Miguel Torres was a marketing major at Purdue University, where he essentially fought his way through college.
Torres paid for his education by literally taking on all comers in a local bar in unsanctioned mixed martial arts fights, sometimes knocking out guys who outweighed him by as much as 50 pounds.
After college, he became one of the world's elite mixed martial artists. As the sport's popularity began to burgeon, he began attracting attention from advertisers who wanted to partner with him.
His agent brought him a deal to wear a cap with a sponsor's logo on it. At the time, he was fighting in regional promotions in the Midwest, groups that had little visibility. Dean Albrecht couldn't believe the amount of money he was offered for Torres if Torres would agree to wear a cap with a logo.
"It was sick money," Albrecht said. "Way more than it should have been, given the circumstances. It was UFC money."
It seemed like a great deal for all concerned, especially Torres, who was working two jobs and training in his spare time while trying to support a young family.
There was only one problem: Torres doesn't wear hats. And he wasn't going to start just because someone was willing to pay him to do so.
Many might have found the position foolish. At first, Albrecht did. But when he pushed Torres, he beamed.
He had found a fighter with the courage of his convictions, a man who would stand on principle no matter the cost.
"I told him, 'Miguel, I'm proud of you. If you stand on your principles like that all of your life, you're going to go a long way,' " Albrecht said.
Torres, who will challenge Chase Beebe Wednesday at the Santa Ana Star Center inRio Rancho, N.M., for the WEC bantamweight title, said he's fought for his principles all his life.
He refused to ride in cars to his high school's football games that were being driven by friends who didn't have driver's licenses. He didn't want to incur the wrath of his father, so he walked a mile-and-a-half to get to the games by himself.
When Albrecht presented him with the hat deal, he never hesitated.
"I've never been a hat person and for me to do something I don't like to do just because someone is paying me money to do it goes against my principles," Torres said. "You have to stand for what you believe is right. I'm not going to go against what I believe in because someone wants to give me a couple of extra grand.
"A lot of guys in this sport come out and they look like walking billboards. I'd rather get one real good shirt sponsor rather than wearing all these logos. How could I say I'm endorsing all of these products when I might not know them all? If you give in on the easy things, how are you going to conduct yourself when things are really difficult? Each person, I believe, has to have a set of values they live their life by and I have mine and I always stick to them."
Torres, who is 20-1, stuck to his beliefs even when he was a 120-pounder lifting weights next to 245-pound athletes who would laugh at him as he would try to improve his strength.
The big men would gather to cackle at Torres as he worked out, though all of them respected his almost maniacal workout regimen. He never forgot the faces of those who laughed at him when he told them he wanted to be a fighter.
"They would say, 'What are you doing, Little Man?' " he said. "It was like a joke. But now, those guys are the same ones who are coming to my gym and want me to train them. I can't, because I'm too full and I don't have the space. They laughed at me before, but they want me to help them now."
Torres, who trained under the late Carlson Gracie Sr., runs a gym in his native East Chicago, Ind. One of his teammates used to be UFC light heavyweight Stephan Bonnar, who said he marveled at the way Torres would push himself.
Bonnar said he was stunned when he saw that Torres would work an overnight shift at a hospital, come home, work a day job and then go to the gym to work out for MMA and still be the hardest worker in the gym.
"I watch him work out and go through his routine and I understand how much harder I could be working, even though I think I train pretty hard," Bonnar said. "He has a very strong personality and a stronger character. He might be the most focused individual I've ever met. I don't know anyone who works as hard as he does."
Bonnar said Torres is a well-rounded fighter who is always looking to finish a fight. Scott Adams, the WEC's matchmaker, said he had been trying for a long time to book Torres before finally signing him to a contract last fall. Torres doesn't just look to finish fights, Adams said, but to inflict damage.
"He's got pro-level boxing, he's got world-class conditioning, he trained (jiu-jitsu) under Carlson Gracie and he's got this incredible desire to be the best," Adams said. "He's a special kind of a guy. He has great composure. He can strike from any position, he can finish from any position and he can go hard for an hour if he has to. Anybody who has been around him even a little raves about him."
Bonnar is one of those who raves. And while Bonnar concedes that Beebe is a quality fighter, he has little doubt that Torres will walk away with the belt on Wednesday. "In my opinion, he's the best there is at 135 (pounds)," Bonnar said. "He has no weaknesses, really. He's got a complete game."
- Miguel Torres