Former bantamweight champ wants to reclaim belt
Adversity and circumstance are typically the driving forces behind the reinvention of a fighter’s career, and former WEC champion Miguel Torres has experienced his fair share of both.
A short time ago, Torres was quickly climbing the pound-for-pound rankings. But after experiencing a rough spell of setbacks in (a loss to Brian Bowles in a WEC bantamweight title fight and a subsequent loss to Joseph Benavidez) and out (a release from the UFC last month for an inappropriate Twitter post, followed by a return after making amends) of the cage, the East Chicago, Ind., native has made the necessary adjustments and is looking forward to his climb back to the top.
While the changes to his game may produce the best route to success, he is also aware of why he has received the criticism that has come after recent fights. In just under six years, Torres put together one of the most impressive runs in MMA history – he claimed 17 consecutive victories with 15 coming by stoppage. But his time under the UFC banner has yielded different results, as all three bouts have gone the distance.
“Even after the losses, I had to Bowles and Benavidez, I wasn’t training properly or game planning,” Torres said. “I was going out there with the mindset that whatever happens happens. It’s a different world we live in now, and every dominant team has a school of fighters who only train for the fight. They are well-rounded in every aspect, so you can’t go out there looking to get into a fight and hoping you are going to get a guy. Your opponent knows what you are going to do if you are doing the same thing every time. You have to rise above your last performance every time out. You have to modify your style where it is going to create the most problems for your opponent.”
It was on the back of his hard-charging style where Torres made his name in MMA. As he continued to produce victories, the manner in which those victories were earned made Torres one of the most feared lighter-weight fighters on the planet. But as he continued to ride the wave of momentum his fan-friendly style had created, when the negative aspects of "kill or be killed" became reality, it was something he couldn’t turn his back on.
“I totally understand where the fans are coming from,” Torres said. “I watch my old fights, when I had the title, and I would go out there with my hands down, charging forward. It’s exciting for the fans and is going to make it a great fight, but from my standpoint it wasn’t smart because I was taking unnecessary damage. Win or lose, I was going to take damage. It showed heart, dedication and that I was going to war because I’m a fighter, but for the cerebral aspect of my health it wasn’t smart. I have a family, a future to look forward to, and I couldn’t continue to fight that way if I hoped to keep my mental faculties together for the rest of my life.
“The perfect example to what I’m saying is Donald Cerrone when he fought against Nate Diaz. For me, ‘Cowboy’ is on a different level when it comes to striking. His emotions took over, and that is the way I used to fight. Even though I had no personal beef with an opponent, it’s just the way I fought. I was a very emotional fighter. I grew up in a background where that is how we fight, and it makes for a bad fight. Cowboy blew himself out in the first round taking unnecessary damage, and once he took that damage, he wasn’t able to recover.
“That was hard to watch. It was personal because he is my friend. I know the man – respect and love him – and it was difficult to see him fight like that. His emotions were going for all the wrong reasons. Even though he earned Fight of the Night and got a bonus, mentally he will never recover from that. That is a horrible thing to go through and it’s sad to see that. I know what it feels like because that is what I was doing for every fight. I was a pissed-off Mexican walking forward looking to do damage and take damage. It’s not smart.”
After experiencing back-to-back losses for the first time in his career, Torres sought out the assistance of Firas Zahabi. The head trainer at Montreal’s Tristar Gym, Zahabi has helped fighters like George St-Pierre and Rory MacDonald mold efficient fighting styles.
To get Torres back to his title, Zahabi saw the need to reverse Torres’ signature aggression and develop a calculated approach. With his tempo and game plan refined, Torres has also started to split time in South Florida training with the “Blackzilians,” where he continues to learn every step of the way.
“I’ll be training in Florida for three to four weeks, then I’ll go up to Montreal to train with Firas,” said Torres, who Friday booked his next fight for UFC 145 against Michael McDonald. “I start every camp in my own gym, and now that I’m training with Firas and not getting hurt like I used to, I stay training. Before, I would get a cut on my face or a serious injury to one of my hands or feet and I would be forced to take a month off. Being out for a month puts your body out of shape and you spend the first part of camp just trying to get back to where you were. Now when I train for a fight, it’s steady. I win my fight and I’m back in the gym immediately working on the things I need to improve on.
“My fight with Demetrius Johnson is something I still think about. My game plan was to beat him with jiu-jitsu and I thought I accomplished that. I knew he was going to take me down and I was pressing him to shoot right away. I swept and mounted him and attacked with submissions the entire fight. I was the one being the aggressor, and even though I was on the bottom, I was attacking and looking to submit him. He never had me in trouble with a submission and I had him in various submissions throughout the fight.
“It’s hard because the judges don’t understand. This guy is 5-(foot)-2, athletic as (crap) and has been wrestling his entire life. Of course he’s going to be able to escape in a heartbeat if you try to do some crazy damage. They value the takedowns more than anything else in the UFC, and I hit the learning curve during that fight. I’m not going to make the same mistake again.”
In the constantly evolving sport of mixed martial arts, even a seasoned veteran like Torres has to continue to adapt and progress. With the work inside of the gym paying off in the cage, life on the business side of the sport has also required effort. Navigating a tough situation such as his UFC release/rehire and the mounting pressure to regain his status in the division have Torres appreciative for those who surround him.
“I’m thankful for my manager Glenn Robinson and (Authentic Sports) Management,” Torres said. “He has turned my career around. The 'Blackzilians' have become like family to me. I’m also thankful for the people who run my gym (Torres MMA) and look after things when I’m away training in Florida or with Firas Zahabi. The group at Tristar has really taken me in and made me feel like one of their own.
“Everybody makes mistakes. I made a mistake and did my best to correct it. Now I look forward to the future and what you can do in the cage. My goal for 2012 is to walk away with the UFC bantamweight title.”