The #1 fighter in the world at 135 lbs. and WEC Bantamweight Champion, Miguel Torres, talked about what it's like to be a champion and his upcoming fight with #2 ranked Brian Bowles, as the featured guest on MMAmania.com's exclusive presentation of Pro MMA Radio this week.
Currently riding a 17-fight win streak, Torres hasn't lost in nearly six years. At 37-1 (including a loss he later avenged), the Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt under Carlson Gracie, Jr. and gifted Muay Thai striker was as confident as always in his conversation with host Larry Pepe, just six days out from his fourth WEC title defense.
Even with Bowles' wrestling pedigree and knockout power, Torres showed no concern when dissecting his opponent's strategy for the fight. Having never been knocked out or submitted in his career, Torres feels comfortable wherever the fight goes and thinks his pace will quickly frustrate Bowles.
"He doesn't know what I possess. When me and him are in there and the fight happens, it's a different situation. He can train for me all he wants and bring in whatever training partners he wants, and he can say he's going to knock me out. But if he does land that shot, and he doesn't faze me, and then I come after him, and then he lands another shot, and I still come after him, and then he lands another shot, and I still come after him with kicks, knees, elbows, punches, and I stuff a takedown, I'm hitting him and he takes me down, and I'm still hitting him and still attacking him, it's going to frustrate him and it's going to wear him down."
And as the icing on the cake, the champion adds, "I can keep that pace for an hour non-stop with different opponents every two minutes. And to have one guy come at me and think he's going to keep that same pace that I can keep? It's not going to happen."
Despite the confidence, Torres says he has not underestimated his undefeated opponent - one who friend Frank Mir has said he'd have Torres avoid if he were the champ's manager.
But that's precisely why Torres wants to fight Bowles, because he is the next best fighter in the division. And legacy building is the name of the game for someone at Torres' level.
"The ultimate goal is to know that I never held anything back. That I fought the best possible fighters that I could in my weight class. And that I challenged myself the most that I can. And right now I'm doing the first part of that: I'm taking on all comers at 135."
After he has achieved that first part of his goal, Torres said, he will then be ready for the next challenge - super fights with fighters outside his division. But before that, he admits, "I've got some more work to do."
Despite being one of the most dominant fighters in the sport today, Torres doesn't see the same paydays as his counterparts in the UFC - far from it. He made $44,000 ($22,000 to show, $22,000 to win) for his successful title defense against Manny Tapia at WEC 37.
Lyoto Machida - by far the lowest paid UFC champion of the five weight classes - received a reported $200,000 for earning the promotion's light heavyweight championship belt ($70,000 to show, $70,000 to win, plus $60,000 "Knockout of the Night" bonus) from Rashad Evans at UFC 98.
While he admits it is frustrating, Torres understands that the WEC model is not the same as the UFC's and compares himself to National Football League players from the ‘60s and ‘70s who did "all the grunt work and all the hard work, and the guys that come after me are going to reap all the benefits (with larger paydays). So hopefully they keep me in mind when they get there."
In fact he credits the WEC's lower pay scale with helping to set the tone for most of the promotion's high-action fights: With smaller paydays for losing fighters - Tapia made just $6,000 for his part in the WEC 37 headliner - fighters are more willing to put everything on the line during their fights.
Many fighters in the UFC, by contrast, Torres says, fight more cautiously because they know a win, no matter how you earn it, could mean a bump up in pay, which can translate to thousands of dollars.
But beyond money and before his legacy can continue, Torres must first get by Bowles. After both earning victories at WEC 37 in December 2008, Bowles was first slated to challenge Torres for the belt at WEC 40 in April 2009; however, he sustained a back injury weeks before the fight.
Japanese Shooto and Cage Force fighter Takeya Mizugaki filled in, and ended up staging one of the better fights of the year for the promotion and a "Fight of the Night" honoree.
In fact, Mizugaki is the only opponent to push Torres to the fifth round. And while the champion retained his title by unanimous decision (49-46, 49-46, 48-47), he calls his fight with Mizugaki "one of the most awesome experiences of my life" that brought out the best in him.
Torres went into that fight expecting to dominate his opponent with his jab, but when Mizugaki began timing the jab and countering, Torres was forced to adjust. He learnt something from the experience - something that he plans to demonstrate to Brian Bowles, and he's not afraid to say it.
"That fight reminded me that I have a ton of other tools, standup-wise, to use besides just a jab. Brian Bowles thinks I'm going to use my jab and it's a whole different story, ‘cause I'm not throwing one jab the first round ... He'll know right now, you can stop worrying about that jab, son, ‘cause it's going to be all right hands and left hooks."
Mark it down, not one jab in round one.
Torres expects to tag Bowles early and often, make his opponent chase him and beat up on his lead leg. If Bowles tries to push the clinch, Torres will hurt him with knees and elbows. If Bowles goes for the takedown, a guillotine choke or armbar awaits.
He has a knack for taking his opponent's strong suit and beating him over the head with it.
"It makes it hard for my opponent to train for me ... For me fighting is all about the psychological warfare. I don't just try and go out there and beat my opponents, I try to go out there and try to break their wills and their souls."
In the WEC 37 promo video, Frank Mir said he wasn't sure which one was more important to the champion. Like a warrior poet, the champ explains:
"I look at each fight as a different moment in time, when two guys train to fight each other. ... I'm going to leave an impression of myself on that person for the rest of their life in that moment. When I go out there and I fight that person ... I'm defining to that person who I am. I'm making a statement to the world. ... And I'm going to do that ... by beating them up. And the best way for me to do that is to break their will."
Torres says that one of the reasons he is so successful is that he trains as "crazy" as he fights. He spars without the protection of headgear, shin guards, 16 ounce gloves or any protective gear. "I'm a sick individual."
"I train for that situation, I train to be in that raw moment of where I'm in physical danger and I have to defend myself. And that makes me think a little bit differently. That makes me think, ‘I'm going to go out there to finish this guy.' I have to finish each ... training partner I have in my sparring sessions because if I don't they're going to inflict more damage on me. ‘If I don't wear this guy out, he's going to hurt me.' - that's the mentality I carry into my fights. ... I have to go out there and I have to put this guy away."
Torres confesses that his practice of foregoing protective gear makes training a lot more dangerous. He says that without pads, he can't afford to let his guard down.
"When I train, every time I step on the mat, every time I step in the cage in my gym, I have to be on. ... That's why I'm a little bit crazy, because I always have to stay on when I train. If I'm not on, I'm going to get hurt."
It's a terrific interview, and one that hears him reflect on getting a hug from trainer Mark DellaGrotte (It was a breakthrough in therapy. He Doctor Phil'd me.") and why he thinks boxing great and vocal opponent of MMA, Floyd Mayweather, Jr., is a "punk."