After suffering consecutive losses for the first time in his career, Miguel Angel Torres knew he needed to make a change.
The first lost cost him the WEC bantamweight title; the second derailed his hopes of regaining the belt quickly. Both defeats put the holes in his ultra-aggressive style under the microscope, prompting Torres to begin working with Firas Zahabi and the team at the TriStar Gym in Montreal, Quebec, home of UFC welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre.
Six month later, Torres returned and the impact of Zahabi’s guidance was easily recognized. The lanky former champion was using his jab far more than ever before, and reined in his “go forward at all costs” approach, replacing it with a more tactical, structured game plan.
Back-to-back wins over Charlie Valencia and Antonio Banuelos had Torres back on the right track, and set up an exciting pairing with Demetrious Johnson at UFC 130. Contested almost exclusively on the ground, Johnson came away with the victory, earning a unanimous decision that remains hotly debated.
The loss hit Torres hard, and still stirs frustration in his voice when he talks about the fight six months later.
“It was one of those things where I went into the fight with a game plan — I was going to use my jiu-jitsu right away, force him to shoot right away, and use my jiu-jitsu to beat him. I thought I did that. My sweeps and my submission attempts, I thought I had him on defense the whole time; I thought I did the job.
“After about five minutes it sunk in, and I felt like I got robbed. I felt very upset. It was an awkward feeling because I’ve never been put in that situation before. I know I was on bottom, but I know I was working.
“It was an awkward thing, but I look back, and it was my fault — I shouldn’t have let it go to the judges. I tried fighting a technical fight and a safe fight; I thought I did what I had to do, but I let it go to the judges. When you let that happen, things like this happen — decisions don’t go in your favor — and so I totally take the blame for that.”
With his road back to the top of the bantamweight division once again encountering a roadblock, Torres continued to fine-tune his approach in the cage. He spent a month training in South Florida with Tyrone Spong and the rest of the team at Imperial Athletics, then headed back to Montreal to spend the last two weeks of his camp with Zahabi.
“I’ve been working with The Blackzilians in Fort Lauderdale, working with Tyrone Spong on my striking, and he’s an ultra-aggressive striker. The only thing that he wants me to do is KO people. In that sense, I’ve been working a lot on that aggressive, old style that I had, but at the same time, I totally appreciate and understand and love the way that Firas wants me to fight.
“The big thing is to find a balance in the middle. Firas wants me to be aggressive, but he wants me to be smart and be safe. I can see the points of both styles, but I’ve got to find a balance in the middle.
““I went from one extreme of being an ultra-aggressive striker and grappler to being a fighter that’s using strategy and game planning, and it’s a whole other extreme.”
Torres will get the opportunity to try and find that balance inside the cage Saturday night at UFC 139 when he meets Nick Pace.
After headlining numerous WEC events and splitting his two previous UFC appearances between the pay-per-view main card and Spike TV, Torres is in unfamiliar territory this time, fighting on the untelevised preliminary portion of the card for the first time.
Torres is taking the demotion in stride, using it as a reminder of what he needs to do when the cage door closes.
“It should give me a push and it should make me angry, but it doesn’t. I’ve done a lot for the sport, especially for my weight class — I’ve headlined a lot of cards, and I’ve been at the top of the billboard a lot, and to get pushed all the way down like this is one of those things where people are forgetting who I am and what I’m all about. I’ve got to go out there and make an example of my opponents, and make people realize who I am again.
“When I found out where I was fighting, I wasn’t upset. It was one of those things like when you know your girlfriend is cheating on you and you just have to get even, and that’s what I’m planning on doing.”
For Torres, that means putting the things he’s been working on over the last six months into practice; showcasing the skills that made him a world champion in the WEC, and starting another climb towards the top of the bantamweight division.
“I’ve got to go out there and take care of business. I can’t let it go to the judges’ hands, and I don’t want to go out there and just win this fight by decision; I want to show the world who Miguel Torres is again.
“I’m still young in my career; I still have a long way to go. The world hasn’t seen the best Miguel Torres yet.
“I’m on a personal quest to be the best fighter I can be, and be the best fighter in the world. I’m not going to quit until I reach my goals. Every goal that I’ve ever set for myself I’ve accomplished; I don’t know what it’s like not to accomplish goals. So for me, I’m going to get to the top of the mountain; it’s just a matter of time.”
Miguel Torres - The Evolution Continues
"I’ve got to go out there and make an example of my opponents, and make people realize who I am again." - Miguel Angel Torres