Meet the top eight strawweights that will be competing on season 20 of The Ultimate Fighter...
Tecia Torres doesn’t deal in what ifs. It’s all absolutes for the “Tiny Tornado” from south Florida, so whether she does it intentionally or subconsciously, there are no ifs, ands, or buts about her wearing the UFC strawweight championship belt. She’s going to get it, whether it’s after season 20 of The Ultimate Fighter or further down the line.
“Honestly, I just think I’m getting better and better, and it’s great that I’m in the UFC, but the hard part is staying in the UFC, and that’s what I want to do,” she said. “I want to become the champion and hold that belt. I don’t want to just win a fight and then lose it in my next fight. I want to create the Tiny Tornado legacy. (UFC women’s bantamweight champion) Ronda Rousey has her own thing, but I’m such a different fighter, and I truly believe that I’m going to leave that show with the belt, and if something happens where I don’t, I will have that belt around my waist. I really think I can beat every single girl in that house. I’m not saying that I’m better than them, just that when I go in there and fight, I fight to my best ability and it works out in my favor every time.”
Eleven times the 24-year-old karate and taekwondo black belt has stepped up on fight night – four times professionally and seven times as an amateur – and each time she walked away with her hand raised. She even holds decision wins over two of her future castmates on TUF 20, Felice Herrig and Rose Namajunas. But she’s not satisfied.
“I’m coming for all of them,” said Torres. “It’s gonna be awesome. Every fight I get better and better, so I’m really excited to see how it works out and how the girls come in there ready for the show.”
This confidence isn’t declared in a trash talking or bold way; it’s almost matter of fact, like she expects to win every time. Given her success thus far, she’s had no reason to think otherwise, and training with the renowned American Top Team can leave you feeling pretty good about your prospects as well. So it’s a bit of a shocker when she says that before the call came from the UFC to compete on TUF for the promotion’s first ever 115-pound title, Torres was seriously thinking about leaving the full-time fighting life aside.
“I said if the UFC wasn’t going to pick us up, I was going to go back and find a career and I’d still fight, but maybe once or twice a year,” she said. “I either need to make a career out of it and do it, or do it for fun. I’m 24, but I’m not getting any younger, and I want a good life for myself and for my future family.”
It was a dilemma previously faced by TUF winners Forrest Griffin and Joe Stevenson before they picked up UFC contracts after six weeks on the reality series, and while Torres’ pro experience pales in comparison to what Griffin and Stevenson had leading up to their life altering experiences on the show, she is no newbie, having spent nearly two decades in martial arts. And her association with combat sports will never change.
“I think martial arts will always be a part of my life,” she said. “I started when I was five, and if I don’t open a school one day or teach or manage, I would still practice to stay in shape. It’s really been a passion of mine and I think that I attribute a lot of the things I’ve been able to accomplish in my life to martial arts. From getting good grades when I was growing up to finishing college to respecting my elders to the discipline that I have - everything can go back to martial arts. From five to 17 I did karate, and I wasn’t able to do my training until I finished my homework. My instructor always made sure we had good grades, I was always on the honor roll, and if we got in trouble at home, we’d get in trouble in the gym. (Laugh) But martial arts helped me to stay on track.”
Those are lessons you can’t put a price tag on, but at the same time you can’t pay the rent with them. So after going full-time in MMA before her win over Namajunas last July, she quickly realized that while she was becoming a better fighter, without the UFC juggernaut behind her, there was no way it was going to be the career she wanted it to be.
“I was a good fighter before, but I think I became a great fighter being able to train full-time and not worry about the stress of work,” said Torres, who finally got her dream call when she was selected as one of the eight Invicta FC fighters to be brought over for TUF 20. And it’s not just a good thing for Torres personally, but a big deal in the great scheme of things in MMA.
“I do like that we’re making a mark and paving a way for women, and I think that this 115-pound weight class is definitely going to open the eyes of some people that may not have been interested in women’s fighting before,” she said. “I think that the level of talent surpasses that of the 135-pound weight class, so people will be surprised by what we have to bring to the table. And I also want to leave a legacy behind me. I definitely look at myself as a role model, so going there and being able to have the opportunity to become the champion and lead by example is really awesome.”
Some folks don’t want that ‘role model’ burden on their shoulders. Torres is just fine with it, even with six weeks of being in everyone’s living room just around the corner.
“I’m a pretty friendly person,” she said. “I don’t drink, I don’t smoke, and I never have, so I don’t think I’ll have any issues there. And I’m respectful to everyone who’s respectful to me, so I’m going to go there for one reason only, and that’s for the belt. I’ll make friends along the way because that’s my personality, but I’m there for business.”
Correction – championship business.
“I’m excited, but I just want to get it done,” said Torres. “I want to become the champion already.”