Fighting Father Time: Torres Facing Must-Win at WEC 51
Eventually, Father Time catches up to everyone. Try as you may, that’s just the way life works.
In the sport of mixed martial arts, the bearded, old man can appear on the scene out of nowhere; one minute you’re riding high, a world champion on an incredible winning streak, the next, you’re staring at back-to-back losses and a must-win situation. Such is the case for long-time WEC bantamweight champion Miguel Torres as he takes to the cage Thursday night in Colorado against Charlie Valencia.
Thirteen months ago, Torres stepped into his main event fight with Brian Bowles as the reigning king of the 135-pound division. The Hammond, Indiana native was considered amongst the top pound-for-pound fighters on the planet, a lethal force in the bantamweight division because of his size and skill, riding a 17-fight winning streak that dated back to a time when Eminem’s “Lose Yourself” dominated the airwaves and Will Ferrell had just introduced us all to Buddy the Elf.
Four minutes later, Bowles was still unbeaten, knocking Torres from his place on the bantamweight throne with a big right hand. A surprising outcome to be sure, but having watched every great in the history of the sport fall at one point or another, Torres’ loss was viewed as a detour rather than an entire shift in destinations.
Seven months later, the former champion resurfaced.
Losing prompted a shift in training camps, joining forces with Sityodtong sensei Mark DellaGrotte and parting ways with the team he had worked without throughout his rise to prominence. His bout with Joseph Benavidez at WEC 47 was supposed to be a bounce-back fight, a chance to remind everyone that despite his recent setback, Torres was still a force to be reckoned with in the 135-pound division.
Once again, things didn’t go as planned.
Benavidez came out like a man possessed and took the fight to the former champion, splitting him to the skull with a nasty elbow. With blood painting his face in a crimson mask, the Team Alpha Male product locked in a deep guillotine, forcing Torres to tap and instantly creating the improbable situation facing Torres Thursday night.
After almost six years without a loss, seventeen consecutive victories and an extended run as both bantamweight champion and a pound-for-pound mainstay, Miguel Torres has to beat Charlie Valencia at WEC 51, not to save his job, but to preserve his legacy.
The WEC holds Torres in high regard, as they should. During their climb into the spotlight, Torres was one of the main attractions they built around, along with fellow champions Urijah Faber and Carlos Condit. Just as a three-fight losing streak didn’t earn Keith Jardine an immediate exit from the UFC, a trio of losses won’t cause Torres to be looking elsewhere for his next fight.
It will, however, force the 29-year-old to answer countless questions about what went wrong and what comes next, questions that carry answers that no fighter wants to be forced to voice.
“Winning cures everything” is an oft-used cliché from the world of sports, but entirely true nonetheless. Fans and journalists aren’t asking about your long-term future in the sport when you’ve sitting in the dressing room following a dominant win. The past can be re-written as a bump in the road, a necessary hiccup that brought renewed focus and dedication, and the starting point in the next chapter of a storied career.
A three-fight losing streak brings a whole different collection of questions to the table, the somber, reflective portion of James Lipton’s interviews on Inside the Actor’s Studio where the audience knows to stay silent and allow the subject to step out of their performance and answer the questions sincerely. Those are the types of questions Torres faces with a loss, even though the answers are already known.
Much like former featherweight champion Urijah Faber, Torres is a highly-skilled fighter who was ahead of his time. Long before the lighter weight classes were populated with numerous tough outs and a collection of credible challengers, both Faber and Torres ran roughshod over fighters who simply couldn’t match their level of skills and athleticism.
Up until his title reign in the WEC began with a win over Chase Beebe, Torres hadn’t faced an opponent that even the hardest of hardcore fans would consider a household name. His 2008 classic against Yoshihiro Maeda came with the Japanese veteran filling in on short notice, and started a 3-5 stretch for the 28-year-old.
This is not to revise history to explain Torres’ recent troubles or question why we so high on him in the first place; the five-foot-nine-inch dynamo deserved every accolade bestowed on him and remains an incredible talent. But when a fighter with 37 career victories (on file, Torres claims there are far more unaccounted for) suddenly drops two- and perhaps three-in-row, you have to wonder why and the answer is simply that he arrived before his time.
After a dominant stretch as featherweight champion, three-straight title fight defeats convinced the Team Alpha Male leader to drop to 135 and reinvent himself as a bantamweight. Like Torres, Faber excelled at the top of his division on an incredible combination of skill, athleticism and competitive drive; being more physically suited for the bantamweight division didn’t matter when the level of competition wasn’t as fierce. As the rest of the division got better and the losses came more frequently, Faber was able to shift gears, shed a few extra pounds and try on life at the weight everyone thought was ideal for him in the first place.
Torres doesn’t have that option. For starters, there is no flyweight division to drop to, despite years of speculation and anticipation, but more importantly, there isn’t ten extra pounds for Torres to eschew in the first place. He’s 135-pounds stretched tightly over a larger-than-normal frame for a bantamweight. While his size added to his impressive abilities in the cage during his title reign, that height advantage has become less of a dominant trait as the talent level has risen over the past two-plus years. Current champion Dominick Cruz only gives up an inch to Torres, but would have a serious edge in speed, movement and wrestling if the two were to meet.
It’s not so much regression to the mean as it is everyone else finally catching up to the advanced offense and talents of Torres, a bantamweight version of what has happened to Mirko Cro Cop since his time kicking fear into the hearts of heavyweights in Japan. The blend of attributes and abilities that once made Torres unbeatable are still impressive, but everyone around him has improved to the point of catching and even passing the former champion.
Of course, all of these realities can be delayed with a win Thursday night over Charlie Valencia. The triumphant return of Miguel Torres will grace the headlines and a return to his championship ways will be promised, the unpleasant questions on hold until another loss.
But another loss is sure to come, just as sure as Father Time catches up with all of us.
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