Even the great ones need help.
There also comes the time when the best, the near-perfect, have to destroy even the smallest traces of arrogance.
That's how former WEC bantamweight kingpin Miguel Torres and top welterweight boxing contender Miguel Cotto came to join forces recently in Florida.
Torres was once a winner of 17 straight bouts and the virtually invincible World Extreme Cagefighting 135-pound champion. Consecutive win No. 18 and the fourth defense of his title were givens at WEC 42 in August against the undefeated yet largely unknown Brian Bowles. Little was expected out of Bowles, The HardCore Gym product, a heavy underdog armed with a weapon that wasn't so much a secret. Torres knew about Bowles' cannon of a right hand and said all he had to do was avoid it.
Torres exploded late into the first round with a combination of punches until Bowles broke out the weapon , caught Torres and sent him to the canvas. It was the first of 13 unanswered blows that concluded the WEC's biggest upset since Mike Brown stunned Urijah Faber to win the featherweight crown.
This was only Torres' second loss in an MMA career that began in 2000 but his first in five-and-a-half years and medicine that went down a lot tougher. The seeds of defeat were actually planted once Torres bested Takeya Mizugaki in a five-round unanimous decision at WEC 40. Mizugaki was an injury replacement for Bowles, who sat ringside and was subsequently called out by the champion. Torres reiterated what he said after Bowles knocked him out. He was too cocky. The beast of contentment consumed another victim.
"I get too aggressive sometimes," Torres said. "Sometimes when I fight, my approach is to bully guys around and impose my will on them. When you have a guy that's physically stronger than you are, you have to be smarter; let the challenger come challenge you whereas I take the fight to the challenger and I'm already the champion. It's just more so using more of a game plan and being smart on how you approach the fight." The Torres-Cotto Alliance
All game plans eventually must be refined, and Torres' is no exception to the rule. Ecko Unlimited, a subsidiary of fashion and lifestyle company Mark Ecko Enterprises, is a maker of cutting-edge T-shirts, jeans, hoodies, sneakers, watches, hats, bags and other youth-oriented apparel. Ecko also sponsors both Torres and Cotto, a top welterweight boxing contender. They approached Torres with the idea of training with Cotto in Tampa, Fla., to refine his game.
The door was opened for Torres to become the latest MMA fighter to learn and implement boxing techniques to his game. It's also another example of MMA and boxing coming together.
Howard Davis Jr. is a 1976 Olympic gold medalist currently working with American Top Team products Thiago Alves, Thiago Silva, Brown and newest protégé, Kimbo Slice. Anderson Silva, Chuck Liddell, Frankie Edgar, Andrei Arlovski are a few of many MMA fighters who have worked with world renowned boxing trainer Freddie Roach. Ecko saw a precisely and meticulously run camp that can watch Torres spar, pick up what he's doing wrong and correct it. During one of Torres' first sessions, four different people had their eyes on him and studied everything from his footwork, head movement, punching, counter-punching and defense.
"I don't want to be a different fighter; I want to be a better fighter," Torres said. "I want to improve the little things I did wrong and want to make them better, and I want to show everybody I don't have to change my whole game. I have to revamp a little bit of my game planning.
"It's eye-opening to see the way they do things and see the train. There are similarities, but the little details that make the big differences are how they go about doing things. I'm becoming a better fighter, and it's makes me a better person because it makes my mind right. For me, fighting is a lifestyle ... and if I can be the best fighter I can be, it's going to make me a better person."
Life's been good to Torres as a whole since Brazilian jiu-jitsu practitioner Carlos Gracie, co-founder of the system with his uncle Helio and a link to the chain of what's widely considered MMA's founding fathers, took him in and elevated him from competing in unsanctioned events held in Indiana's smallest nightclubs and bars. Long before Torres' WEC debut in September 2007, Gracie boasted no one could beat him at 135 pounds.
Torres became a champion in February 2008 when, in just his second WEC fight, he submitted Chase Beebe with a guillotine choke four minutes into the first round, one of many victories that cemented him as the WEC's best pound-for-pounder – before his jaw met Bowles' right hand. Besides learning a few tricks from the reigning WBO welterweight champion, Torres has infused Cotto with what he calls "positive and strong energy."
Cotto is deep into training for the biggest fight of his life against IBO and Ring Magazine light welterweight champion Manny Pacquiao on Nov. 14 in Las Vegas. Pacquiao (49-3-2, 37 KOs) rides a 10-fight winning streak into Las Vegas that includes the avenging of one of his rare defeats (Erik Morales) and destructions of Oscar De La Hoya (eighth-round TKO) and Ricky Hatton (second-round KO) in his past two. A big reason why Pacquiao has lost only once in 10 years is that it's difficult o hit him hard enough to make him think and shake him out of cruise control.
Cotto (34-1, 27 KOs) represents the biggest challenge, yet he is also a fighter with whom some pundits believe the jury is still out. If you ask Torres, Cotto's rock-hard hands will put enough of a bug in Pacquaio's head to perhaps get him off his game.
"He's looking good, very strong. I've never somebody hit pads so hard before," Torres said. "If he hits Pacquiao, Pacquiao's not going to like it one bit.
"You have to make it a fight with somebody like [Pacquiao]. You have to take him out of his comfort zone and can't play into his game. Cotto's got a good shot. He has a great strategy and looks extremely great in this training camp."
Torres could return to active competition as soon as early January and will eschew his hometown of Chicago to train in either Boston or Las Vegas. When asked about an immediate rematch with Bowles, Torres said one wouldn't be fair (it's also unclear when Bowles will be cleared to resume full training while he recovers from a broken left hand suffered at the end of his title win). The early word had Dominick Cruz (14-1 MMA, 4-1 WEC) earning the first shot at Bowles while Torres competes against suitable competition.
"I really don't know what's going on," Torres said, "but my goal is to get my belt back."
He resumes the journey a wiser person. Each of Torres' five challengers were more dangerous and hungrier than the one prior, and motivated by the glory and spoils that come with being a champion – paying no mind to the potentially crippling distractions that come with it.
"All these guys in my weight class, they see the fame I'm getting, the sponsorships and purses I'm getting, and they want that," Torres said. "They want what I have. They want to take food off my table, so they're not going to approach the fight the same.
"Brian Bowles didn't fight for nine months. He quit his job. He got to focus on the training, and all he focused on for nine months was the training. He didn't have to worry about PR, traveling to do this, make an appearance here and do an autograph signing here. A lot of things came into that loss to where the writing was on the wall. I didn't have anyone to tell me about it."
Training with Cotto has cultivated enough positive voices not to cause confusion, but to refine, Torres' focus and create a new plan of attack.
"The length they go for a training camp is extraordinary," Torres said.
The best ones – Faber, Georges St-Pierre and others – were tested by losses unexpected, shocking and bitterly disappointing. GSP roared back while Faber earned new levels of respect during a decision loss to Brown, a rematch in which he fought more than four rounds with a broken hand.
Torres is next to either pass or fail. He already has a leg up with boxing earning a bigger chunk of the combat marketplace and the rapport between the two sports evolving.
"Great fighters' wins don't define them; it's how they come back from their losses," Torres said. "That's a big key with any champion that's out there. They can win 20 fights, 40 fights in a row, and nobody really cares. But if they get beaten and come back, and suck after they get beaten, they were never really a great champion.
"If they get beaten, come back and they dominate everybody 10 times worse than before, that loss did them a great service."
Even the great ones need help.