On the eve of his third title defense, World Extreme Cagefighting bantamweight champion Miguel Torres looked like a man on a mission.
The mullet-sporting mixed martial arts maestro checked in at 135 pounds for his main event showdown with Takeya Mizugaki (135) at WEC 40 “Torres vs. Mizugaki” on Sunday at the UIC Pavilion in Chicago. Of the 18 other fighters booked to compete on the card, only featherweight Mike Budnik (149) failed to make weight at Saturday’s official weigh-in.
One of the sport’s most accomplished and revered competitors, Torres will carry an incredible 16-fight winning streak into the match. The 28-year-old East Chicago, Ind., native last appeared in December when he throttled the previously undefeated Manny Tapia at WEC 37, burying the Californian under a second-round barrage of punches and elbows. Torres has finished his last 11 opponents -- six of them inside one round -- and has not tasted defeat in more than five years.
“It’s an honor to be able to come back to my city of Chicago and defend my title,” Torres said. “I feel that all the pressure’s on my opponent. He’s coming into my backyard. He’s not just fighting me; he’s fighting all my friends and my family and my students.”
A promising Japanese import, Mizugaki has won five consecutive bouts, including a technical knockout victory against Masahiro Oishi in December that capped his title run in the Cage Force bantamweight tournament. The 25-year-old has stopped his past three opponents, two of them inside the first round.
“I’m a striker. I like to strike people,” Mizugaki said. “It seems like Miguel Torres is the same way, too. I think people think I’m the underdog because not many people know who I am. That’s fine.”
Torres, viewed by most as the world’s premier mixed martial artist at 135 pounds, expects a stout challenge from the WEC newcomer.
“I think Takeya’s going to bring a great fight, and I’m ready for anything he’s going to come and show me,” he said. “I know he likes to stand up and bang. He’s got great wrestling skills, so he can keep the fight on his feet. I don’t plan on taking him to the ground. He wants to knock me out, and I plan on knocking him out. The longer he trades with me, the more he’s going to get hurt.”
Meanwhile, former featherweight title challenger Jeff Curran (135) will make his long-awaited debut at bantamweight when he meets the fast-rising Joseph Benavidez (134).
A polished Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt, Curran has dropped back-to-back fights to the world’s top two featherweights -- Mike Thomas Brown and Urijah Faber -- and has not competed since June. The 31-year-old holds victories against former International Fight League featherweight champion Wagnney Fabiano, Rafael Assuncao and Antonio Carvalho, among others. Curran has secured more than half (18) of his 29 career wins by submission.
Benavidez, a Faber protégé, made a successful promotional debut at WEC 37, though he was taken the distance for the first time in a unanimous decision victory against Danny Martinez. Still only 24, the Dream veteran cut his teeth inside the Warrior Cup and Palace Fighting Championship promotions. Six of his nine wins have come by submission.
WEC 40: Torres vs. Mizugaki
Sunday, April 5
WEC Bantamweight Championship
Miguel Torres (135) vs. Takeya Mizugaki (135)
Jeff Curran (135) vs. Joseph Benavidez (134)
Benson Henderson (156) vs. Shane Roller (156)
Rafael Assuncao (145.5) vs. Jameel Massouh (146)
Anthony Njokuani (156) vs. Bart Palaszewski (155)
Dominick Cruz (135) vs. Ivan Lopez (134.5)
Wagnney Fabiano (146) vs. Fredson Paixao (144)
Eddie Wineland (135) vs. Rani Yahya (136)
Manny Tapia (135.5) vs. Akitoshi Tamura (135.5)
Rafael Dias (145) vs. Mike Budnik (149)