At WEC 47 in Columbus, Ohio, Bantamweight Champion Brian Bowles ended what was a brief fling with his title in a loss to unorthodox up-and-comer Dominick Cruz when he was unable to answer the bell for the third round due to a broken hand.
It was a chaotic scene coming out of the second round. The fight was stopped during a commercial break on Versus, which confused the audience at home and the announcers. We had left the two fighters going at it full-force, swiftly and valiantly, without seemingly any physical difficulty. We returned to a cold cut of boos and a victorious Dominic Cruz raising his hands in the air while color commentator Stephan Bonnar struggled to provide answers for the home audience.
At first it was assumed to be a cut, as most sudden and unexpected stoppages are. However, Bonnar quickly noted that the cut was barely visible, let alone a stoppable injury. Speculation then turned to a leg injury and finally that nagging hand possibly being broken, with the confirmation coming shortly after the official decision had been announced to an angry and disappointed live crowd.
Out of respect for both fighters, it should be noted that up until this point Cruz was handily winning the fight. His unorthodox fighting stance and foot movement had overcome and exasperated the outmatched Bowles for ten minutes. He bobbed in and out, popping Bowles with solid shots. Whenever Bowles attempted to move in with power punching he’d be counter-punched to all Hell. The only scares Bowles gave Cruz were fleeting and inconsequential.
In neither round did we see any indication that Bowles’s hand was broken or giving him any trouble. This is not to say that he did not legitimately break his hand. He most assuredly did, and photographic evidence provided by his Twitter page confirmed this (see right). The question, though, is whether Bowles truly could not under any circumstances continue with the fight, or if he allowed a nagging injury to excuse giving up on what was, up until that point, a losing and wholly frustrating effort.
As myself and many others half-jokingly pointed out, fellow WEC fighter Urijah Faber would have stayed in the fight. In his rematch with Mike Brown, Faber broke both hands and still fought through a grueling and – considering he literally had no use of his hands – highly competitive bout. Does that make Urijah Faber a tougher fighter than Brian Bowles?
Well, yes and no.
Bowles came into the sport of MMA with no athletic pedigree. He was not an athlete in school, and he did not come from a wrestling or jiu-jitsu background. In fact, he had very little in the way of traditional expertise when he made his professional debut on his twenty-sixth birthday. Much of his skill was adapted through the Mixed Martial Arts equivalent of on the job training. For that, he should be commended: he’s clearly a smart, well-conditioned fighter and a fast learner.
However, his fight on Saturday showed that there is such a thing as life preparation for the port. You don’t have to grow up the toughest kid on your block to be successful in Mixed Martial Arts. There is, however, a certain mental toughness that one gets from being a longtime athlete, martial artist, amateur wrestler, etcetera. Someone with that sort of background is prepared to push through that kind of an injury, even if the circumstances would seem insurmountable to the casual observer.
Let me make this clear: Brian Bowles is still a contender and a threat at 135 pounds. That I cannot and will not question. It still takes more guts than I, and most likely you, have to step into the cage and do what he does on a regular basis. But what was made clear on Saturday is that he’s still young and still an outsider in the world of Mixed Martial Arts. When all is said and done, hopefully this will be a learning experience for Bowles. You can have the proper amount of preparation for a fight, but there are always going to be factors, whether from another fighter or circumstance, for which nobody can prepare.
Additionally, both the depth of competition at Bantamweight and his nagging hand injury means that Bowles is going to have to expand his repertoire and become a more versatile fighter if he has any hope of retaining his position. Nobody can win at any weight on pure power alone, and in a division that has an incredible variety of styles, approaches, and speed, a lot of adjustments are going to need to be made.
It’s daunting, but not impossible. One boxer once found himself in the same exact predicament as Bowles. He got by early on by being a puncher for the most part, but a nagging hand injury not only threatened to leave him out of contention but out of boxing entirely. With the help of experienced trainers and his own gumption, the boxer relied on his footwork and modified his game to become more defensive. It not only made Floyd Mayweather a better fighter, it made him the best in the game.
Time will tell how and when Bowles will bounce back from this loss. It’s going to be a challenge, but it’s not an impossible feat. Brian Bowles will have to learn in a short amount of time what’s taken a lifetime to instill in the likes of Urijah Faber, Lyoto Machida, Anderson Silva, and all the other greats in the sport. It seems almost impossible, but so did the prospect of him becoming champion in the first place.