recap.