UFC 139: Miguel Torres vs. Nick Pace Dissection

A searing bantamweight bout captains the UFC 139: Henderson vs. Rua preliminary card stream on Facebook.

Once at the helm of a seventeen-fight winning streak, former WEC champion Miguel Torres (39-4) has dropped three of his last five. Brian Bowles snared his bantamweight title with a monstrous overhand right and Team Alpha Male's Joseph Benavidez mashed his forehead open with a wicked elbow for his first taste of defeat in six years.

To close out his sparkling career in the WEC, the Tristar Gym juggernaut finagled a rear-naked choke on Charlie Valencia, then stabbed long jabs in the face of Antonio Banuelos for a decision win in his Octagon debut. In a bout that underwent considerable scrutiny, Torres confidently dueled with Demetrious Johnson from his back and lost a unanimous decision. While some took issue with the way the fight was scored, I think most would agree that it was far from a disappointing performance.

Rising prospect Nick Pace (6-2) is coming off a debatable decision loss as well. The Tiger Schulmann bantamweight cracked Ivan Menjivar with a knee in the final round that put the veteran on his bicycle while pawing at an obviously compromised eye for the last minute of action. It was an evenly contested fight throughout and Menjivar took the unanimous decision, but Pace was seriously impressive despite the loss.

Before that, Pace was also defeated by Johnson in his first WEC appearance, then garnered attention for coining his innovative "Pace Choke"; the no-arm triangle he pulled off on Will Campuzano in his UFC debut at the TUF 12 Finale. Having already demonstrated the violence of his striking in his second pro fight at Bellator 11, the creative submission over Campuzano and strong showing against Menjivar proved that the relatively inexperienced fighter could have a very bright future.

Gifs and analysis in the full entry.

SBN coverage of UFC 139: Henderson vs. Rua

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The Pace choke is shown to the right. The technique is a combination of the triangle and D'arce choke in that his leg goes over the head in standard triangle position, but without his opponent's arm trapped inside and the submission is tied with the hands instead of his other leg.

Once he drapes his leg over the back of the head, Pace threads his right arm underneath Campuzano's neck and grabs his own ankle (a.k.a. "the pillory" position).  Then he brings his left hand into the mix and goes to the Gable Grip to constrict the hold and elicit the tapout.

The unorthodox finish required a lot of intelligence and on-the-fly creativity while making for a stylish UFC debut.

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Pace undertook martial arts at age ten under Tiger Schulmann, a renowned full-contact karate competitor in the 80's. Schulmann would become a devoted instructor at Tiger Schulmann's Karate; a succesful institution and training system that eventually became Tiger Schulmann's Mixed Martial Arts.

Pace trains alongside current TUF competitor Louis Gaudinot and Bellator welterweight standout Lyman Good.

His striking instincts were on full display in his first spotlight fight against Collin Tebo at Bellator 11 (left).

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Pace has great footwork and a solid kickboxing game. His offering consists of good hand-work in the pocket, often leading with a crisp left hook, and kicks from a distance, mostly low but with roundhouses and front kicks also mixed in on occasion.

As these last two animations depict, his flying knees and knees from the clinch are the strikes he's consistently the most effective with.

From everything we've seen thus far, Pace is also a surprisingly competent wrestler who has even exhibited some Judo techniques during tie-ups.

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For a guy with a background seemingly rooted in the striking arts, Pace's scrambling and grappling skills are frightening.

He carved through Menjivar's savvy guard and took his back very quickly in the opening round, which is quite a tremendous feat considering his opponent's vast experience on the mat against elite-level MMA fighters.

Pace will be challenged with the outlandish reach length (76") and minor height advantage (2") of Torres, who is a feisty Thai practitioner and an aggressive submission grappler himself.

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I find it virtually impossible to dislike Miguel Torres.

He is overloaded with offensive firepower, most of which boils down to a dangerously unpredictable striking arsenal and a silky smooth BJJ onslaught.

It's not often we can get away with saying that a fighter has taken a page out of Harold Howard's book with both kicking techniques and hairdos, but that holds true for Torres.

Unless you're a Russian mental patient on the lam like Viacheslev Datsik, the rolling axe-kick is amiss from your repertoire. Yet, just like with the mullet, Torres is one of the few who can pull it off.

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Craving a change in his training regimen after the consecutive WEC losses to Bowles and Benavidez, Torres started to work under Firas Zahabi and associate himself with Canada's TriStar Gym, which houses fellow UFC fighters Georges St. Pierre, Rory MacDonald and Menjivar.

Zahabi's influence was readily apparent in the elongated jab and fluent circling he used to derail Banuelos. The jab has long been touted as one of the most under-used fundamentals of striking in MMA and Torres treated fans to a textbook unfolding of its efficacy.

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Torres implemented his gangly, piston-like jab to control the range, steer Banuelos around the cage (mostly backwards) and to set up his right cross.

Studying Banuelos' patterns while reacting to the irritating stream of leather he kept casting, Torres started to plant his feet more and key in his follow up right hand. When Banuelos tried to palm-block, slip the jab or counter strike, Torres would break his one-punch pace and needle a crisp right.

He refused to let Banuelos settle in or find any rhythm, winning a dominant decision with extraordinary application of an ordinary technique.

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Torres encountered an entirely different animal in "Mighty Mouse". The AMC Pankration fighter, who travels at light speed and has some of the cleanest takedowns in the biz, circumvented the standup and forced Torres into a frenzied grappling match.

Mostly with the butterfly guard, Torres was active from the bottom and consistently held his own with a library of sweeps, transitions and submission attempts. He's the first to admit that wrestling is not his strong-point and he fits the same mold as Carlos Condit and the Diaz brothers in that he compensates for this hole with a ridiculously lethal BJJ acumen.

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Torres is prolific off his back by pursuing any and all opportunities fearlessly and then transitioning from one threat to another at a quick pace. His idea of defense on the ground is to respond with a higher level of offense; to attack mercilessly.

It's definitely been an exciting and fan-friendly tactic, but the outcome of the Johnson fight aptly symbolizes the associated risks.

Since Pace is also an assertive grappler, I expect a rousing scramble-fest anytime these two tangle on the floor where either could catch the other, which is a theme I expect to be congruent in the striking department as well.

At the time of writing, Torres is a heavy favorite on the betting lines (in the -300s) which comes as a bit of a surprise. I think the match up is much closer than that even though I'm giving Miguel the nod in a barn-burner. Pace carries the stronger momentum into the bout but Torres is more experienced and proven in the two categories --striking and submissions -- that Pace specializes in.

The rubbery reach advantage (8" difference) of Torres also factors into my pick, especially considering the emphasis on striking exchanges in this match up. Pace could very well keep Miguel under constant pressure and control the tempo, but only if he can penetrate into close range without eating too many punches.

My Prediction: Miguel Torres by decision

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