Miguel Torres became a bit of a controversial fighter when a politically incorrect tweet led to his termination from the UFC. Unsure of his future, many assumed that he would sign with Bellator to take part in their upcoming bantamweight tournament. Ultimately, cooler heads prevailed and Torres resigned with the UFC. I had the opportunity to speak with Miguel to catch up as the last time that we spoke was a day before his release. The man I spoke with was noticeably more mature and we discussed his release and re-signing. Once we broke the ice the topic shifted to Miguel's opinion on the current state of scoring in MMA and how judges score for positional control instead of submission attempts. As the conversation came to a close Miguel shared a story from his gym which had me cracking up.
Matthew Roth (BloodyElbow.com) - How are you Miguel?
Miguel Torres - What's going on brother?
Matthew Roth (BloodyElbow.com) - The last time we spoke was right before your release from the UFC. You've cleared everything up with Zuffa and you're back with the organization but is it possible that you could talk about what was going through your head when you found out you were released?
Miguel Torres - When I got released I was extremely remorseful. I was very apologetic because I didn't know what I was going to do. Since I was a kid my main goal was to fight in the UFC and I finally got here and got released for some comments that I made. I didn't know what I was going to do. I didn't consider fighting on any other organization. I didn't consider going anywhere else. In my mind if I wasn't fighting for the UFC I wasn't fighting for anyone else. I would have ended up retiring and teaching at my gym and running my business.
Matthew Roth (BloodyElbow.com) - Was there any part of you that was trying to figure out why you were released when others have made far worse comments with not even a slap on the wrist?
Miguel Torres - I came up a certain way where things happen for a reason. You don't look and ask why didn't this happen to this person or this person did worse. You own up to what you do. If you do wrong you own up to it. I realized that I had messed up and that I had made a mistake and I didn't really try and worry about what other people were trying to say or do. Two wrongs don't make a right. What I said was wrong and I got punished for it.
Matthew Roth (BloodyElbow.com) - And were you re-signed or did they basically say "we overreacted as well, don't worry about it"?
Miguel Torres - No, I was re-signed. I had to resign.
Matthew Roth (BloodyElbow.com) - So you have a brand new contract?
Miguel Torres - Yep.
Matthew Roth (BloodyElbow.com) - Alright, so you're next fight is at UFC 145 against Michael McDonald and I guess it could be viewed as a title eliminator of sorts. Is it difficult for you not to look ahead when there could be a title on the line maybe one fight afterwards?
Miguel Torres - For me every fight is a title fight. Every fight you have in the UFC is your next big fight of your career. You're always one fight away from greatness and you're one fight away from being forgotten. You are only as great as your last fight so for me, I look at this fight as a make or break fight. Even though he's young in his career and he doesn't have as much experience as I do, he's dangerous and he's looking to take what I have. Every time I fight I have family I have to take care of and I have to take care of my people. It would take food off my table so I think this fight is dangerous and I'm looking to go out there and put him away.
Continued after the jump...
Matthew Roth (BloodyElbow.com) - You said that every fight has to be a title fight and that you live and die by your fights. Is that kind of weird where fans can either love you or hate you depending on your performance and that they are so fickle about it?
Miguel Torres - Fans are gonna be fans. They don't know what the fighter goes through. They don't know about what goes on in his camp or if he has any injuries or was sick during training. They don't know if there was a death in the family or if there was a problem with a relationship. They don't know what a fighter goes through in the training camp. All they know is what they see posted on twitter. All they know is what they see posted on the internet and they allow that to base their judgements. They're not seeing into the fighter's life. You realize what he has to go through in training and being away from home and the different things a fighter has to go through leading up to that fight for the one moment to go out there and be judged by all those fans. So from my perspective, you can't get preoccupied with what the fans think about you or you'll never be happy. I go out there and I fight for my family, my friends, and my students. The fans that love me or hate me no matter what, I represent my real fans. I'm out there to do the best that I can.
Matthew Roth (BloodyElbow.com) - You also have a unique distinction where you've earned two black belts in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. Can you explain if you gave up your Carlson Gracie belt and why if you did?
Miguel Torres - The main reason why I went up to Montreal...jiu jitsu on the ground...in the guard, passing the guard...anything that concerns jiu jitsu I consider myself a master at. My wrestling was a realm that I had never been really interested in. When I got to Montreal it was apparent so all I did was wrestle. So for me, I wasn't a complete black belt until I could control between standing and the ground. So Firas was the first to give me that mentality or idea and I looked at him as a coach and more than that a mentor. Wrestling is a very important part of the game, especially in mixed martial arts. Just for myself so I could motivate myself and consider myself a complete grappler I had to take that mentality so I could fully focus on my wrestling skills. It's one of those things where there was a hole in my game that I could make up for doing other things such as having a better guard or better submission skills. But at the end of the day you want to be complete and for me to be complete I had to work on wrestling. And I'm still working on wrestling now. It's not like I did it for two years and it's over. It's an ongoing process.
Matthew Roth (BloodyElbow.com) - So the main difference in the philosophies of styles between Carlson BJJ and Zahabi BJJ is the focus on wrestling?
Miguel Torres - Carlson Gracie Jiu Jitsu is mostly focused on the guard and passing the guard. There are a few judo takedowns and a few wrestling takedowns but it is very oriented towards the guard. It's a ground system. Firas' style is different because he trains a lot of fighters. He trains with the gi but primarily trains a no-gi system. Any time I can do it just on my own so I can focus on my wrestling skills. My submission skills are excellent but it's my wrestling that I'm working on.
Matthew Roth (BloodyElbow.com) - Speaking of Carlson, you are one of the few Americans with a direct lineage to Carlson Gracie. Prior to his death there were some issues that he had with his Brazilian students from the Carlson team. What was your relationship with him?
Miguel Torres - I didn't even know who Carlson Gracie was for a very long time. I had thirty fights when I met him. I was fighting in the mid-west and Stephan Bonnar was also fighting on the same shows that I was and he was watching me for a long time. I was going to Brazil for months at a time to train with Carl Delaheva. The last trip that I went there I was like 24 and he was like "Miguel, why are you coming all the way to Brazil and spending all of your time out here. The guy who gave me my black belt Carlson Gracie, he lives in Chicago. Why don't you just drive 15 minutes and see his gym." I was like "I did not not that, I'll check it out when I get back." When I got home I went to Carlson's gym. He was actually out of town I believe in London and I was training at the gym. I met Spencer and a couple of the guys. Carlson shows up and from the minute he walked in he was like "oh the Mexican wrestler is here" and from then he took me under his wing. From there I went from being a mid-west superstar to known internationally in like a day.
Matthew Roth (BloodyElbow.com) - Is it possible to find the balance between the Carlson Gracie/Mike Van Arsdale approach to being super aggressive and beating people up versus the TriStar philosophy of constant drilling?
Miguel Torres - Both styles lead to the same thing. They both lead you to win. For me my goal is to find a balance of the two. The balance of the go out there and kill and destroy and being the smart fighter as the tactician. I'm by nature very aggressive. That's my style. The Carlson Gracie/Van Arsdale approach is up my alley. I understand everything they say. But Zahabi's way, Firas' way keeps me balance and keeps me smart and keeps me alert. If I fight a guy who doesn't want to fight that brawling style and just wants to take me down and hold me down and lay there like the Demetrious Johnson fight, I strayed from the game plan and I lost that fight. If I had listened to Firas and controlled my positions I would have won. It would have been boring but I would have won and I would have my title shot. But I think "go for the kill! go for the kill!" led to me to go to my back and go for submissions and not get credit for them. I fought that style and lost. I'm finding the balance of the two and I think I'll be a very dangerous fighter.
Matthew Roth (BloodyElbow.com) - You actually brought up something that I wanted to talk about which is position vs submission. The first question is that it seems like a lot of lighter weight guys outside of Imanari, it's very rare to see them attempt or complete leg locks. Do you think that leg locks are more weight class based or is it just that you just don't want to give up the position you had?
Miguel Torres - My main style that I trained for ten years in grappling and jiu jitsu was to finish your opponent. Even when I would teach I would tell all my students that if they're going out there and winning by points they're not winning the match. They have to submit the guy they're going against. That was the mentality that I had. But what happened was as more schools opened up and people started learning grappling more and people started learning what was going on, it changed the mentality. People knew that if they got the takedown and landed in top position all they had to do was hold their opponent there. They'd wait for their opponent to open their guard and then pass to half guard and get the advantage. It changed the whole game. When you wrestle and grapple extremely smart, it's a time game where you use the clock. If you watch two guys at the Worlds, whoever gets that first takedown won't try and break the guard and pass, they're gonna stay there and let the guy on bottom try and sweep or submit. And when he does that then the guy on top will try to pass and control. My personal grappling style is to submit whoever I'm going against repeatedly. But when I'm going against a smart grappler or a strong wrestler I'm gonna control the position, I'm gonna lay there, and I'm gonna hold him. It's gonna be boring but it's a chess match.
Matthew Roth (BloodyElbow.com) - Do you think that the Demetrious Johnson fight changed your philosophy on where you stood on position vs submission?
Miguel Torres - Oh one hundred percent. When I came up I was coming from the Shooto rules where if a guy takes you down and you put him in a tight guillotine or a deep armbar they scored it like a 10-9 round for a deep submission. If you swept and got on top that would nullify the takedown. So it was a MMA fight but with grappling orientated rules on the ground. In my mind that's how I was fighting. So I figured round one and round three for sure I had won. Round down even though I had a couple passes I don't know how they would have scored them. I thought that I did enough grappling wise. It was basically a grappling match on the ground during the whole fight. It's just how you look at it and how judges can be educated and score a fight on the ground.
Matthew Roth (BloodyElbow.com) - So do you think it's the scoring that needs to change or do you think that it's going to be an evolution of the guard based grapplers that are going to have to adapt their games?
Miguel Torres - I think it's both. When the scoring changes and wrestlers aren't allowed to win a round by just taking someone down and lay and praying then it will make them change their game and elevate their game to try and pass the guard or cause damage. Or try and create a position where they're gonna cause damage. If you're Chael Sonnening someone and you're pounding them out? That's one thing. But if you're just getting the takedown and then just laying there for two to three minutes or shoot at the last minute to steal the round, that's not a fight that people want to see.
Matthew Roth (BloodyElbow.com) - And do you still compete in grappling tournaments or do you focus on your students now and let them compete for you?
Miguel Torres - When I retire from MMA I'm going to be doing grappling tournaments whenever I can. Right now when I'm back at my gym I'm focused on training my students and trying to get them ready for stuff. I have a huge kids program. My white belt program is huge. I have a huge kickboxing class. And I have fighters out of my gym so when I come back I try and impart knowledge on everyone that's there.
Matthew Roth (BloodyElbow.com) - Alright, so part of why you were able to improve so much is that you really were living and breathing the sport when you were living at your gym. One of the big stories that I heard was about a game called "Cuddle Monster". Did this game exist and can you talk about it?
Miguel Torres - It's a game so well what happened was I was at my gym for a training camp and every time a new guy would come in from out of town to train with me because I'd have guys down for training, we'd pick them up from the airport and then go to dinner. I'd tell them that tonight we were gonna play cuddle monster. And they're like "what's that?" And I was like "it's part of our training, the four of us, we're the monster and you're the cuddle." You switch the lights off and you say cuddle and they try and find you. It was just a game that we'd mess with the new guys with. Whether we played it or not, I'll leave that up to you and how you want to write it but that's what I'd always tell guys: that we were going to play cuddle monster. So we'd be sleeping and I'd yell out in the middle of the night "cuddle" and the other guys would respond "monster" and the new guys would freak out. It was a joke we had for the new guy.
Matthew Roth (BloodyElbow.com) - Hahaha, I like that story. That's all the questions I have for you, is there anything that I may have missed that you'd like to add?
Miguel Torres - Just that I appreciate all of the support that I get and when I was released all the support that I got from the fans. I really appreciated it. One of my fans had a petition signed by like 2,000 people and I thought it was just a signature petition. It was people who had met me throughout my WEC and UFC career, fans that I met in the streets, fans that I met doing a PR tour somewhere. They wrote stories that they remembered about me and I read every one of them. It was very nice to hear and see that during that time. It meant a lot. To my family and friends and students, I want to say thank you very much and when I go out there and fight I represent them.