After the first stoppage victory of her career, Tecia Torres (9-1) is hoping a win at UFC 218 will set her up for a title fight against her former foe – and occasional training partner – Rose Namajunas. However, standing in her way of a potential shot at strawweight gold is Michelle Waterson (14-5).
“I’m pretty excited to fight [Waterson],” says the ‘Tiny Tornado,’ when interviewed by Bloody Elbow. “We were supposed to fight a year and a half ago but she got injured. I stepped in short notice to fight her another time and she got injured again. So it’s just been a little back and forth, but I think that it’s going to be a fun fight. I’m excited to have it.”
After she submitted Juliana Lima at The Ultimate Fighter 25 Finale in July, Torres called the ‘Karate Hottie’ out on the mic; stating she wanted a karate vs. karate duel. Though she’s known more for her wrestling inside the cage, Torres’ martial arts roots are firmly in taekwando and karate.
“I grew up point sparring and that’s where I get a lot my movement and my quickness,” says Torres, who tried kickboxing before entering MMA. “I definitely go into each fight wanting to strike a whole lot, but since I have been learning a lot of wrestling, I’ve been wanting to do that, too. Now people tend to think that I’m a wrestler, but I’m really not. I’m a striker. Against Michelle, I’d like to keep it standing. I’d like for it to be a back and forth battle, but with me on the offensive more than her.”
Along with believing she has an edge over Waterson in striking, Torres also feels her physicality is considerably more impressive than that of the former Invicta atomweight champion. “I believe that I’m the stronger fighter,” she says. “I think she’s an athletic fighter, but I think I’m more athletic than her. I think that, pretty much everywhere, I have the upper hand and I’m really comfortable wherever the fight goes.”
Torres seems certainty that this will be an exciting fight, and thinks the contest has extremely high stakes within the 115lb division. She adds that it would be logical for the winner of the bout to be one of the first women to challenge new strawweight queen Rose Namajunas.
Namajunas clinched the championship with a stunning victory over the previously undefeated Joanna Jedrzejczyk. Many onlookers were surprised to see ‘Thug Rose’ dethrone Joanna ‘then-Champion.’ Torres wasn’t, though.
“The way she won was a shock. Winning in three minutes, that was amazing,” says Torres. “But I had full confidence that Rose could be the one to go in there and take Joanna out. Rose has a great style, with movement in and out, and I thought that was what was needed to beat Joanna.”
Torres and Namajunas share a long history. Before they both served on Team Melendez on The Ultimate Fighter, they faced each other at 2013’s Invicta FC 6. That fight was the the very first Invicta fight ever aired on pay-per-view. It was a close fought battle that saw Torres come out on top, via unanimous decision.
After their time in the TUF house, the two women were paired up again; this time at UFC on FOX 13. That fight was another tight affair. However, it was Namajunas who came out on top by unanimous decision. That loss was the first in Torres’ pro career.
“That last one, I don’t think either of us performed to the best of our abilities,” says Torres. “The fight was ok. It wasn’t the greatest fight, but it is what it is. It went to the judges and she won. Even though she won, I don’t think she put on her best performance, nor did I.”
Torres and Namajunas’ association with one another doesn’t end with their most recent fight, though. They’ve both moved to Colorado in recent years. Namjunas went west from Wisconsin, along with fiancee Pat Barry. And Torres traveled from Florida to join her fiancee Raquel Pennington. Namajunas trained with Torres to get ready for Jedrzejczyk and has since returned the favour, helping Torres prepare for Waterson (whom Namajunas defeated earlier this year).
Torres believes the story line she has with Namajunas might be the deciding factor as to whether she gets a title shot at the new champ, providing she dispatches of Waterson in entertaining fashion. Torres is keen to face her friend and for a third time. To her, it almost feels like destiny.
“It’s funny, when we first fought in Invicta, they said that one day we’d fight for the title and I truly believe that one day we will fight for a title. I think Rose is an amazing athlete. I think she’s going to be a good ambassador for the women at 115lbs and I’m happy that she got that title and I think she deserves it. This sport is a business and we all want the same thing, so obviously I want that title, but I’m focused on Michelle right now.”
Helping her focus on Waterson is Torres’ new team in Colorado. Torres had been a long time member of American Top Team in Florida. Last time out, for the Lima fight, she split time between Coconut Creek and Colorado Springs. However, since then she has said goodbye to ATT, having made the permanent move to Pennington’s team.
Along with being her partner, Torres thinks of Pennington as her coach. The top ranked bantamweight, despite recently breaking her leg, will be cornering Torres come Saturday night. The rest of Torres & Pennington’s team is made up of striking coach Juan Gonzalez, boxing coach Joe Guzman (who has trained US Olympic teams), and head coach Jason Kutz (a former US Olympic team wrestler).
If Torres can elevate herself from respected top ranked fighter to bona fide contender, it may prove her decision to move camps as a major success. She has a huge opportunity to do just that this Saturday night. Tecia Torres vs. Michelle Waterson opens up the main card at UFC 218. You can watch it on pay-per-view, live from Detroit, MI.