Miguel Torres knocking out latest project – opening new MMA gym
When preparing for fights, Miguel Torres has made a habit of training, eating and sleeping in his gym.
Recently, the East Chicago native and pro mixed martial arts fighter was at a new gym location working to complete a major move.
Almost ready for an expected stream of regular clients and the occasional “huge fan,” Torres spent much of July coordinating renovation work at 511 E. 45th Ave. in Griffith. In the last few days, the speed of the efforts picked up to the pace of a ground-and-pound finish.
Though the former World Extreme Cagefighting bantamweight champion and Ultimate Fighting Championship fighter has relocated his Torres Martial Arts from Hammond to his current hometown of Griffith, he’s still just as dedicated to teaching his craft to region residents.
“I want to be there to teach the last class at my old place,” Torres said of the gym he’d operated since 2008. “I’m going to feel very proud. I did a thing I didn’t think I could do there. A lot of guys were talking (stuff) thinking I couldn’t (do it.)”
Considering the fact that rent for his new gym will be only one-third of what he was paying for his old, albeit, bigger Indianapolis Blvd. studio, the move was all about dollars and sense.
“Why (spend) it when I can make money,” he said, standing in the former Plaza Grocery in Griffith, just blocks from the home he shares with his wife and daughter.
Torres, 32, wore a beaten path to the local hardware store as he kept family members, friends and students equipped for his start-from-scratch efforts. Moldy insulation had to be replaced and new drywall had to be smoothed out. The discovery of a nearly petrified box of ice cream sandwiches would be a distant memory once the gym’s front counter took shape.
As with many things, Torres put the dirty clean-up work in perspective.
“I’m on the mat all day with a bunch of sweaty, disgusting guys, so…” Torres said through a smile.
Melissa Torres, Miguel’s sister and gym manager, said the Griffith facility has an open concept and plenty of space for training on the mats. With 3,500 square feet, the venue features a dedicated weight room, changing space and an office area.
And he doesn’t expect to lose many students because of the move — in fact, Torres believes he’ll have to set caps on enrollment as people from other areas check out his new digs. He has taught as many as 200 youths and adults at the old facility.
Dillon Gower was cutting drywall along with local fighter Matt McMinn at the Torres gym. The Florida resident would train with Miguel in the evening. As a guest at the MMA pro’s Griffith home, Gower said he wanted to be helpful during the studio’s move.
Gower first met Torres when he was a presenter at an MMA seminar in the Sunshine State. He holds an amateur title and fights with Daytona Beach’s Breakthrough MMA.
Coming up to the Torres’ region was “an opportunity of a lifetime” he said.
“Before I started fighting I was watching Miguel on TV,” the 25-year-old bearded fighter said about Torres. “He’s probably part of what motivated me to (pursue MMA). I was working full-time and I decided to quit.”
He added: “(Torres) has a similar body type as me. Same style too — stand-up with jiu jitsu. And I figured I’d commit myself and see what happened.”
Gower’s beard is about as long as Torres’ famous mullet. The amateur said he would shave it when he inks his first pro contract. Torres (40-6, overall MMA) also hinted at possible changes to his hairstyle, suggesting he may “want to start out fresh.”
“I don’t have nicknames — but everyone talks about the old you, the new you and da-da-da,” Torres said. “It’s the same me. The thing is my fighting style has not changed because I’ve changed. My fighting style has changed because the damage that I take when I win a crazy fight — I can’t do that anymore. My body won’t last.”
When asked about where the wear concerns him the most, he proceeded to list numerous body parts and then said, “that’s about it.”
But Torres will not be limping into the next several years of MMA instruction. The blackbelt in jiu jitsu, who signed with the World Series of Fighting in September, said beginners as well as seasoned athletes will get the same high-quality, personalized Brazilian jiu jitsu, boxing and kickboxing instruction.
“For me my gym can’t fail; I have to be a good teacher,” he said. “For me to be a good teacher I have to have a good experience to give my students ... to be able to transfer the idea of what I’m teaching them.”
He added: “I want to be known as one best fighters in the world who took what he knew and gave it to his people.”
Torres’ MMA journey of blood, sweat and tears began with unsanctioned fights in smoky bars that yielded to his inclusion on Chicago-area promotions such as Total Fight Challenge and Ironheart Crown. He built an excitable fan base fighting at Hammond’s Civic Center en route to a 32-1 record.
His commitment to train with the best would raised Torres’ profile in the MMA world. Known as the founders of Brazilian jiu jitsu, the Carlos Gracie (Sr.) family trained fighters out of Chicago. Torres impressed the Gracies, who saw him as pound-for-pound the best bantamweight MMA prospect.
After international travel, Torres found a higher-profile organization closer to home where he could apply his superior striking skills. He signed with World Extreme Cagefighting in 2007. From his first fight in September of that year to his successful title shot versus Chase Beebe in WEC 32 and through 2009, Torres won five straight bouts.
In 2008, the Northwest Indiana MMA pro earned his black belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu from Carlson Gracie, Jr.
In October 2010, the UFC absorbed the WEC in a merger and retained most of the WEC’s fighters. Torres officially joined Munster native and 2005 Wrestling Observer “Fight of the Year” participant Stephan Bonnar as a member of the world’s most prominent MMA organization. Bonnar had been under Torres’ tutelage years earlier.
Torres entered the octagon for UFC 126 in February 2011. The event was the promotional debut for him and for WEC veteran Antonio Banuelos. Torres supplied nearly all of the offense for two-and-a-half rounds and dispatched the diminutive Banuelos by unanimous decision.
The no-nickname Griffith resident went 1-1 in the UFC. But then came December 8, 2011.
What started out as a routine day of teaching at his Hammond gym turned into the start of an unintended controversy that played out on the Internet and TV.
“I was on the mat (on Dec. 8) teaching class and I had about 40 guys in the class,” Torres recalled. “We just got done with drilling and technique and we were sparring. I did a match and then one of my boys calls (staff member) Carly to call Glen (Robinson, Torres’ manager) right now.
“So I go to my phone and I pick it up and see like 50 missed phone calls and texts and my Twitter going off.”
According to Torres, he was advised by the UFC to start maintaining a Twitter account and post regularly. But the learning curve about the content of a “tweet” proved to be a difficult one.
Torres had posted a quote based on content he viewed on the TV shows “Always Sunny in Philadelphia” and “Workaholics”. The words were of a joke about a vehicle and a name for it that had sexual connotations.
That same day, during an interview for the Sports Illustrated web site, UFC president Dana White announced that Torres was cut from the organization. He did not talk to the fighter directly.
Torres issued a public apology related to the Twitter post. Nearly three weeks after the original online rumpus, White, citing the fighter’s mea culpa, announced that the fighter was back in the UFC.
“I went through the worse time in my life and came through with a new appreciation for what I do,” Torres said.
Torres has remained contrite about the infamous posted remark, but also said that he found it unsettling that the same network that airs the UFC also broadcasts “Family Guy”, which he believes contains all sorts of potentially inappropriate content.
The dust had settled from the Internet dust-up when Torres agreed to another UFC match. But he said he didn’t like the advice he got concerning fighting Michael McDonald. In Atlanta at UFC 145, the California fighter punched out Torres for a KO win 3:18 into the match.
Once again, Torres was let go from the UFC.
In September, Torres announced that he had singed with the upstart WSOF. On Nov. 3 at Las Vegas, Torres’ overall MMA record dropped to 40-6 when he lost a split decision to Marlon Moraes in WSOF 1.
Such activity may keep some fans content, but Torres has an UFC-or-bust attitude — a large TV audience is important, he concluded. And he won’t even look at the Bellator organization because they require life-long contracts.
“If you have a higher platform to fight in, you’re worth more to your sponsors, you can make more money and take care of yourself better,” he said.
Still Torres said his main calling and what he wishes to continue to be appreciated for is teaching mixed martial arts to Northwest Indiana residents.
“Fighting is overrated and worthless,” said Torres, once self-labeled a “small, skinny guy.” “What is a fighter worth? You’re worth what the people say you’re worth. So the fighter knows what he’s worth, and what he’s capable of, and what he deserves, but in the public eye he (may not) be worth it anymore.
He added: “But me, I’ve got my (stuff) taken care of: I have my business, I live off of my business.”
And for fans who want to know what’s next fight-wise, Torres had something to say about that too.
After some second-guessing and feeling “(peeved)” about his last couple of losses, he rolled out a refined outlook.
“When I start fighting again when I’m healthy, I’m going to go out the way I came in,” Torres emphatically said. “I’m going to train in my hometown, I’m going to train here with my students in the region. And my training partners from Tristar (who) want to come and help me, I would appreciate them coming to help me. I’m basically looking out for my family and looking to grow my business and do well for myself.”