Like many other Filipinos in the country, homegrown mixed martial arts (MMA) competitor Jomary Torres had a simple dream of becoming a basketball player when she was a young girl growing up in Sindangan, Zamboanga del Norte.
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“I really wanted to play basketball. It’s an exciting sport that all Filipinos love,” she shares. “Most men play basketball in our country. Almost everyone in town watches the game. Since it is like our national sport, I was fascinated by it.”
Having played in fiestas and for her school, Torres thought that she could eventually find a way to make a professional career out of her hobby.
“You can see hoops everywhere. We play the game every single day," she says. And, like a lot of Filipinos, Torres was good at it. "I beat my friends, both men and women, in pick-up games. I thought of playing in the professional ranks and have the chance to earn money from it."
However, circumstances in life would not allow Torres to extract a single centavo out of her hoops skills.
Torres and her older brother have been left under the care of their grandmother Feliciana since they were infants. Despite not having a stable source of income, her grandmother found ways to provide, such as picking up extra work at a school cafeteria. She even sold bananas just so she could make enough money to put them through school.
“My dad is in Zamboanga City, while my mom is in Basilan,” the 24-year-old reveals. “They each have their own families. Before, I did not know why they left or why they broke up. I am just blessed to have my grandma.”
Because of her atypical family situation, Torres was regularly picked on by some of her classmates. However, she never allowed herself to be anyone’s physical, or verbal, punching bag. That same grit would play an important role later on.
“I was a really quiet girl, and I guess that enticed them to bully me even more,” she explains. “I told them they should not mess with me because if I fought back, they would be sorry," she says. "I punched one and even earned a trip to the principal’s office.”
After finishing high school, Torres took it upon herself to earn a living. Out of desperation, Torres did not hesitate to take a job all the way in Taguig, where she worked as a nanny. “I really wanted to play basketball. Instead of letting my grandmother work even more just to get me through college, I decided to stop going to school and find a job to help her out,” she says.
From court to cage
During her time as a babysitter, Torres met Ruel Catalan, who frequently trained at a gym near the school where the child that she took care of was studying. While waiting for the child to finish school, she swung by the gym to watch the action firsthand.
For three years, Torres was contained in her life as a nanny, a job that did not feed her competitive spirit. She could only watch those around her live the life she wanted. And her craving for competition eventually led her to going into the cage.
In 2015, Ruel introduced Torres to his older brother, Rene Catalan, a highly-decorated wushu athlete and head coach of Catalan Fighting System. Coach Rene offered her a chance to become the competitor she always wanted to be.
“I tried training, and I have been there ever since,” she recalls. “I was a bit fat before. I only got fit here. The training was hard, but I learned to love it. Maybe it’s the athlete in me.”
Immediately after joining Catalan's fold, Torres did not think twice to leave her job as a nanny and trained to become a full-time MMA fighter. With no martial arts background, it came as a shock when she was immediately booked for a match. As an homage to her hometown, Torres took the nickname of “The Zamboanginian Fighter” as her alias when she made her professional debut in August 2016 under the banner of Alvin Aguilar’s Universal Reality Combat Championship.
Torres pulled off the unanimous decision victory over compatriot Krisna Limbaga, and from then on, the Catalan brothers knew that they had a potential star on their hands. “For my debut, I trained for two months, and I was surprised when I was told by my coach that I would be competing. I took on the challenge, so that I could experience a real fight, and thankfully, I won,” she shares.
Following her triumphant debut, opportunities began opening up for Torres. Noticed by ONE Championship, she directed her career path to the Singapore-based organization in 2017.
She won her first three ONE assignments in astonishing fashion. When she made her maiden promotional appearance against Rika Ishige in August 2017, Torres caused the Thai fighter to submit in the second round of their exhilarating contest. Three months after, she out-grappled Indonesia’s Nita Dea en route to a unanimous decision win. Her most resounding victory in ONE Championship came at the expense of Team Lakay’s April Osenio, whom she finished in just 40 seconds with a thunderous slam in January 2018.
Given the success that she garnered in MMA, Torres believes that she was destined for a life in the cage.
“I am happy to be part of this sport. It’s now considered as the fastest-growing sport in the world. Making a mark as an international competitor of mixed martial arts gives me a sense of fulfillment," she says.
But her record within the ONE Championship ring has faltered since her prolific start as she suffered four-straight losses. Her last bout, against Taiwan’s Jenny Huang in January, ended in a no contest after being on the receiving end of multiple illegal-but-unintentional low blows.
Though she has experienced a couple of setbacks since the last time she had her hand raised in triumph, Torres is not turning her back on the sport that has given her a second shot at life.
“Life goes on. I know I will win again. MMA might not be the sport I initially wanted, but it gave me all I’ve ever dreamed of," she says. "Everything happens for a reason. I will keep on fighting.”