Growing up in New England and then Florida, Tecia Torres wasn’t aware that being a fighter of Puerto Rican descent was a big deal.
But her parents were aware.
“As an adult, I realize it, but growing up, I was honestly just oblivious to it,” laughs the strawweight contender. “I knew nothing of the UFC until I was 18, 19. But my parents swear that they used to watch the UFC on TV all the time, so I'm assuming they watched boxing as well. They knew about Chuck Liddell and Tito Ortiz before I ever knew about them, so I guess fighting has always been something that they've enjoyed watching.”
And at the age of five, Torres was already in the gym learning karate, following her dad to the dojo his friend owned.
“I was my dad's shadow, so I went with him and I started there,” she recalled. “Then my parents separated, and my mom took us to Florida, and the one thing my mom promised would be that she would keep me in karate, so that's why I started doing karate in Florida.”
She never stopped studying martial arts, earning a black belt in Jhoon-Rhee Taekwondo before moving to jiu-jitsu, then MMA. Today, she’s ranked ninth in the world at 115 pounds and riding a three-fight winning streak, most recently decisioning Angela Hill in their UFC 265 rematch in August.
That’s the day job resume for the “Tiny Tornado,” but it’s not the beginning and end of her story. Add in that she got her master’s degree in Criminology in 2017, studying while training for fights, her willingness to discuss her mental health freely, and her membership in the LGBTQ community, and the 32-year-old is one of the most well-rounded individuals you will ever run into. That’s something to be celebrated, especially during Hispanic Heritage Month.
“I feel like I am a role model to people and people look up to me, but I try to be as authentic as I can,” she said. “In the last two years, I've shared my battles with my mental health and when I preach things, I'm preaching it to myself and I hope I get that point across. We're in this together and working on it. Yes, I'm telling you this, but I'm also telling myself this as a reminder.
"It motivates me to do better knowing that I'm telling you guys this because I want to live up to my words. So there's the mental health aspect, and education is something I will always tell people to pursue. Education and mental health are very important. Being part of the LGBTQ community is important, as well, and being who I am and being authentic to myself is definitely something I stay true to.”
People are watching and listening to what Torres does, in and out of the Octagon, and she’s seen her influence grow over the years, especially among younger folks.
“With social media nowadays, you're easily accessible, and maybe you can't talk to everybody individually, but you're always getting messages, and when we go to fights when there are fans or people recognize you on the streets, a lot of times it's kids and it makes me happy because that's a group of people I enjoy helping and training with,” Torres said.
“With kids, it's so easy to share my passion with them. I even have this one girl who's local to Colorado and I got to go to her jiu-jitsu school, because it ended up being where I train, too, but I didn't know that. And she dressed up as me for Halloween - it was so cute. So I definitely understand and see the impact that I'm able to put on the next generation. And I started at five, so seeing my godson in karate and his best friend, it's so awesome. I went to his first karate tournament and I legit started crying as soon as I saw him in his gear. It was awesome.”
Following someone on Instagram or Twitter is one thing, having someone dress up as you for Halloween is next level influential, and it’s something Torres will never forget. One thing she also refuses to forget is who she is and what she represents. That’s the most important thing of all for her.
“I don't let the fact that I'm in the UFC and I fight on TV and people know me get to my head,” she said. “At the end of the day, I'm just Tecia.”