Manny Tapia is a man on a mission.
The fighter that many refer to as "The Mangler" will face the toughest test of his career when he takes on WEC bantamweight champion Miguel Torres this Wednesday in Las Vegas. Fans wait in anticipation as this matchup has fight of the year potential. Tapia is ready and eagerly awaits the showdown between two of the best 135-pound fighters in the world.
"I feel good. I feel strong. I'm not thinking about it too much. I'm just keeping my head clear," said the Chino, Calif. resident. "All the hard parts are already out of the way, that's the training; the fight is just a bonus. The months of preparation, that's the hard part.
"It means the world," commented Tapia on his title shot. "I never thought I would be in this position. I got into MMA by accident; I started training seven years ago. Originally I just wanted to fight one fight and never fight again and here I am. I'm headlining in Vegas; it's the world, it's a dream."
The former King of the Cage 135-pound champion signed with World Extreme Cagefighting last year and was victorious in his debut. Undefeated after 11 fights, the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu purple belt under Javier Vasquez still had much to achieve in the growing sport of MMA.
"I was actually getting ready to retire; there was no money in it. I was done. I did not want to fight anymore," revealed Tapia. "But then the WEC called and I went for it."
He made his WEC debut against Brandon Foxworth. The Millenia Jiu-Jitsu fighter battered his opponent over two rounds, ending Foxworth's 14-fight winning streak. Tapia showed fans that he has heavy hands and is capable of putting on exciting fights.
After an impressive entry into the WEC, the opportunity to contend for the 135-pound belt presented itself in September of last year. Unfortunately, a knee injured derailed his title shot against Chase Beebe, who would later relinquish his belt to Torres.
Tapia returned in February and won a controversial split decision over Antonio Banuelos. The fight was initially scored as a draw, although many spectators thought Tapia should have been declared the victor. After a mistake in tallying the scorecards, he was ruled as the winner via split decision.
The win put Tapia back in line for a shot at the title. Unfortunately, once again, an injury delayed the undefeated fighter's opportunity at WEC gold.
"I messed my knee up three weeks before I fought Antonio. It was only bad for like two days," said Tapia. "I started training for Miguel and my knee popped every day. Apparently my ACL wasn't completely healed and I had a slightly torn meniscus."
He had surgery to repair his ACL and has fully recovered. He recently finished the most intense training camp of his career. Having not competed in nearly 10 months, many fans wonder if Tapia will experience any ring rust in his return to the cage.
"If you really look at my record, I always fight within months. Ring rust is not a concern," said Tapia confidently. "I always have one to two fights a year. I don't think the layoff is going to affect me at all. I'm here to perform and put on a show."
Not only is this championship fight one of the most anticipated of the year, it will also have a great significance for the Hispanic community.
"This is a big fight. Everybody is backing us up. They're expecting a war. I know Miguel is going to bring it and I'm going to bring it too. You guys should be expecting a lot of fireworks ... fight of the year. There's going to be a lot of action. You've got two stubborn Mexicans going at it (laughs)."
The mental aspect of MMA is just as important as the physical. The sport has shown that even the most talented fighters can crumble under pressure. Tapia, as the challenger, is prepared and feels he has an advantage.
"To be honest with you, all the pressure is on him. I'm coming off a knee injury. I've never been so confident, so calm and so clear-headed coming into a fight. All I got to do is go out there and fight him and knock him out. I'm ready for it; I've got no pressure on me.
"I think it's more mental than anything. I train the same for him as I did Antonio. I pushed everything a little bit harder. This is a big fight. Mentally you have to be prepared; physically I know I'm prepared. Mentally, the belt's already at my gym. I'm ready to rock."
Miguel Torres has proven that he is the man to beat at 135 pounds. The 27-year-old fighter sports an impressive record of 34-1 and is known for his grappling prowess. In a recent interview with MMAWeekly.com, Torres said, "I think with Manny, I'm going to go in and have fun and fight him on his feet. I think it's going to be a great opportunity for me to showcase my stand up. Manny hits hard. He likes to box. I'm going to go out there and showcase my stand up.
"Eventually the fight will get to the floor," added Torres. "We'll get into a clinch. He'll shoot on me, or I'll jump guard, or however it's going to work. The fight will get to the ground and I'm sure when it gets there I'll get to show my jiu-jitsu off. But before that I'll get to showcase my stand up."
Despite what critics perceive as an advantage for Torres, Tapia is self-assured in his training and welcomes the opportunity to test his skills on the mat.
"I'm confident. I train with one of the best submission guys in the world. I was originally a grappler; jiu-jitsu guy. People see two fights in the WEC and I'm standing up the whole time, everybody assumes I'm a boxer. I just like to put on a show. I don't want to be a boring fighter. Miguel is smooth on the ground; he's actually an exciting ground guy. Like I said, there's going to be action everywhere."
Tapia is in for the biggest challenge of his career. To defeat Torres and claim the WEC belt would place him on top of the bantamweight food chain. The Mangler is on a mission. This Wednesday, fans will have to opportunity to see if Tapia's dream comes to fruition.