EAST CHICAGO | For most people, getting the key to their hometown would be the culmination of their life's work -- the ultimate honor.
For mixed martial arts fighter Miguel Torres, his work has just begun.
Torres, an East Chicago native, is the former bantamweight (135 pounds) champion of World Extreme Cagefighting, the sister promotion of the Ultimate Fighting Championship, the world's largest MMA company. On Friday, the city celebrated Miguel Torres Day, including a presentation by Mayor George Pabey giving Torres the key to the city.
But Torres, who has remained committed to the region and his gym in Hammond despite many offers to move elsewhere in the name of furthering his career, said the celebration helps him understand why he tries to give back to the community and how much more he wants to give.
"It's a big honor," Torres said. "For me, I never thought about this ever happening. For me, I liked it better when I fought and nobody cared who I was and I could just train and fight. Now that I've come into a different stage of what I do and I have more attention, and stuff like this happens. It's a testament to how much work I've done -- and how much work I've still got to do.
"If what I've done has gotten me here, there's so much more that I've got to accomplish."
Torres cut his teeth on the local mixed martial arts scene, compiling a record of 32-1 -- and 12 other unofficial wins -- before joining the WEC in 2007. In short order, he won the WEC's bantamweight title and defended it three times before suffering his first loss in nearly six years last August.
In March, he experienced his first losing streak when he lost in Columbus, Ohio.
But he told a crowd of about 100 people at Veterans Park he's committed to getting back in the win column -- and getting his title back. He also said he holds firm faith in the people of his city.
"I've trained in Vegas, I've trained all over the world -- but I want everyone to know I'm from East Chicago, Ind., because I believe in this city," Torres said. "I believe in the people of this city. I think that the best comes out of the worst. It's not the people that are the worst -- it's the city. We don't treat the city the way it should be, and I want to make a difference. I can start changing things one person at a time."
In addition to a morning ceremony with Pabey, Torres also had lunch at one of his favorite restaurants, El Michoacano, at 2003 Broadway, and signed autographs and posed for pictures with fans.
And then there was the haircut.
Torres, famous for the mullet-style haircut he maintains in homage to his father, gave a fan an "upgrade" to a mullet at Arnold's Barber Shop. Dennis Clayton, who traveled with his parents from Plymouth, Ind., for the day's events, is now the proud owner of a Torres-style mullet.
"I've been to Chicago to see him, out to Vegas, Columbus," Clayton said. "I've been following him for about two years. He just does things you don't see other fighters do."