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Best around: exclusive sit down with WEC champion Miguel Torres

Miguel Torres

On one night in February, Miguel Torres went from being a relatively unknown fighter from East Chicago (Ind.), to being the WEC bantamweight champion and being considered one of the top pound for pound fighters in the world.

His first real introduction to most casual fans was at WEC 32, when Torres defeated then-champion Chase Beebe via submission (guillotine choke) to win the 135-pound title. However, the scrappy Mexican-American has been beating people up -- sometimes grown men who outweigh him by more than 25 pounds -- for years in sanctioned and unsanctioned bouts for close to a decade .

His nearly perfect professional record (46-1), which includes just about every submission and finishing result in the book, is nothing compared to his unbelievable "amateur" accomplishments.

That number might seem different to you because Sherdog's Fight Finder has Torres listed as 33-1. Torres acknowledges that they were small time fights that were unsanctioned

"They were fights that helped build my career," Torres told "They were the ones that got me into the sport. They weren't weight classed, they were open rules."

Those early fights earned him a cult-like following on the underground Midwest MMA scene, as well as the respect of his peers such as UFC veteran and The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) star, Stephan Bonnar.

"When we were coming up, Miguel had the entire Chicago scene by the balls," said Bonnar. "He could sell more tickets than anyone. He turned events into such a show, complete with Mariachi bands and everything."

Torres has had many influences on his life, which have helped get to where he is at right now. But it's his father, Arnulfo Torres, who has had the biggest impact on the younger Torres' life. Torres' father is here in the United States on a work visa, after the family business he was working for in Mexico went under because of the struggling economy.

Torres' father made sure to send back a portion of his check to the rest of his family in Mexico. At times, it would be a struggle for their family in the states, because Torres' father was the only one to really be relied upon and he had to also take care of his wife, Elisa and their three children, including Miguel.

"A guy with three kids and a wife, a house and all this stuff, a thousand bucks a month is hard and he was doing it without asking any questions," Torres said.

The elder Torres made sure that his son went to college and indeed he did. The younger Torres graduated from Purdue University.

"He made me go, he wanted me to go. I was the first one to graduate from my family and he was the one that wanted me to do that," Torres said. "I wanted to do that to make him proud."

The apple doesn't fall to far from the tree. Torres is renowned for his intense work ethic and endless amount of energy. It's something that certainly does not go unnoticed by his peers.

"Miguel has unbelievable talent, but he also is the hardest working mixed martial artist on the planet," said Bonnar. "No one -- and I mean no one -- trains like him. He'll spar full contact for an hour straight without a rest, taking on like 15 different fresh guys during that time -- and he kicks all their asses. And that's after 15 rounds of boxing earlier in the day. No one does that."

When asked to put it into perspective for those who don't train, Bonnar detailed his recent training at XTreme Couture.

"We'll go hard for about 15 minutes straight and take a break," he said. "We also rotate fresh guys in, which takes a lot out of you no matter who you are. Unless, of course, you're Miguel Torres."

In addition to his father, the other huge influence in his life was the late Carlson Gracie -- the son of Carlos Gracie who helped found the popular Gracie fighting style. Carlson was widely considered the modern Godfather of mixed martial arts and was a true pioneer.

Torres trained under Gracie for years, honing all the nuances and technical skills it takes to achieve brown belt status. His teacher -- like his peers -- was also extremely impressed with Torres.

"Carlson often referred to Miguel the best," said Bonnar. "And if Carlson Gracie calls Miguel Torres the best, well, guess what, Miguel Torres is the best. Carlson actually went on television and said Miguel was the best in the world. Then he dared anyone to come down to the gym get their ass kicked by Miguel if they didn't believe him."

No one showed up, according to Bonnar, which didn't surprise him the least bit. That's because Carlson has mentored some of the best in the business, including Allan Goes, Murilo Bustamante, Mario Sperry and Ricardo Liborio, among others.

That's ridiculous company ... and quite an honor to be singled out among them.

Torres puts his heart and soul into being the best he can possibly be, which has earned him some nods within the hardcore MMA community as one of the top pound-for-pound fighters in the world. And when the term "pound for pound" is thrown around, there is perhaps not a better candidate than Torres.

There are numerous stories and tall tales about Torres about the early days in his career, beating 185-pound+ men (easily) for little to no cash and so on. When probed for a specific example of Torres defying the odds, Bonnar was quick to respond.

"Miguel was sparring hard for about 45 minutes once and this big 315-pound hillbilly rotated in thinking he could take care of business," said Bonnar. "Big mistake. In just a few seconds, Miguel managed to get the dude in a triangle and was choking the shit out of him. He put up a good fight, slamming Miguel all over the place to try and get him off, but it didn't work. The guy was so embarrassed to tap that he was trying to do it in a subtle fashion so Miguel would let him out. Of course Miguel just squeezed harder and soon enough the dude was pounding on the mat like a little girl."

Stories like that -- and that's just one of many truly unbelievable accounts -- have earned Torres a ton of respect in the industry. And when the call finally came to possibly win a world title, Torres was ready to go for that fight and proved himself to the MMA world on that night.

"I didn't have any nerves. I knew it was a big fight for my career and that Chase was a real tough guy," Torres said. Torres knew that Beebe would be tough on the ground so he did what he could to keep the fight standing.

"I knew if i kept my head on straight and i stuck to my game, I'd catch him eventually and it ended up working in my favor," Torres said.

Being a champion has been a goal that Torres has fought for his entire career, ever since he was young.

"As soon as I stepped into a dojo, I wanted to be a champion," Torres said. "I always wanted to be a champion and I knew it would eventually happen

With his win over Beebe, Torres has become a star in the WEC, but he hasn't let this new fame get to his head.

"I've never been one to get cocky or take an opponent lightly or slack off. My whole thing is my work ethic," Torres said. "That's what's got me where I'm at now. I just take it in strides now."

Bonnar agrees.

"Miguel eats, breathes and lives mixed martial arts," said Bonnar. "When he's not fighting, training or traveling, he's running his school and teaching classes. He's also a dad. The guy is so into what he does that he takes catnaps on the mats in the gym. And when he wakes up he starts training right away. It's really, really crazy."

As mentioned earlier, Torres is a Mexican-American, but he faced issues from both countries, which can be frustrating for anybody, but especially for Torres. He uses it as fuel to motivate him to be that much better.

"I consider myself Mexican-American, and when I go over there (Mexico), I'm considered American. So, I wasn't treated like family," Torres said. "When I'm out here, I'm not considered American, I'm considered Mexican and I get criticized out here (U.S.)"

Torres finds this frustrating to deal with. He loves the country that he was born and raised in, but at the same time, he is proud of his heritage.

"It's real frustrating, I'm an American, but I'm very proud of my heritage," Torres said. "I think my heritage made me as tough as I am now."

Torres will continue to keep doing what he's doing now and just focus on being himself and not try to please the entire world, all the while still being respectful.

"Everybody thinks the way they think, everybody is raised different and everybody has their own views. Everybody is right, nobody is wrong," Torres said. "So, I don't try to please everybody, I just try to be who I am, respect everybody, go in there, and do what I got to do and don't talk garbage."

One thing Torres is doing is he's helping out his community, by helping the youth. Torres runs a Jiu-Jitsu program for the youth in the community. The program started out with only a handful and now according to Torres, there are more than 60 members. The class costs $65 per month with classes several times per week.

Torres believes that there are a certain number of his students who could be great fighters someday.

"They're the future of my gym," Torres said.

The Midwest is one of the best regions to go to catch MMA action. There are many promotions in that section of the country, with many talented fighters. Torres, an experienced Midwest fighter, gives his reasons as to why Midwest MMA is popular.

"We don't have much to do out here, it's cold as shit in the winter and the summers are disgusting," Torres said. "For me, theres nothing but training to do. I think some of the best fighters in the world come out of the Midwest. We have a lot of talent out here. I think some of our shows are the best shows out here."

Torres also credits the work ethic of the Midwest as to why those fighters who come from there stand out more than others.

"It's the water we drink," Torres said. "We don't get to take vacations."

On Sunday night, Torres will get the opportunity to make his first title defense as bantamweight champion, when he takes on Yoshiro Maeda at WEC 34 at the ARCO Arena in Sacramento.

Maeda is 23-4-2, he's fought notable fighters like Charles Bennett and Baret Yoshida. Maeda defeated Charlie Valencia in his WEC debut in February. Torres knows he needs to be ready to go, when he faces the PRIDE and Pancrase veteran.

"I know he's going to be prepared. He knows what I can do," Torres said. "He's had time to train. I think he's going to come out and try to knock me out."

Torres will be prepared and looks forward to his opportunity in the cage.

"Every person I fight from here on out is going to try and use me to jump start their career," Torres said. "Now I'm on top and I have all these guys gunning for me. I love that pressure. That pressure drives me."

Not like he needs it.

WEC 34 can be seen on Versus on tonight (Sunday, June 1) at 9 p.m. ET/ 6 p.m. PT.

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