Miguel Torres still believes he can be a mixed martial arts (MMA) world champion again. And the former World Extreme Cagefighting (WEC) 135-pound kingpin has seemingly surrounded himself with the right people to get him there.
After years of running his own gym, Torres used UFC Welterweight Champion Georges St. Pierre's Tristar gym in Montreal, Canada, to help him refine his technique, add a jab and become more well-rounded in the last year. However, in preparation for his UFC 139 fight with Nick Pace, he also mixed in several weeks of work with Imperial Athletics (a.ka. "Blackzilians") to help bring back his old school, aggressive style.
Torres was once the most feared bantamweight on the planet. He'd like to reclaim that title again. And it all starts tomorrow night (Nov. 19, 2011) at the HP Pavilion in San Jose, California.
The Carlson Gracie Jr.-trained Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt suffered a minor setback in his last fight, a razor close decision loss to Demetrious Johnson, but a victory this weekend on the UFC 139 preliminary card against Pace should hopefully get him right back in the thick of things.
Torres spoke with MMAmania.com about bringing back his aggressive style, changing up his priorities in the cage and how exactly he'd like his fight to finish against Nick Pace on tomorrow night in this exclusive interview.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): You did some training with the Blackzilians for this fight, splitting some time a bit with them and Tristar up in Canada. So how'd they let you in? Did they have to change their standards or something?
Miguel Torres: Yeah, they did. They decided to be a little more inclusive, they let me in there to change up the feel a little bit. What actually ended up happening was, I had some issues with my old manager and I was talking with Glenn Robinson and he wanted me to come down and check out the gym, see what he had to offer down there. I worked with Tyrone Spong and and Van Arsdale and a couple other guys over there. It was only going to be a couple of days and I ended up staying for two weeks. They've got some really good guys up there. They've got JZ Cavalcante, Marcus Aurelio, Tyrone Spong, Van Arsdale, all good guys down there and working with those people, one of the things I liked the most was the aggressive style they had in their stand up. It was kind of like my old style, I revisited it and I was able to work on a lot of stuff and I had a great time down there.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Yeah, and I actually saw in your announcement video of your signing with Authentic Sports Management that you talked about combining that Firas Zahabi gameplanning with that aggressive old school Miguel Torres style that you're working on with the Imperial Athletic guys. Do you feel like that can make the perfect fusion of styles for you?
Miguel Torres: Yeah, I do. I think that'll be the best option for me. I understand Firas' ideals and why he wants us to fight with a gameplan, to be smart but a lot of times that I've been fighting lately I feel like I'm fighting my nature. I have that high intensity and want to go out and put on a show and just perform but he wants me to stay safe, he wants me to have a long career and he's worried about me after the fight. He says, "After the fight, you want to be healthy, you don't want to be all messed up and broken and have brain damage, you know?" and I can totally understand that. The guys at Imperial Athletics, they're more about the glory and going out there for the kill so I think the best option for me is to find the perfect fusion of the two. That's gonna come with time. I'm not gonna say that's gonna happen with two weeks but having guys like K-1 level strikers working with my stand-up and then wanting me to go out there and knock guys out, it's one of those things where I'm on my way to developing the perfect fusion.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): You had such a really close fight with Demetrious Johnson in your last bout. How did that loss affect you, if at all?
Miguel Torres: Well the fight was very close and I've thought about it a lot. I've watched many interviews where Demetrious said he won the stand-up exchanges but I think 95 percent of that fight was on the ground and basically, I threw most of my strikes from the bottom and I had him defending the whole time. He was defending submission attempts that were trying, I was trying to put him away the whole time and he was laying there. They gave him the nod, he got a title shot and I think everything happens for a reason. If I would have won that fight, I never would have had the opportunity to meet and train with the Blackzilians and I would have spent the whole summer in Montreal training for that fight and I wouldn't have seen my family or my daughter.
Everything happens for a reason. I got to spend a lot of quality time with my daughter and work on my home gym. A lot of stuff in my personal life got squared away and I recovered physically, mentally and emotionally. I'm in a really good place and ready to get back in title contention. I'm still upset about that fight. That fight really upset me a lot. It showed me that wrestling, I really worked on my wrestling a lot and the gameplan was to beat him with jiu-jitsu. It's a sad thing but the way I used to win a lot of my fights, that style is dying. It's dying. If guys are training to play nothing but defense, it's hard to beat wrestlers. You have to wrestle.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Yeah, it does have to be frustrating when guys just take a top position and not take any risks, not going for much ground and pound and yet they're still winning the fight in the judges' eyes.
Miguel Torres: Right, it's very frustrating because it takes away a lot from the sport but at the same time, it's gonna make fighters evolve into better wrestlers to where they're gonna be able to counter takedowns and it's going to make jiu-jitsu even more important. Guys are not going to be able to come in and throw a sloppy guillotine or a lucky armbar or triangle. Guys are gonna to have high level Brazilian jiu-jitsu and it's gonna raise the level of the game. That's what it's doing. I understand that, I don't like it but that's the way it is now. MMA is going in that direction.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): I know when you were starting in MMA, your first 10 years of fighting pretty much, you were running your own gym, you were the guy in charge. Can you tell me about making that transition to working at other gyms and kinda taking instruction from these other people and surrendering control?
Miguel Torres: Well the biggest thing is the severity of my situation. I understand that in the old ways of running the gym, taking care of my family, doing my PR and training for fights, the level we're at now, that was holding me back a bit. Everybody caught up really fast. The WEC raised the stakes for all the lighter weight guys. The UFC's popularity made a lot more guys going into it where they weren't just working full time jobs on the side of training a little bit and people were dedicating themselves more to training camps and it raised the stakes. I seen it because I was training full time but I was also running a gym and I had to look for a gym where I could train full time and I had to have these other pressures taken away from my mindset. I had to evolve to get better.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Let's talk about this upcoming fight for you. You're battling Nick Pace and he's a really creative jiu-jitsu guy. Do you feel like this is a really great matchup for you where you guys could actually be battling everywhere?
Miguel Torres: I think we'll get a fight like that but it just depends on how he's gonna show up on that day. If he has a gameplan to just stall the fight on the ground, it all depends on how he looks to fight. I'm ready to take the fight anywhere. I'm not looking to use my jiu-jitsu on the ground with him. If he shoots for a takedown, I'm gonna stuff it right away and I'm gonna make him stand-up. I'm looking for a knockout. I'm not gonna play guard anymore where I'm on bottom looking for a submission. I'm sweeping the guy or I'm stuffing the takedown. I'm not playing the bottom game anymore. It's there, I have those skills to submit guys but my primary option is to stand with guys and knock them out.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): In your fight with Anthonio Banuelos, you picked him apart with your jab, just destroyed him with your reach advantage but you caught some flack because people thought you weren't being aggressive enough. Do you think with this work with Imperial, that you'll be able to follow up better if you're able to get your jab going?
Miguel Torres: 100 percent. 100 percent. The biggest thing with the Banuelos fight was it was hard to get going because he wasn't coming forward. He was at that distance where he wasn't closing the distance so I couldn't use my other weapons. I was prepared for his shot and I wasn't going to surrender easy takedowns by charging in there, I was gonna make him work for it. When we worked on that fight with Firas, the whole training camp I was throwing 1000 jabs a day, popping them off and the whole mindset there was it was one of the new skills I developed and I think, for me, it went to the extreme of winning but not being too aggressive and it came back to having my other extreme because I never used my range before.
I would always rush my opponents and I would kill my reach. Firas showed me how to use my reach and use that jab and I'm very happy. In that fight, I was taking no damage. It wasn't even like I was sparring. I was just picking the guy apart and when he tried to come in, I'd throw my right hand and keep him on the outside of my range and keep picking him apart. To me, that was one of those fights where you can't fight everybody the same. Some guys you've got to do something like that and some guys you've got to knock out and I think Nick Pace is the type of fight where he's tough but I can put him away.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Does it bother you at all that this fight isn't on the main card of the event or does it give you less pressure on yourself to go out there and do your job?
Miguel Torres: You know whether I'm in the main event or the first fight of the night, I never feel any pressure. For me, this is a main event fight. Every fight I have, I look at it as the main event. You can't take a fight as less important because you're on the preliminary card or you could get yourself in trouble. Every fight is important. Every fight can be your last fight in the UFC or a title shot so for me, this is a title fight and I've got to go out there and kill this guy. He's trying to take food from off my daughter's table and I'm trying to feed my daughter so we have two people coming out there trying to give it their all. That's the mindset that's carried me in the past and I lost it for a little bit but I've got it back again. I'm very eager to go out there and prove what I've been working on and show the world that I belong in the top echelon with the other 135-ers where I was at in the past.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): With Dominick Cruz having basically beaten numbers 2-7 in the bantamweight rankings, even this upcoming number one contender fight between Bowles and Cruz is between guys that have already lose to him. Do you feel like with over Nick Pace that you're right back in the thick of it in title contention?
Miguel Torres: 150 percent. I think I'm very close to a title fight still. I think I'm one of the only fighters that can present a real danger to Dominick Cruz. He's an outstanding wrestler and he's a great boxer, but he doesn't have that knockout capability and yeah, he's great at taking guys down but he's not submitting guys, he's not a finisher. I can be a baller, I can take the fight to him everywhere. MMA fights are about style matchups and for him, I think I'm a bad style matchup.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): My last question, you've been visualizing success against Nick Pace for a while now so when you close your eyes and think about the fight, how do you see yourself getting a victory next Saturday night?
Miguel Torres: I see a left hand and then a big uppercut. I see me finishing him with strikes.
Miguel would like to thank everyone at his gym, Miguel Torres Martial Arts, all the guys who helped him train the first month and a half. He started training for this fight in August and his students dedicated their time to helping him. He'd like to thank the guys from ASM and the Blackzilians, Glenn Robinson and of course Tristar, Firas Zahabi. He didn't leave them to train with Imperial like was initially rumored. Look him up on MiguelTorresMMA.com for Miguel Torres shirts, his "Submission of the Week" videos and he's got a bunch of media content.
So what do you think, Maniacs?
Will Torres channel his old school self and bring back that killer aggression that made him so popular and seemingly unstoppable? Or are those days fully behind him now?