Miguel Torres accepted his fight for UFC 130 just six days removed from his last bout—and he had already been in the gym for five.
A successful UFC debut this February at UFC 126 saw the Chicagoan notch a unanimous decision over Antonio Banuelos. The disciplined fighting style he displayed has drawn criticism for being too conservative, too unlike Torres.
The former WEC bantamweight champion declares being able to return to the gym immediately after a fight is a luxury he must afford himself: something that wasn’t possible due injuries resulting from characteristic wars he engaged in before linking up with head trainer Firas Zahabi at the Tristar Gym in Montreal, Canada.
"This is a business. Each fighter is their each individual brand and they've got to treat themselves like a business,” Torres told Bleacher Report. “If you run a business for two months, then you take two months off, your business is going to get taken over—your business is going to crash. It's not going to last long. You always have to grow.”
A go-for-broke fighting style propelled him to a 37-1 record (officially; unofficially, Torres claims to have fights before MMA databases existed) before he lost for the first time in six years. Suffering back-to-back losses for the first time in a 10-year career subsequently forced him to reevaluate his fighting style’s validity.
Brian Bowles was the first to knock him out, taking his title in the process. Then Joseph Benavidez bloodied him up and became the first to submit the Carlson Gracie jiu-jitsu black belt.
"Those fights made me realize that I was human and I had to catch up with everybody else,” reflected Torres. “I had the mentality where I didn't wrestle because my grappling was so slick, my striking was good enough to bang with anybody. At the time, I was like 18-year-old kid with a big toy. I was indestructible. Nobody could touch me.”
Torres asserts the changes since teaming up with Zahabi over a year ago go beyond the back-to-back victories currently in his win column. His training finds him evolving as a fighter after years of going stagnant due to distraction.
It’s revitalizing: he thought he had four more years left in the sport; now he feels like he can go 10 more. His journey with Zahabi continues as he angles to snap Demetrious Johnson’s current three-fight win streak at UFC 130 this Saturday night at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nev. in a Spike TV broadcast bantamweight contender bout.
“Those two things made me change my mentality and realize that you know what, I got to quit trying impress everybody and fight for the fans, try to fight for a reputation,” he said. “I got to be smart, fight for my family and make a living out of it—not just entertain. I've taken a lot of criticism for that. The thing people don't understand is to watch and judge and its another to try to make a living out of it and feed your family.
“It's two different worlds. I'm living in the second world now. I know where I was at, I know what I lost and I know what I have to do to get back."
A familial feeling is what Torres gets from Tristar. He stays at Zahabi’s home, away from his own family, friends, fans and students back home in East Chicago, to ensure there are no distractions that can cause him to stray and lose a fight. It’s a selfish, isolating process but not entirely foreign to prizefighters.
If Torres is so adamant about sticking to the path Zahabi’s carving out for him, it’s because the pressure to perform for those people no matter what caused him to go against his best judgments and fight Benavidez in a contest he calls “the worst I ever had.”
On his first day with Zahabi, he knew right away change was necessary.
“He tells me, ‘I've been watching you fight for awhile.’—Firas is one of those guys that studies all fighters—‘You look like a guy that is busy taking care of everybody but himself. That's how you fight.’” said Torres.
“That was pretty much dead on analogy of how I fight,” he said, correcting himself, “how I used to fight."
The Mexican-American asserts just because he showcased a different look in his last bout doesn’t mean he’s changed completely either.
"That's the wild card. That's the main thing Firas isn't worried about what people are saying, if somebody ever wants to make it a scrap, he knows I can make it a scrap and get crazy,” said Torres.
“That's what I was bred to do. It's in my DNA, it's in my blood—to go out there and make war. If I making him fight smart and the guy is trying to get crazy and make it a crazy fight, I can go back out there and do the same exact thing. It's just I'm adding style. I'm adding variety into my game."
Adherence to the game plan is about respecting Zahabi’s preparation according to Torres. It’s all for the same purpose: to move one step closer to the UFC bantamweight belt and come home to his family in East Chicago in one piece. Torres implores Johnson to be ready for serious contest before adding the wild card: “Let’s do this—and have a good time.”
Danny Acosta is the lead writer at FIGHT! Magazine. Follow him on twitter.com/acostaislegend