- Brian Knapp
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World Extreme Cagefighting bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz retained his crown by the narrowest of margins, even as blood streamed from his face.
Cruz danced and dodged throughout the 25-minute affair, scored timely takedowns and eked out a split decision over Joseph Benavidez in the WEC 50 "Cruz vs. Benavidez 2" headliner on Wednesday at the Palms Casino Resort in Las Vegas. Two of the three judges sided with the champion by 48-47 and 49-46 scores; a third scored it 48-47 for Benavidez.
"I just concentrated on doing what I do best: staying hard to hit," said Cruz, who defeated Benavidez by unanimous decision the first time the two met. "Obviously, it didn't work out too well in all the exchanges, but that's five rounds and I don't look too bad I suppose."
In a tactical bout that was not short on action, the world-ranked challenger provided Cruz with a stern test. The first three rounds were almost too close to call, highlighted by a beautiful flying knee from Cruz and some crisp counterpunching from Benavidez. Dealing with a cut near his hairline, the Team Alpha Male rep appeared to break the Cruz's nose and opened a nasty lateral gash across its bridge with a knee from the clinch in the fourth round. Blood spilled from the wound, but Cruz pressed the action and scored the fourth of his five takedowns in the match.
"That knee didn't stun me," he said. "I just felt the blood start pouring down my face."
Cruz, though his frenetic pace had slowed, closed strong in Round 5. He delivered another takedown in the final 15 seconds, ground away with elbows from the top and rose from the battle, both arms raised and a smile on his battered face, as the horn sounded.
Pettis chokes Roller in final 10 seconds
In the co-main event, Anthony Pettis submitted Shane Roller with a triangle choke late in the third round, putting an exclamation point on a memorable duel between two of the WEC's top lightweights. Roller waved the white flag 4 minutes, 51 seconds into Round 3.
Pettis more than lived up to his "Showtime" moniker, as he tagged the three-time collegiate All-American wrestler with a number of acrobatic kicks. More importantly, however, the Duke Roufus protégé stuffed a number of Roller takedowns, made him pay for his attempts and attacked effectively from his back. Ultimately, he overwhelmed Roller with his athleticism and skill.
"I just didn't feel good in here tonight," Roller said. "One of those nights when it wasn't clicking. Couldn't get going. I felt sluggish the whole three rounds."
Roller's best moments revolved around sporadic power punches -- including a thudding left hand that wobbled Pettis in the second round -- and an attempted guillotine choke in the third round.
"He's a tough dude," Pettis said. "I've never got hit this many times in the face."
Perhaps sensing he was down in the scorecards, Roller grew more desperate in Round 3. He scored with a takedown inside the first minute, but Pettis stayed busy and sucked his opponent into his trap. In the closing seconds, Pettis trapped Roller's left arm after a standing-to-ground punch, latched the triangle choke and coaxed the tapout, announcing himself as a clear threat to the reign of current WEC lightweight king Benson Henderson.
"I'm ready for the champ. Where's he at?" Pettis said. "Ben, where you at? I'm ready for you, man."
Mendes smothers Swanson, stays perfect
A two-time collegiate All-American wrestler at California Polytechnic State University, Mendes secured nine takedowns and coasted to a unanimous decision against the Jackson's Mixed Martial Arts rep. Scores were 30-27, 29-28 and 29-28 for Mendes.
A protégé of former WEC featherweight champion Urijah Faber, Mendes mixed occasional power punches with his takedowns.
"Cub's a tough guy," Mendes said. "That was a fun fight, getting in there. His standup is great. I've been working on mine a lot, so I wanted to get in there and kind of showcase it a little bit."
Short-circuited by a vastly superior wrestler, Swanson attacked with leg kicks, flying knees and various other strikes when upright, but he could not stay on his feet long enough to legitimately threaten Mendes. Perfect in eight professional appearances, Mendes grounded his foe four times in the final round, punctuating his latest victory.
"Obviously I'm a wrestler," Mendes said. "I'm always going to stick with the wrestling stuff, but that was a fun fight."
Jorgensen closes in on title shot
Takedowns, ground-and-pound and power punches paved the way for Scott Jorgensen's unanimous decision victory over Brad Pickett. Scores were 30-27 across the board for the world-ranked Jorgensen, who handed the American Top Team rep his first defeat in more than three years and likely cemented himself as the top contender for the WEC bantamweight crown.
"I think I'm totally deserving of that next title shot," said Jorgensen, a winner in five consecutive fights. "I'll be watching tonight to see who I fight [next]. I expect that bantamweight title in 2010."
The two men traded heavy punches throughout a competitive first round, with Jorgensen knocking out Pickett's mouthpiece during one exchange. By Round 2, Jorgensen had unleashed his wrestling skills, as he grounded the London native and delivered sharp elbows from the top. Pickett spent the final 90 seconds on his back, and his face bore the evidence.
Pickett entered the final round battered, his left eye swelling noticeably. His situation only grew worse, as Jorgensen scored with a pair of third-round takedowns and dropped another series of elbows, this time opening a small cut near Pickett's right eye. Fighting from his back, Pickett reversed position in the final 10 seconds, but his effort came far too late to make a difference.
"I knew Brad is a tough guy," Jorgensen said. "He can take a punch, and I know I can. I think we did everything that we promised the fans."
Palaszewski finishes Micklewright
International Fight League veteran Bart Palaszewski stopped Zachary Micklewright with a clubbing right hand in the second round of their featured lightweight match. The end came 31 seconds into Round 2, as Palaszewski extended his winning streak to four.
Though he was beaten to the punch from the start, Micklewright held his own in the first round. Palaszewski attacked the Miletich Fighting Systems prospect with leg kicks and punches throughout the opening five minutes and set the stage for what was to come.
Palaszewski wasted no time in the second period. He wobbled Micklewright with a right hook to the temple, punctuated a flurry with a thudding body kick and polished off his opponent with another clean right. The win moved the 27-year-old Palaszewski to 4-2 inside the WEC.
"I'm always out to throw," Palaszewski said. "I always say I'm an entertainer first, fighter second. I'm always here to put on a show. If I have to take a couple of blows to the head to put on a good show for you guys, I'm willing."
Brian Knapp is a contributor to Sherdog.com.
It wasn't easy, but Dominick Cruz did just enough to defend his bantamweight title over Joseph Benavidez at WEC 50.