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A Pilgrimage to Hammond, Indiana

Miguel Torres Will Just Outwork You

Set alongside a boiling strip of asphalt just off I-94 and directly across the street from The Last Great American Bait and Tackle Shop in Hammond, Indiana, The Torres Academy of Martial Arts is the home to the toughest 135-pound man on the planet.

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Miguel Angel Torres, the WEC Bantamweight Champ, has spent the last eight years case-hardening his body and honing his mind to be, as he says, the Muhammad Ali of 135 pounders.

Torres is renowned for his marathon training sessions, and this day was no different. With the heat approaching 96 degrees under an Indiana sky so leaden and still it threatened to melt birds flying overhead, Torres entered his gym (for the second time that day) and proceeded to put himself through a workout so relentless that it nearly defies description – and it was a sort of light day for him.

Torres rolled in around 6:30 pm for his evening workout with his game face on. He spent a few minutes walking around the gym talking to students and trainers, returned a few calls on his cell, and then got to business.

He works out like he fights, at a pace designed to demoralize whoever stands in with him.

“It is mountain training in here, there is no oxygen in here,” Torres said. “Guys who train in the mountains come in here and say it sucks worse than training in the mountains.”

The drill is a couple of hours working the bags with one trainer and practicing his grappling with another, Torres will generally then spar for another hour – with five guys who rotate into the cage every two minutes. This regimen was interrupted recently when Torres managed to put all five of his sparring partners on injured reserve.

“All my sparring partners are hurt right now, in the last two weeks, I hurt them all,” he said.

Anthony Gomez, one of the most promising fighters in Torres’ stable, said his mentor is all about limitless energy in the gym. Gomez fights this weekend at Total Fight Challenge in Hammond, so he knows a little something about preparation.

“He’s an animal. A monster,” Gomez said. ” He just keeps going and his energy is incredible.”

Torres said his preparations for WEC 42 and his fight against Brian Bowles are over the top even for him.

“After a fight I’ll take it easy for a couple of weeks – the longer my training camp goes, I’ll build into it. I was in shape this training camp before I even started,” Torres said. “I had the Mizugaki fight and I came back to training as soon as the glue (from a cut he suffered against Mizugaki) fell off. My body stayed in that mode. Normally, I’ll take two or three weeks and let my body rest, but this time I did a couple weeks of PR – went to Vegas for the UFC – trained out there with some guys for awhile, and just never stopped.”

The center of his training universe, and the life he’s made for himself and his family, is the gym. He keeps an apartment upstairs he uses to catch naps after his marathon sessions.

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If you’ve never been to the section of Indiana just south of Chicago, you can’t know what the region comprised of East Chicago, Hammond, Gary and Merrillville are like. Years ago, when Big Steel was king and everyone was working, these were cities where a man could raise a family on a little money and a lot of grit. Double-digit unemployment has made crime one of the few viable options for people left out of the American Dream. Everyone unwilling to run The Hustle scrapes to get by and braces for worse news each morning.

But if Miguel Torres has his way, he’ll help rebuild all that the same way he built himself. With determination, a work ethic handed down to him from his father Arnulfo, a bulletproof confidence, and an unshakable belief that you always take care of your own. The people of Hammond have been good to him, and he’s determined to repay the favor.

Torres Martial Arts is the engine that drives its owner forward, always forward. It’s the place he finds sanctuary and the company of the other monks who both inspire him with their dreams and provide their blood and sweat as fodder for his prodigious capacity for training and fighting. A one time radiological assistant at St. Catherine’s Hospital and grocery store manager, Torres drove himself to graduate with a marketing degree from Purdue University Calumet and make his gym the center of a Hammond fighting renaissance. Torres could bolt for the High Life and Vegas now that he’s an MMA superstar, but that wouldn’t be his way.

He has a home in Griffith, Indiana, about ten miles from his gym, but it’s his 7,000-square-foot monastery in Hammond that provides his workplace and his center.

“I painted the walls,” he says. “I put the mats down.”

Once we had our gear packed up and started to head out (some time around 10:30 pm) we looked back through the front window of Torres Martial Arts to see Miguel, having just donned his blue gi, working with students on their jiu-jitsu.

There were, after all, a couple of hours left in the day, and Torres makes every one of them count.