By Frank Bonada
Since the inception of the International Mixed Martial Arts Federation (IMMAF) in 2012, athletes who have captured gold medals on the international stage have consistently gone on to achieve massive success in the professional ranks of MMA.
Ahead of the 2023 IMMAF World Championships, which will take place in Tirana, Albania, from 19 to 25 November, we will be looking at some of the greatest World Champions to have ever competed under the IMMAF banner and how their careers have since progressed.
Up next is two-time IMMAF World Champion and current BRAVE CF bantamweight Champion, Jose Torres.
Torres made his IMMAF debut at the inaugural IMMAF World Championships in 2014. Representing the United States of America, Torres competed in one of the all-time greatest Pan-American teams, alongside Chepe Mariscal and Carlos Hernandez, who both now ply their trade in the UFC.
All three fighters would claim gold, dominating the lower weight classes in the men’s divisions. Torres was especially impressive, making an instant splash in the competition. He sealed his inaugural bout in the tournament with a resounding first-round finish, outclassing Florin Moraru.
Torres would go on to defeat Aleksi Toivonen, a win that has aged especially well, with the Finn now a 7-1 pro athlete competing under the ONE Championship banner. He would follow up his victory over Toivonen with an impressive semi-final win against Bogdan Golovatyi, a highly skilled bantamweight hailing from Ukraine.
Torres’ victory over Golovatyi paved the way for a thrilling showdown against England’s Carl Burton in the finals. Burton was undefeated on the amateur scene and was coming off an impressive armbar submission over Byron Roby.
In a back-and-forth contest, Torres proved that he truly had the potential to be special, claiming the unanimous decision victory over the talented Brit. Torres, Hernandez, and Mariscal were all crowned IMMAF World Champions, joined by several now familiar faces on the winner’s podium. Amanda Ribas, Alessio Di Chirico, and Amanda Lino would all also capture IMMAF gold on that day and have since gone on to have illustrious careers on the pro circuit.
Torres’ Team USA teammates would never win IMMAF gold again, with Hernandez coming up short in 2015 and 2016, while Mariscal jumped straight into professional MMA. However, Torres returned to the IMMAF World Championships in 2015, putting on another series of masterclass performances.
Four successive victories against high-level opposition, such as Salvatore Liga and Carl McNally, saw Jose Torres become IMMAF’s first two-time World Champion. Now holding an amateur MMA record of 25-1 and two IMMAF World Championships gold medals, Jose Torres was in high demand.
In the months after his victory at the IMMAF 2015 World Championships, Torres became the first IMMAF athlete to be invited to join Titan FC’s ranks as a debut professional. Torres’ transition to pro-MMA went without a hitch. He found instant success at Titan FC, buzz-sawing through the promotion and claiming both the Titan FC Flyweight and Bantamweight world titles.
In 2018, Torres received the call that all professional MMA fighters dream of; he was being offered a contract with the UFC. Hector Sandoval had dropped out of his bantamweight clash with Jarred Brooks, and the UFC needed a replacement. As such, Jose Torres made his promotional debut at UFC Fight Night: Rivera vs. Moraes. Once again, the two-time IMMAF World Champion would be victorious, although his win was far from textbook. In the second round, Brooks would attempt a high-amplitude takedown. However, instead of slamming Torres to the canvas, Brooks went face-first into the mat. The impact left him stunned, and Torres would quickly capitalize, claiming the TKO victory.
Making a quick turnaround, Torres returned to action against future UFC flyweight title challenger, Alex Perez, on UFC 227. Torres came up short against Perez, suffering his first professional defeat. To further rub salt in the wound, Torres then became one of the first casualties in the UFC’s mass culling of the flyweight division.
However, Torres was still one of the most highly touted prospects on the planet, and it would not take long for a new promotion to snap him up. BRAVE Combat Federation, a Bahrain-based promotion created in 2016, would soon announce that Jose Torres had joined their ever-growing roster.
Coincidentally, Torres’ debut under the BRAVE CF banner would come against Amir Albazi, who is now a top contender in the UFC’s flyweight division. Torres defeated Albazi via unanimous decision and began his climb towards another world title.
Consecutive victories over Blaine O’Driscoll and Izzeddine Al Derbani saw Jose Torres soar into the contender conversation, and in 2023, he was booked against a fellow IMMAF alumnus, Nkosi Ndebele, for the vacant BRAVE CF bantamweight belt.
The vacant title clash took place at the 2023 Brave Pan-American Combat Week, which also featured the IMMAF 2023 Pan American Championships. The week, in many ways, represented Torres’ career coming full circle. Where he once competed in the IMMAF amateur ranks, now stood the next generation of Pan American talent, looking up to Torres, as he prepared to compete for a world title in professional MMA.
Competing on such a stage, it seemed inevitable that Torres would leave with his hand raised. The two IMMAF alumni left it all in the cage, but as the judges’ scorecards were revealed, it was Torres’ name that was read out.
Today, Torres stands at the top of the world of professional MMA, adorned with a collection of accolades, including two IMMAF World Titles, two Titan FC championship belts, and his recently claimed BRAVE CF bantamweight title. At just 31 years of age, he stands at the zenith of his career, with boundless opportunities lying ahead of him that seem virtually limitless.
While Torres continues to forge his legacy in the realm of combat sports, the next generation of future stars is poised to make their own entrance onto the international amateur world stage. A host of emerging athletes will now look to tread the path he’s paved at the 2023 IMMAF World Championships, which will take place at the Tirana Olympic Park in Albania, from 20 to 25 November.