Football is widely regarded as the most popular sport in the world, but in the Philippines, basketball has become woven into the cultural fabric of the country where the overall lack of height does not interfere with the love of the game.
Filipinos have perennially been hooked on basketball as a love affair has bloomed between its people and the orange bouncing ball since it was first introduced by the Americans in the early 1900s.
Basketball courts have mushroomed in the most nondescript streets of the metro as shooting rings can be found installed on tree trunks and even light posts.
The Filipinos’ leaning towards basketball is strongly evident in teams formed within village leagues, while countless inter-department tournaments are held at workplaces and schools.
Like many other Filipinos in the archipelago, homegrown mixed martial arts prospect Jomary “The Zamboanganian Fighter” Torres had a simple dream of becoming a basketball player when she was a young girl.
“I really wanted to play basketball,” she shared. “Most men play basketball in our country. 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 career out of her hobby.
“It’s natural for Filipinos to play basketball. You can see hoops everywhere. We play the game every single day. Like many of my countrymen, I was good at it. I thought of playing in the professional ranks and have the chance to earn money from it,” she stated.
However, circumstances in life would not allow Torres to pursue a professional career in basketball.
Torres and her older brother were actually left under the care of their grandmother since they were infants.
Despite not having a stable business as a source of income, Torres’ grandmother found ways to provide, such as picking up extra work at a school cafeteria.
“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 said.
Out of desperation, Torres did not hesitate to take a job in Taguig, Metro Manila, where she worked as a nanny.
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, Torres swung by the gym to watch the action firsthand.
For three years, the usually-active Torres was contained in a job where she could not feed her competitive spirit and could only envy them from the sidelines.
Watching people get fit, all while satisfying that craving for competition through mixed martial arts enticed her.
In 2015, Ruel introduced Torres to his older brother, Rene Catalan, multiple-time Wushu world champion and head coach of Catalan Fighting System.
“Coach Rene invited me and gave me an offer to consider. I tried training, and I have been there ever since,” she recalled. “I was a bit fat before. I only got fit here.”
After receiving an offer to join the team, Torres did not think twice to leave her job as a nanny and trained to become a full-time mixed martial artist.
With no martial arts background, it came as a shock for her when she was immediately booked for a match.
As homage to her hometown, Torres took the nickname of “The Zamboanginian Fighter” as her alias when she had her professional debut in August 2016 at a local event in Pasay City.
Torres pulled off the unanimous decision victory over compatriot Krisna Limbaga, and from then on, the Catalans knew that they had a potential star on their hands.
“I trained for two months and was surprised when I was told by my coach that I would be competing,” she bared. “I took on the challenge so that I could experience a real match, and thankfully, I won.”
Torres has emerged as a promising mixed martial arts talent from the Philippines and has compiled an undefeated professional record of 4-0.
The 22-year-old Zamboanga del Norte native directed her career path to ONE Championship in 2017, winning her first three assignments in astonishing fashion.
When she made her promotional debut against Rika “Tinydoll” Ishige in August 2017, Torres stole her thunder on that fateful night by submitting the Thai martial arts heroine in the second round of their exhilarating contest.
Three months after she forced Ishige to wave the white flag in her maiden ONE Championship appearance, Torres out-grappled Indonesia’s Nita Dea en route to a unanimous decision victory.
Her most recent triumph came at the expense of Team Lakay’s April Osenio, whom she finished in just 40 second with a thunderous slam last January.
Torres will once again be strutting her wares under the bright lights as she takes on Priscilla Hertati Lumban Gaol in a three-round atomweight clash on the undercard of ONE: CONQUEST OF HEROES in Jakarta, Indonesia on September 22.
Given the success that she now basks in, Torres believes that she is destined to strap on four-ounce gloves.
“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. I truly believe I am destined to be a professional fighter. I have no regrets,” she assured.