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Editorial: Face it — This is why they’re the best

Miguel Angel Torres provided the verdict through preeminent tools of destruction – his arms and fists and legs and feet – last Wednesday night against Manny Tapia. But he delivered the greater message with his face.

Against a knockout artist and challenger who welcomed a standup examination, the WEC bantamweight champion measured, struck and used his reach to perfection.

His face? Blank.

At one startling point, Torres’ confidence and aggression married to generate a radical front-roll axe kick, which missed the mark but nevertheless stunned onlookers as he popped to his feet, no harm done.

His face? Expressionless.

Finally, after stalking through the first round and part of the second, Torres’ jab found its mark. Down went Tapia, followed closely by his assailant, who brought the proceedings to a vicious conclusion.

His face? Stone cold.

When discussing MMA’s pound-for-pound kings, it’s a no-brainer to speak of their all-around excellence. Anderson Silva has it. Fedor Emelianenko has it. As do Georges St. Pierre, B.J. Penn, Torres and others.

What sets apart the select group of fighters, however, is how they couple those skills with exceptional composure – an icy concentration in a stark atmosphere of violence.

This characteristic is no different among the best athletes in any sport that’s not ruled by time or a set of standards. Think of Kobe Bryant in the final moments of a tight basketball game. Tom Brady on the football field. Roger Federer in a grand slam event. Albert Pujols at the plate.

They elevate to a level of serenity despite the blur of action they are attempting to control. They don’t over-react. They simply act and react – with coolness.

Still, I like to think of MMA as being separate from the field in this conversation. Those other individuals, after all, aren’t looking to hurt anyone while at the same time fending off bodily harm. (Brady might be a target, but he enjoys the presence of several large protectors).

Observing such cage calmness is something to behold, especially for those of us who, in mundane day-to-day activities, struggle to suppress our inner Junie Browning when difficulty hatches.

I battle the urge to go berserk on the regular. Faulty software. Broken household appliances. Minor fender benders. They all test my temper-control and often result in increased pulse rate, pupil dilation and brief outbursts of foul language. I can feel the boiling begin, but I am usually powerless to quell the impulse.

I’ve never punched anything (OK, I kicked an office chair once) and it’s probably not good for me. But, then again, as a writer/editor who spends large portions of time staring into computer screens, I don’t have much of an anger outlet.

I don’t explore ways to inflict pain for a living (although some might believe columnists are hurtful creatures). However, if all of us were able to take a timeout and beat on something (not someone) once a day, incidents of things like road rage might decrease.
(I can see the public service announcement now: “Violence – It’s the Answer.”)

There is hope for people like me, though. Apparently this attribute, this cage calmness, can be learned without intervention from an anger management specialist.

Torres is an example.

On June 1, Torres and Yoshiro Maeda teamed to produce one of the year’s most entertaining bouts. Torres took a TKO victory on a doctor’s stoppage after the third round when Maeda’s eye was swollen shut.

Torres, meanwhile, was bleeding significantly after a few of Maeda’s well-placed shots, which not only did the cutting, but also rattled the champ.

Once that happened, the fight was a display of perpetual punishment, but perhaps only because Torres lost his resolve and abandoned his strategy when he felt blood trickling down his nose. The resultant exchanges were exhilarating to watch even if they weren’t in the best interest of a man who was defending his title against a capable adversary.

So, Torres vowed to remain calm in last week’s fight against another solid striker who hoped to take his belt. The product, then, was Torres’ steely facial expression and smooth dissection of Tapia.

We’ve seen this kind of thing before from the world’s top fighters. Like, when Fedor got slammed on his noggin by Kevin Randleman, but kept that head in the match and won by kimura just seconds later.

Or, when Silva was taken down and controlled momentarily by Travis Lutter before securing a triangle choke, hitting him with some sharp elbows and getting the submission.

The examples are countless in this dangerous, chaotic sport.

And those examples lend hope to pasty, frail writers who nearly lose it when the dog pukes on the new carpet.