On Aug. 9, 2009, as he prepared to defend his World Extreme Cagefighting bantamweight title at WEC 42, Miguel Torres was by acclamation one of the top five fighters in the sport. While most observers placed him in the tier just below the pound-for-pound triumvirate of Fedor Emelianenko, Anderson Silva and Georges St. Pierre that dominated forum debates, in some ways his résumé was just as impressive. At 28 years old, he was 37-1 with 31 finishes and had avenged his lone career loss in emphatic enough fashion that nobody had clamored for a rubber match. He was No. 5 in Sherdog’s pound-for-pound rankings behind Silva, St. Pierre, Emelianenko and the then-undefeated Lyoto Machida, as well as the third most dominant divisional champion by Fightmatrix’s algorithm.
Facing Torres in the small blue cage that night in Las Vegas was Brian Bowles, an undefeated 7-0 prospect who had come up in the same Georgia gym that had produced Forrest Griffin. Even though Bowles had torn up everything in his path since turning pro three years before, including four straight finishes to open his WEC tenure, he was a 3-to-1 underdog against the champion. Torres’ hyper-aggressive approach—which showed in his standup as well as his active, submission-hunting guard—led to defensive lapses that someone might exploit, but the consensus seemed to be that the far less experienced Bowles was simply not the one to do it.
The soft-spoken challenger proved the experts wrong that night in resounding fashion, and it did not take him long to do so. Bowles landed an early takedown and, after a characteristically aggressive series of armbar attempts and upkicks from the champ, elected to stand up. Once back on their feet, Torres came forward with a flurry of punches, several of which landed, but Bowles dropped him with a single counter right. As Bowles dove into Torres’ guard, Torres appeared to look for the armbar once more. Bowles extricated the arm and destroyed Torres with a two-fisted salvo of punches, leaving him out cold on the canvas. The bantamweight division had been turned on its head, just 3 minutes, 57 seconds into the first round.
While the shocking finish seemed to portend an exciting new era in the bantamweight division, including the prospect of a rematch between Bowles and Torres, neither man had much time left at the top and no rematch would ever take place. In his first title defense, Bowles faced Dominick Cruz, who had beaten Joseph Benavidez in the co-main event of WEC 42 to place himself next in line for a title shot, and lost the first two rounds before suffering a TKO due to a broken hand. Afterward, he was absorbed into the Ultimate Fighting Championship along with the rest of the WEC. He went 2-2 there with one postfight bonus, one positive drug test and a long litany of injuries, and was released by the UFC in March 2015 after his arrest on felony drug and weapons charges.
Torres steered clear of serious legal trouble—though he memorably ran afoul of the UFC with his ill-advised "rape van" tweet—but his competitive collapse was even quicker and more dramatic than that of Bowles. The man who had started out 37-1 and captured the most prestigious title in his weight class went 7-7 against increasingly low-level opposition to close out his career.