Can Tapia topple Torres?

Everybody loves some midweek MMA, and all the closet bantamweight fans out there get some extra love this time around as WEC 37 airs live Wednesday on the Versus network from the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas.

The treat for bantamweight fans, of course, is the title tilt featuring incumbent champion and wolf-cut connoisseur Miguel Torres against the bleached dome of Manny Tapia.

Miguel Torres vs. Manny Tapia

Miguel Torres Scouting Report
Ht/Wt: 5-foot-10/135 pounds
Age: 27
Hometown: East Chicago, Ind.
Fighting out of: Hammond, Ind.
Record: 34-1
The stakes: The obvious prize here is Torres' WEC (World Extreme Cagefighting) bantamweight strap. But as the UFC's kid brother continues to come into its own, holding the WEC 135-pound title means being the face of the division, a pound-for-pound luminary and, potentially, the division's standard-bearer for future generations.

Torres spent years on the local circuit while forum die-hards championed his cause. The irony of Torres becoming champion is that after years spent searching for worthy opponents, he now has an entire division of fighters from the world over looking to pilfer his title.

The breakdown: Hands down one of the sport's most feared grapplers, Torres' penchant for stringing together submissions makes Tapia's usual ground-and-pound approach a risky proposition. What Torres will have to be mindful of is Tapia's powerful boxing, as Yoshiro Maeda had some success mixing it up on the feet against the champion.

The key difference is that Tapia's striking lacks diversity, while Torres' Muay Thai allows him to deal on even terms on the feet while keeping the luxury of pulling guard. The vast difference in grappling acumen is an advantage that Torres must pursue to be assured a win over his garishly coiffed adversary.

Manny "The Mangler" Tapia Scouting Report
Ht/Wt: 5-foot-5/135 pounds
Age: 27
Hometown: Riverside, Calif.
Fighting out of: Chino, Calif.
Record: 10-0-1

The stakes: After a knee injury derailed an earlier bout with Torres, Tapia's nearly 11 months away from the cage will end with a bout against the man who has come to embody the bantamweight division. With the growing stable of fighters gunning for the same opportunity, Tapia must realize that this may be the only chance he gets to carve out a place atop one of the sport's most exciting weight classes.

While the days of the bantamweights serving as the butt of ill-conceived midget jokes are hardly over, the surging popularity of the WEC has at least legitimized the division in the eyes of many fans and turned the division's champion into a true commodity. For Tapia, this is a chance to transcend the artificial limitations of being a small man in a big man's world.

The breakdown: "The Mangler" is a fitting moniker for Tapia, who relies on winging powerful, if not entirely accurate, punches before closing the deal with a ground-and-pound blitzkrieg. Unfortunately, attempting to ground and pound Torres is like rolling into the Thunderdome with nothing but a "Sesame Street" DVD. Pain is sure to follow.

Tapia's best hope is to keep Torres at bay with his boxing and draw him into a slugfest where he lands combinations and then creates space. Constantly repeating that cycle would certainly frustrate Torres and likely keep him from turning this bout into a jiu-jitsu seminar.

The bottom line
As much as Tapia's straightforward style has endeared him to fans, he has yet to face the best the division has to offer, and jumping in line to fight Torres represents a Scott Bakula-level quantum leap in competition. Watch for Torres to use his clinch game early to set up a takedown or guard-pull that will inevitably lead to an absurd string of submission attempts before Tapia is left with no recourse but to tap out for the sake of leaving his appendages intact.

Tomas Rios is a contributor to Sherdog.com.