It's not often Fedor Emelianenko
and Miguel Torres
are talked about in the same conversation.
Fedor is a soft-spoken 230-pound heavyweight from the heart of Russia. Torres is a 135-pound Mexican-American bantamweight living in the shadow of Chicago, and a few glances at his Twitter feed shows he's far from shy. Physical and social equals, they are not.
Fedor has been synonymous with the sport of mixed martial arts for years – so much so that he needs only one name. But only in the last three years did Torres get widespread recognition.
There was a time two years ago when Fedor was at the top of most pound-for-pound discussions, and Torres himself had entered the top-5 mix. But beyond that, the two had little reason to be mentioned together.
But they might be more alike than most people think. Torres believes the similarities are there – and he believes Fedor, following back-to-back losses for the first time in his career, needs to do just what he did last year after suffering a similar, formerly unthinkable skid: Pack the bags and change things up, or he'll only have himself to blame.
"He's at a crossroads in his life," Torres told MMA Fighting last week. "(He's been) dominating his division, plus the popularity, exposure and everything that comes with being The Man, a showman, a father, representing a country and people – and being a fighter.
"He needs to adjust to the times and start working on being a cerebral fighter (again) and not a showman. He needs to play catch-up in a world he used to dominate. That stings really bad, but you man up or get left behind."
For nearly 10 years, Torres dominated the lighter weight classes of the sport, and was doing so long before there was a WEC home for smaller fighters. He started his career 20-0 – and 32-0 if you count a dozen off-the-books fights, taking on whomever the "promoters" would match him up against in barrooms around Northwest Indiana.
His first loss came after an 18-month layoff from a knee injury – a fight he has said he wasn't yet ready for, but couldn't wait to get back to work. He regrouped, went on a tear of more than five years and 17 straight wins, and avenged his loss to Ryan Ackerman by breaking his arm and chasing him from the sport. Russia will always be [Fedor's] home, but he lacks growth. Sometimes loyalty can hold you back.
-- Miguel Torres
Though Torres wasn't beating the same caliber "name" fighters as Fedor during that same time period in Pride, it was largely because the bantamweight division wasn't on the map yet. Torres helped put it there when he signed with the WEC and quickly became its 135-pound champion. He even had some, including former UFC heavyweight champ Frank Mir, saying he was the best in the world
. Yes, even better than Fedor.
Torres defended his WEC bantamweight strap three times after winning it, and he did it all by training himself at his own gym in Hammond, Ind. He would make occasional treks elsewhere to learn new techniques, and he'd bring in other pros to work with him. But mostly he ran his own show the way he always had – much like Fedor.
Then he got caught by Brian Bowles, the first knockout of his career. He thought he learned a lesson about being over-aggressive. But against Joseph Benavidez, he got more than just caught. He got beaten, soundly, and he got the message.
Torres regrouped, packed his bags and got out of his comfort zone. He moved to Montreal for his next camp, living in Firas Zahabi's basement while training at Tristar Gym for Charlie Valencia. For the first time, Torres was working with a head coach that wasn't himself. He submitted Valencia in the second round and followed that up with a dominating standup performance against Antonio Banuelos two weeks ago. He'll return to Montreal in April to begin preparations for the next step on his comeback trail, Brad Pickett at UFC 130. He says working with Zahabi has rejuvenated and refocused his career.
Much like Torres' only loss in a 10-year stretch coming with an asterisk, Fedor's only loss before his recent fall came in the fifth fight of his career – and it was from a cut. The cut came from an illegal elbow, but because it was a tournament, Fedor had to take the loss when the fight was stopped. But for 10 years, he dominated everyone in his path.
And he did it, like Torres, using the same training methods that had come to work for him for so long. Nothing was broken, so why fix it? He stayed home in Russia, going to Japan when it was time for his fights in Rings or Pride. There was no need to alter the program.
Then he got caught last June by Fabricio Werdum, jumping into his guard and a triangle-armbar combination. He tapped out for the first time. Like Torres' first loss after years of domination, it was assumed Fedor just got caught. He wouldn't make that mistake again, he said, but "everybody loses – I'm just a human being."
Against Antonio Silva last week, like Torres against Benavidez, he got more than caught. He got beaten down, his right eye sealed shut, forcing the doctor to stop the fight for a second straight loss – unthinkable just a year ago.
The question is, will Fedor get the same kind of message Torres got? Will he change up his training to get back on track, an acknowledgment that perhaps the sport is rapidly changing and he could benefit from outside coaching help? Or will he stay in Russia, in his comfort zone?
Torres said Fedor needs to experience training somewhere else – the way he did.
"I say yes, (he needs to leave)," Torres said. "Russia will always be his home, but he lacks growth. Sometimes loyalty can hold you back."
Torres said when he left his longtime Northwest Indiana training home, it wasn't well received in the community he had become a fixture in.
"I left to find growth – and everyone hates me for it, saying I'm a deserter and forgot where I came from," Torres said. "Even now, with my new style, people say I'm scared or not exciting. When I was training here, I didn't give a (care) and fought for the fans. When I lost, everyone threw (crap) on me saying I was nobody. My new style is actually cerebral and smart. I don't get hurt anymore, but lost fans. When I get the belt back, they will (love me) again, but I won't care. I'm all grown up."
But the bottom line, as Torres sees it, is Fedor must do what's best for him and his fighting career, not the people around him, not Russia, not the fans. That's his best shot at a return to glory.
"When you man up, people will critique you and hate you for leaving, call you names and judge you for doing what's good for you," Torres said. "I feel Fedor's situation. It (freaking) sucks, but (crap) happens. All we can do is get better – and (screw) everyone else."