Tuesday, October 21st, 2008
I had booked 2 flights going to chicago for UFC 90, as well as two flights home. I had no clue what I had planned for the week thus far and no idea when I wanted to come home. I just knew that I love to be in Chicago so I didn't want to end up with crazy flight change fees. As I started to shape up my week's plans, I got on the phone with Miguel Torres. "Why don't you come shoot the gym?" He asked. I'd been wanting to cover his training camp going into a fight for quite some time so I said, "Yes!" and decided to take my Tuesday flight versus my Wednesday one.
As usual I figure that the best idea is to stay up the entire night before I get on an early morning flight. Much of my time was spent working on updating the events page for the UFC events and afterparties that are going on. I had to go to the laundormat because my dryer decided that Monday Night was the night it was going to take a shit. I had to pack which is something I am so used to doing it's a rather mindless task, and finished getting the Tuff N Uff fight photos online. It was monday night, and the fights were on Friday so sure as hell, I was super lagging on it.
I got everything done I needed to but I found myself nodding off in my desk chair.. I had to jump around to keep myself awake and before long it was almost 5am, and my friend Rigo was knocking on my door to take me to the airport. He dropped me, my big red bag, and my entire photo studio packed into a golf bag (that I had purchased earlier that evening specifically for that purpose) and my 35lb backback. Oh, had a purse too.. So I was definitely luggage heavy going into the trip.. I boarded the plane shortly after six and was dozing off into la la land by 6:35 when the plane was getting airborne.
The wheels touched down at 11:45 central time; This was about 15 minutes earlier than expected. I shot a text to Miguel to let him know that I was en route to the baggage claim. It was the fastest that I have ever gotten my bags from midway and moments later I made my way out into the brisk Chicago air to the passenger pickup area. I texted Miguel, "4LL"
Over the next 30-45 minutes, I recieved calls and texts from him saying he was on his way. The last one saying he was 2 minutes away came 10 minutes before he pulled up in a brand new 2008 Dodge Charger Hemi. It's so new it still has the paper plates on it. He helps me load my life into his car, and then we spend the first few minutes talking about how good a deal he got on it. Let's just say that the kind of discount he got was unheard of!
It was a gorgeous day; the sky was very blue with tons of clouds. We both figured out quickly that we were hungry so he picked one of his favorite mexican restaurants. Mexican food is never my first choice, but I put my faith in him and went along no questions asked. I asked my typical question of, "what do you weigh?" And was answered, "155." Six weeks out, 20lbs? Not bad at all. Thing is, he probably always weighs that amount when he's not fighting.
As we drove to East Chicago (East Chicago is in Indiana- yeah, I was surprised too!), he kept up a constant dialogue about his childhood and growing up there. He said that the neighborhoods were bad, but he was ok living in the hood. He talked about how he had known his wife since they were in school; he was a geeky guy always playing sports and that she never gave him the time of day. He said he played soccer, football and basketball in addition to boxing.
Our conversation stopped for a moment as we arrived to the restaurant; El Michoacano the sign read with a Mexican flag flying proudly out front. Miguel posed with his guns blazing (as you will see that he often does- he's not camera shy by any means) before he disappeared inside.
He had taken off his jacket and you could see his thinly built, wirey frame. He was wearing an Obey Tshirt (size small), and a pair of jeans adorned by a brown leather belt and a belt buckle with the number 63 emblazoned on it. When I asked him what the 63 meant, he said, "I saw the 63 and I liked it so I bought it."
The restaurant was packed with people and we took a booth that still had yet to be cleared. We stacked the plates and moved them to another table before the waitress came over to wipe it down and take our order. Miguel knew what he wanted before we even sat down and ordered a Carne Asada plate with no hesitation. I ordered the chicken fajitas and while we waited for what I was sure was going to be some of the best Mexican food I had ever eaten, we continued our conversation.
"How did you get into fighting?" I asked. "You were a boxer first, I assume?" He said,"I wanted to be a boxer since I was five. My dad and I used to watch boxing together and it made him so emotional that he would cry. I wanted to be able to do that; affect my dad and bring those emotions out in him." He went on to say that he played soccer too but because his dad had been a soccer player and was so serious about it, it was no longer fun for him and he hated it. His dad used to stand down by the goal every game and in a time out situation, the coach sent him to speak to his dad instead of standing in the huddle.
Our food arrived by this time. Heaping plates of meat with fresh cut vegatables to go with. Mine had what looked like spicy peppers and when I questioned them, Miguel popped one in his mouth with no hesitation and quickly dispelled my misconception. Warily, I tasted one to see that he was right and that they were quite flavorful.
Our conversation resumed. He said he was at home one day and he saw this hot girl walk by. He was already fighting professionally by this time. Turns out it was the girl that always turned him down. He ran into her three times over the course of the week, and so they started hanging out. The rest is history.
He finally moved out of East Chicago when he heard some 12 year old girls talking about sex and knew that this wasn't where he wanted his baby girl to grow up. So while he was gone for a fight recently, his wife found them a home and he started the next chapter of his life in Griffith, IN, right outside of Chicago.
As we talked, I pretty much licked the plate clean. The food there was amazing. We departed from the restaraunt with stories of how the neighborhood turned bad,. "As a kid, you could never play on the grass. If you went on anyone's lawns, you would get your ass beat. The area wasn't bad. Then a slumlord took over an apartment building across the street from my house and turned it into section 8 housing. He took over another one around the corner and thats when the whole neighborhood went downhill. He said that the kids couldn't play outside and he spent much of his childhood playing indoors in the schools gym.
He drove past the house that he grew up in, still in habited by his parents. It was located literally around the corner from the restaurant. He also pointed out the apartment buildings that were turned into section 8 housing across the street. Across the street from the mexican restaurant was the place where he had his first gym as well as the school gym he grew up playing indoors instead of outside.
We left the area and drove to Hammond, IN where he relocated his gym to 2 months ago. He pointed out the steel mills and talked about the flooding that turned this into a national disaster area in the past two winters. It was about 2 pm by this time, and he had a kids class to teach at 4:30.
"The kids class is the only one I teach right now since I'm getting ready for a fight. I have a lot of kids that come to train and it changes them. They become more confident and in better shape. One kid tried trained for two weeks and after getting in an altercation at school and the things he learned in my class didn't work (it was only two weeks!), and was ready to quit. I went to school with him and no one ever messed with him again. He is still currently taking my classes to this day," said Miguel. He seemed very motivated to help the children and be there for them. I can recall running into him at the grappling tournament at the Arnold Classic where he was coaching a number of the kids in his class competing. He also sponsors about 20 of the kids membership fees because their families can't neccessarily afford them.
"Torres Martial Arts Academy" is what the bright red and yellow sign said at the entrance to the location. We entered the dark gym and his assistant came wandering out from the back. He had already mentioned this kid. He became Miguel's assistant because he was just always at the gym. He joined weighing over 350lbs; He was currently about 245. His name was Alex, but had given himself the name St Albe..
Miguel took me on a tour of his former grocery store turned video store turned gym. He was in the process of remodeling the upstairs into an apartment where in about a week he will move into for the rest of his training. A very nondescript door in the office took us up what seemed almost like a secret stairwell into the potential living area. He already had a shower installed up there and was laying carpet with the help of his uncle. I continued to wander around gym that boasted 2,500 square feet of mat space, heavy bags, weights, a "ghetto pro shop" as Miguel referred to it as, and a large couch area complete with big screen tv and video games.
After the tour was done, Miguel sat down on the couchs behind his laptop for a few minutes before settling in to take a nap. I tried to get some work done, but between jet lag (which I NEVER get) and a full tummy, I found myself passing out. Sleepily I watched as come 4pm, kids of all ages started arriving. They were very quiet, as were the parents. At 4:30 on the dot, Miguel stood up and told the kids to start doing laps on the mat and walked to the office to change into his gi.
Miguel's brown belt ran the warmup of the class with one of his blue belts assisting. Miguel joined the class as soon as the warmup was done, and I watched for the next hour and a half as he interacted with the children starting at age four going well into their teens. His repetitive and inquisitory (he asked the kids for their input quite often) style of teaching was very effective with the kids as they worked on that day's technique. The four and five year old in the class were pulled to the side where they worked on front rolls and single leg takedowns.
Miguel lined up the kids after the first technique was finished and quizzed them on different positions that he demonstrated. The 5 year old piped up with the correct answer every time. He worked on a figure four and kimura with the whole class before turning to the youngest ones to give them more personal attention.
With repetition as his teaching aid, he worked with the two boys over and over asking each one whether they were in mount or side mount. The repeating thing worked and it wasn't long before each child was correctly naming each position. He them moved on to arm bar with one, and a kimura with the other. The next thing he worked on was a game; see who could push the other out of the circle. The youngest began crying because he "kept losing" but them Miguel showed him how to reverse the opponent pushing him so that his opponent went out of the circle.
His attention turned back to the rest of the class where he explained the importance of not hurting another person when training and to always be aware of the tap. It was geting close to 6pm by this time and the waiting area of the gym was packed with people there for the evening boxing class. He ended his kids class with everyone shaking hands with each other. As the new group began warming up, he took a moment to give a little personal attention to one of the older boys.
He took his time wrapping his hands and getting ready for his evening training session as the 10 or so guys there to train with him warmed up. The boxing class ran laps around the gym, did stretches, and the paired off to hit mitts. Once his crew was warmed up, they began working on bag drills in one minute increments. Now I've always been impressed with Urijah Faber's training regimen because I feel like he just trains and trains and trains. Well, watching Miguel this particular day brought the California Kid to mind. Miguel rotated with his guys on their bag drills and strength and conditioning excercises about 45 different times. WITH NO BREAK IN BETWEEN! They did 45 minutes straight of high intensity punching, elbowing, and kicking as well as various other drills. These inluded punching each other in the stomach as hard as they could.
Sometime during this his wife, Jyllian, showed up with his little girl, Yelana. This adorable 15 month old was no stranger to the gym and had spent much of her life around it. Of course I got busy snapping photos of the beautiful child. She ran around like she owned the place (It's HER playground) and without being told, stayed out of daddy's way.
I turned back to Miguel who had begun sparring with his guys. I watched for a full hour as he switched out with a new guy as soon as the old one got tired. I was surprised to see how many times he let himself get hit in the face. He later explained to me, "I want to get hit in training. I'm not trying to avoid it and then be in a fight and go 'ouch, that hurt' because I'm not used to it. The more they hit me, the more I can just brush it off when it happens. It's inevitable."
The boxing class had long since turned to a no gi jujitsu class. He turned to grappling for a little while before calling it a night. He walked over and sat on one of the bags situated along the wall of the gym and proceed to make a glutamine drink for muscle recovery. I tasted it (it was excellent!) and then asked what was in it. It was a mixture of a partially frozen lemon lime gatorade, glutamine, and orange flavored creatine. After showering and changing upstairs (he came down wearing his typical color of brown), he came back and made a protein shake and downed that as well. I was hungry so I made a cup o noodles that was in his office; he handed me two spoons to eat it with and suggested that I use them like chopsticks. lol
After saying goodbye to his father who had dropped by the gym, I assumed that our next stop was going to be home for dinner. I knew that Jyllian had left the gym to go grocery shopping to cook the meal. Instead of heading straight home though, we stopped at one of his friend's houses for about an hour where a networked all our war ensued. Two guys in the living room went head to head with Miguel and another guy in the bedroom in a battle on the video game, Gears of War. I have to plead ignorance as I am not a video game junkie at all (I know i'm going to offend some people with my next statement). I hadn't heard of the game before UFC 89 when I saw ads for it's newest version on the octagon and ads for the reality show on Spike hosted by Frank Mir. A ton of shit talking went back and forth from room to room where Miguel and his partner for the evening came away the victors! Miguel explained on the way home that if he didn't take that little break to himself, he would never be able to fall asleep once he got home.
Because it was dark, It was difficult to see what his house looked like. From what I could tell it was a beautiful home in a quiet neighborhood. We grabbed all my bags out of the car and left them in the front entrance way where one set of stairs led up, and one led down. We took the ones that went up and found Yelena playing and running around.
Now it had taken this little girl a bit of time to get used to me, but now she was thrilled to see me and smiled for my camera as I took her photo. I snapped a family picture before we sat down the meal that was waiting on the table. The whole time we were at the dinner table she brought toy after toy to me to show off.
Dinner consisted of rice, beans, potatoes and chicken that Jyllian had made specially for me. Miguel had fish instead. I had french bread to top off this carb loaded meal (I am addicted to carbs!) and I finished every last bit on my plate. Miguel asked his wife if he could turn on cartoons, and she responded, "For the baby?" He said, "I want to watch family guy!" I never watch tv so was enthralled at how many episodes came on in a row of family guy before realizing that it was a DVD they were playing.
After dinner, I took a shower and went downstairs to the room I was staying in. The entire downstairs was almost like it's own apartment with a living room, 2 bedrooms, and bathroom. After cleaning up, I went upstairs to say goodnight and found Miguel passed out on one of the brown leather coaches in his living room. I said good night to Jyllian and tried to get on my computer to get some work done, but for the first time in my life felt completely jet lagged and found myself passing out with my head on my laptop.
To Be Continued...