Jose Torres has fought another man inside a cage or a ring 26 times. He's been at his craft as an MMA athlete for the last five years.
That's a substantial career for many. For Torres? He's just getting started.
"Shorty" has taken a different path than most of his peers. Now 23 years old, he has been an amateur fighter since he was 18. Many MMA fighters only take a handful of amateur fights before turning pro, so they can begin getting paid. Torres has applied a boxing strategy to mixed martial arts -- and traveled the world to boot.
The top-ranked amateur fighter in the world will finally make his pro debut Friday night at Titan FC 37 in Ridgefield, Wash. His opponent will be Travis Taylor, who is also fighting for the first time as a professional.
Torres, a 135-pounder, has been good enough to be a pro for a long time. But he chose college and a wrestling scholarship to Division II McKendree University over getting paid to fight. He graduated in May with a degree in leadership and sports and exercise science with a 3.8 grade-point average.
"I think I'm good [at MMA], but hey, look at [Rafael] dos Anjos, he just missed out on a big fight just breaking his foot," Torres said. "Things happen. I was like, you know what, let me finish school, get my degree just in case I'm not good enough."
That wasn't always the easiest decision. Torres went to school in Missouri and had to drive to the Chicago area to train at his Combat-Do gym. His sole income came from his job as a resident assistant at McKendree, which paid him a meager salary od $75 every two weeks. That basically just went to gas. Meals came from the school dining hall. Torres made good use of Tupperwares.
Growing up in the rough-and-tumble city of Cicero, Ill., Torres said he grew up around drug deals and gang bangers. In high school, he was voted "biggest party animal" and that's what he decided to turn things around. He went to junior college and got his GPA up before eventually earning a full ride to McKendree.
"I was thinking, let me change my life here," he said.
He believes he made the right call to stay in school. Torres won't have to worry about trying to make a name on the regional circuit. He said he signed a four-fight deal with Titan, one of the longest contracts the promotion puts together.
Torres actually wanted to go fight for ONE Championship in Asia to continue his travels. He's been to places like Brazil and the Czech Republic for amateur tournaments. Currently, he's a member of the KHK team in Bahrain, which is run by the country's sheik. While working out overseas, he ran into Titan COO Lex McMahon, who was able to woo him over to the promotion that airs on UFC Fight Pass.
"I've been having a great time just traveling the world and doing my thing," Torres said. ... "I just enjoy the challenge and I enjoy motivating people. Getting out of my neighborhood and doing bigger things motivates other people to do that, so I'm very, very happy. I'm hoping to just have my life set. I live my life like a Bohemian. I save all my money, I eat whatever is free and just keep on going."
Eventually, Torres wants to be a UFC champion and own a gym. But who's in a rush? Certainly not "Shorty." He's been patient and precise with his career up until this point, making his own highlight videos, accruing his own sponsors for tournaments and travel. Torres might not have been a pro athlete, but he has conducted himself like a professional getting up to this point.
"I'm not respectable or honest with people, no one is going to be respectable or honest with me," Torres said.
It's been a different road for a different kind of guy. Torres has stayed on it without drifting and now stands to reap the rewards.
"Everything," Torres said, "has been unfolding pretty well for me."