With some help from Canada, Miguel Angel Torres has been trying to control his inner beast.
On Saturday, the former bantamweight champion hopes to combine his scary side with his smarts as he takes on young gun Michael (Mayday) McDonald at UFC 145 in Atlanta.
Under Montreal trainer Firas Zahabi, the 31-year-old Torres has been learning to control what he calls his inner beast or monster and became a more cerebral fighter — to pick his shots and use his full arsenal.
"That’s not natural to me," he concedes. "That’s the hardest part of how I train, because if it was up to me I’d make every fight a brawl.
"I would go out there and I would Leonard Garcia every fight," he said, referencing a fellow UFC fighter whose style is to swing for the fences. "But I’ve learned from my past losses that you can’t do that.
"Eventually someone’s going to figure you out and they’re going to be waiting for it. So the biggest thing that I’ve been working on now is meshing the two styles. Being cerebral and aggressive at the same time."
Torres (39-4) turned to Zahabi in the wake of a March 2010 loss to Joseph Benavidez. He has lost his 135-pound WEC title the fight before to Brian Bowles and realized he needed to change.
Torres has also expanded his training regimen, splitting time between the Tristar gym in Montreal and former light-heavyweight champion Rashad Evans’ Blackzillians crew in Boca Raton, Fla. (the names came out of a comment that at one point the fighters in the gym were all black or Brazilian).
McDonald (14-1) will be his fifth fight under Zahabi.
"I know I have more things in my arsenal than what I’ve been using, but in those fights I wanted to demonstrate those techniques and prove to myself mentally that they would work," Torres said. "I know they work and I know that I’m ready to go out there and use them."
Torres has won three of four since joining forces with Zahabi, whose most famous client is welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre.
He has wins over Charlie Valencia, Antonio Banuelos, and most recently Nick Pace. Demetrious (Mighty Mouse) Johnson, now fighting at 125 pounds, defeated him by decision at UFC 130 last May.
McDonald offers an intriguing test.
Just 21, the second youngest fighter in the UFC, he has won all three of his fights in the UFC and looked very composed in doing so.
How good is McDonald, who started kickboxing at age 12, fighting as an MMA amateur at 14, and turned pro at 16?
"Well I’m going to test how good he is," Torres said. "He’s a great fighter against the guys that’s he fought against. He’s a great counter-striker. No one has fought him the correct way yet, no one’s fought him very smart yet. He fought one of my training partners (Chris Cariaso) to a split decision. He’s tough, he’s young but he hasn’t seen the things that I’ve seen yet and he hasn’t been pushed yet.
"He will be pushed and he will be put in a position he’s never been put before and I can’t wait until I get to do that to him."
Torres is getting a second lease on life in the UFC, restored to the roster after being cut for an offensive tweet.
"I learned from the situation. I made a mistake, I learned from it and it’s behind me now. I look forward to the future."
With current bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz and challenger Urijah (The California Kid ) Faber currently showcased on TV as coaches on "The Ultimate Fighter" reality TV show, you might expect Torres would be glued to his set.
But he says he has only seen snippets online.
"I know Dominick’s and Urijah’s personality already," he said. "They’re both great fighters. The show for me is something that I don’t really pay attention to too much."
Torres instead focuses on McDonald, the latest step in moving his name back up the bantamweight ladder.
Asked if he believes he has been overlooked in recent years, Torres says that’s just the way it is in MMA.
"One day, you’re the main guy on the page and then after a loss or two you’re on the backburner. … That comes with the territory, it doesn’t bother me at all."
And Torres insists he has the team behind him now to return to the top.
"Mentally I know what I can do, I know who I train with, I know the things that I’ve seen, I know where I’ve been. I know where I’m going, first and foremost I know where I’m going to go. And I will be back at the top. I have great guidance, I have great management, I have great coaches, I have great training partners, I have a wonderful family and I have a great staff in my gym and I have awesome students.
"So I have nothing to hold me back. In the past, I had a lot of things that were holding me back. And these days I don’t have that any more."
Still, Torres is paying the price, every time he leaves his family daughter in east Chicago, Ind., to train in Montreal or Florida.
He used to train in his own gym, living there during the week.
"It’s totally different, because I don’t see them at all here. When I was staying at my gym, I’d be there Monday through Friday. I’d come home on the weekends or my (four-year-old) daughter would come to the gym. It was a huge difference… . Being here, in Montreal (or Florida), I don’t see anyone and that’s very hard."