Chatt Chats: In-depth, real, and behind-the-scene stories of our incredible GoMocs student-athletes & programs, past and present. Produced by Tate Johnson, Production Director, and Corey Belonzi, Strategic Communications Assistant Director. Story told by Shane Shoemaker, GoMocs.com student writer. The Chatt Chats series earned national recognition from the College Sports Information Directors of America in 2020 as the top video/program feature across all college athletics.Vol. 7 – Torrez “The Punisher” Finney’s Journey From The Mats To The Cage
One day during Torrez Finney’s seventh-grade year, there was a call for students to sign-up to join the Clifton Ridge Middle School wrestling team. His ears and interest perked up with excitement at the word wrestling, so he thought, “Yeah, I want to wrestle.” After all, it was a word he was quite keen on being that he was such a big fan of WWE’s professional wrestling. He’d seen plenty of fireman’s carries, take-down’s and arm-bar’s in WWE from professional wrestlers like John Cena and The Undertaker on television most Monday nights.
All he needed was for someone to ring the bell.
There was only one problem. This wasn’t professional wrestling or the WWE, it was amateur middle school wrestling in Jones County, Ga.
Finney and the others that day found that out pretty quickly when the head wrestling coach at Clifton Ridge Middle at the time told them “If anybody thinks this is WWE, they can leave now.” Finney thought, “Well, I might as well leave then,” as he laughed about the situation now.
Luckily, he joined the wrestling team and went on to win back-to-back Georgia state wrestling championships his junior and senior year of high school, even going a remarkable 40-0 his senior season.
The sport of amateur wrestling has proven vital in Finney’s life, whether that be in his past, his present or his future; it’s a pathway he always seems to find himself on and where he gains great success.
“Ever since I got into wrestling, man, no matter how often I leave it, something always brings me back,” Finney said. “And regardless of what that is, I don’t know, but I always find my way back.”
Wrestling is what initially landed him a scholarship at UTC.
Finney didn’t accept the scholarship, though. He chose to walk-on to the UTC football team instead. He’d played football since he was four-years-old, and the thought of putting on the pads and helmet in big-time college football games, playing against high-caliber SEC schools like Tennessee, Alabama and LSU, was an opportunity he didn’t want to miss.
It was actually UTC’s wrestling head coach, Heath Eslinger, who helped him walk-on to the football team.
“[Coach Eslinger] basically was the reason why I had my football career,” Finney said. “He told it to me straight. [He said,] ‘I know you have that passion for football and you also love wrestling back and forth, but you got to make a decision.'”
After that, Eslinger gave Finney’s phone number to then Mocs head football coach, Russ Huesman. Huesman watched some of Finney’s high school film and then let him walk-on to the team soon after.
The mats came calling again, though, or rather, Coach Eslinger came calling. On Jan. 12, 2018, the UTC wrestling team was competing in the Virginia Duals in Hampton, Va. and the team was down a heavyweight wrestler due to an injury. Football season was over and Eslinger knew Finney still loved being on the mats and knew he’d probably be ready and willing to compete if Eslinger asked him.
A romantic for athletics and competition, Finney accepted, facing Devin Nye of Kent State, and in his very first collegiate match, tore his ACL, losing by default.
“I actually took him down a few times,” Finney said. “But the problem was, right when I went for another, I felt a pop in my knee. It was unusual. I kept trying to wrestle, and then it got to a point where I was like, ‘I can’t keep doing this.'”
A driven, motivated Finney, however, didn’t let that hold him back as he was back less than six months later, playing football and starting at fullback for the Mocs.
“That creates warriors, you know, when you face adversity,” Finney said. “You know, things like that … that creates something that you usually don’t find deep inside of you unless you go through it. I am truly happy and blessed that I had the opportunity to go through that.”
Finney would eventually earn a football scholarship his junior year but would tear his ACL for a second time in the spring of 2019, along with his meniscus, missing the entire football season.
It was a much longer recovery process this time, Finney said, lasting about nine to 10 months. The anxious athlete that he is was used to being active and competing by being in a gym, on a mat, or on a field. He couldn’t just “sit there and do nothing but rehab all day,” he said. So, he found a local gym and started boxing training because he thought it would be beneficial to his cardiovascular training, and later on, even found it quite enjoyable.
Boxing would lead him to Agoge Gym, a martial arts gym in Rossville, Ga. after some friends of his noticed how he would often be in his wrestling stance while he was boxing and suggested that he should give MMA a try.
They wanted to see “The Punisher” make the transition and try his talents inside a cage.
“The Punisher” was a moniker that was born early on in Finney’s amateur wrestling career in middle school when someone told him, “Man, the way you wrestle, kid, you just be punishing them.” Watching his opponents become severely uncomfortable while their faces filled with grimacing pain after he would violently pick them up and pin them to the ground, conversely, made a nickname like “The Punisher” feel all too comfortable for Finney, so it was easy to understand why a lot of people thought he could make the transition.
A cool, gladiator-like nickname and bruising physical skills — what type of athlete could be better suited for MMA? Finney, however, had always been hesitant about the transition.
“I used to be like, ‘no, I would never do [MMA],'” Finney said. “I would never think about hitting nobody in the face.”
To get Matt Harris’ attention, he never had to throw a punch.
“The first night he came in, he was a tough guy,” Harris said. “And I was like, ‘okay.’ So, I’m rolling with him, I get him kind of flattened out and he starts breathing bad and I thought – I was just back from neck surgery – and I thought, ‘I gotta let this kid up, it sounds like he’s going to have a heart attack.’ I let him up and he spiked me on my head. And I was like, I can’t give this kid any, an inch. So, after that, we talked a little bit. I realized … he’s a tough guy.”
Harris is a Brazilian blackbelt and one of the owners of the Agoge Gym. He’s seen a lot of students, former athletes, come and go from his gym, unable to adjust to the MMA style simply because they can’t look past themselves, their bad habits or some previous training they’ve refused to let go of. “Usually, wrestlers are just kind of stuck in their way and they want to do it in the way they’ve always done it, and that doesn’t really lend itself in MMA,” Harris said. “You gotta change some things.”
Finney is not like the rest, in many ways. With his background in amateur wrestling, he seemed to naturally fit in well with the MMA style and uses it as a major advantage to his game.
“Having the advantage of being a wrestler and having a ground game in MMA is so beneficial,” Finney said. “A lot of guys can come in knowing how to strike. A lot of guys can [come in knowing] boxing, kickboxing, Muay Thai – but your hands don’t mean much when you’re on your back.”
As phenomenal as his wrestling is, it’s probably not even his greatest strength, according to his coaches, whether that be past or present.
Coach Ethan Reeve, who is the Director of Athletic Performance at UTC and coached Finney throughout most of his collegiate career said even though Finney was deadlifting close to 700-pounds and bench pressing over 400-pounds at one point, his greatest strength was how coachable he was.
“The difference with Finney and everyone else is that he wants to learn – everything,” Harris said. “You can’t coach him enough. He wants it all.”
Sure, you’ll hear about his strength, his explosiveness, his unusually long, capsizing arms for his size that reach 76-inches and his imposing wrestling abilities, but those will always be superseded by his ability to be coached. He’s one of those gym rats you hear about. He’ll be the first one in the gym when it opens and the last one to leave it when it closes, hoping to soak in every last ounce of training and knowledge he can get out of his coaches.
“A lot of guys that you get to fight, maybe they’ve got some kind of demon, right?” Harris said. “They’ve got something they’re overcoming. They had a rough childhood, or, you know, rough home life. Finney doesn’t have any of that. He’s got just all the good habits that he’s developed over his career and his parents, and he just pushes to be better every day. So, it’s really fun to teach.”
Finney is, simply put, a coach’s dream.
“You know, you tell him, ‘Son, I need you to do this.’ And he’d do it. ‘Son, I need you to think of this.’ And then he’d do it,” Agoge Gym’s Muay Thai coach Larry Scott said of Finney’s willingness to submit to instruction.
Finney is an advocate for detail when it comes to his newfound sport. “I’m constantly trying to figure out a lot of different game plans to add to my game,” Finney said. “I like to take away what your favorite thing is and you got to beat me with your second best move. Then again, once I figure out your second-best move, you [have to] beat me with you third, fourth, fifth. I do so much research on my opponents. I like to really get an understanding of them.”
On Oct. 3, 2020, Finney competed in his first amateur MMA bout, and the game plan, Harris said, was to make a statement and make it quick, hopefully ending the fight in a minute as they wanted to show the explosiveness from the former Moc fullback.
What would happen when the fight took place, neither Harris nor Finney could have guessed.
A 5-foot-7, 215-pounds Finney entered the cage, eyed his opponent Antonio Holt, circled once, calculated, faked with a left hand that Holt mistakenly swatted at, then came with a big right overhand strike as Holt started to fall. From that point on, it was all Finney … in 11 seconds.
“Well, the game plan was to go in there … we were going to barrage him with a few punches, but then we [were] going to take him down,” Finney said. “The thing is, he dropped pretty quick, and the referee did stop it slightly early. But the way he dropped, it was like he was out instantly. I was so shocked.”
For a guy who was at one time hesitant to throw a punch, he held none back in his first bout and let everyone know he had arrived, both in the cage and on the microphone.
“Whoever has that 205 title – and I heard it was vacant – I’m coming after that belt,” Finney said he told a rowdy crowd in Knoxville, Tenn. that night just after beating Holt in his first amateur fight.
With his dominating performance in his first fight, it became difficult to find future opponents for the former two-time Georgia state wrestling champion. At just 1-0, Finney and his coaches were having to ask for title fights because promoters had no other choice but to accept them.
On Feb. 5, 2021, the 22-year-old, now at 205-pounds, Finney entered only his second bout fighting for his first amateur MMA championship, going up against 6-foot-2, 206 pounds Tristian Scarborough, who was 3-0.
Leading up to the fight, Finney said he listened to some of Scarborough’s interviews on podcasts saying how he was going to knock Finney out within the first two rounds.
That’s the only motivation “The Punisher” needed.
Within 10-seconds of the first round of the fight, Finney threw a right hand, which threw off Scarborough, Finney then jumped in, ducked under, picked him up and slammed him hard to the canvas, followed by an onslaught of punches from there. However, this time it would go into the third round before a victor was decided.
Finney won the first and second rounds decisively, and with about 2:10 left in the final round, after slamming Scarborough down again and hitting him with a series of punches to follow, the referee called the match in Finney’s favor, as he was crowned the new Valor Fighting (VF) Light Heavyweight Champion.
Scarborough only landed three kicks the entire fight.
What once was a stern, focused, menacing demeanor during the fight, the charismatic showman with a constant smile Finney returned following his victory as he danced inside the cage, then walked to the top of the cage and put his face in the camera and said, “Let’s go.”
Within minutes of winning his first championship, Finney was already looking ahead as Jesse Romans, who won the VF Heavyweight Championship earlier that night, entered the ring while Finney was in the middle of his victory speech.
“If you want to do this … we might have to do this, baby,” Finney said as he stared Romans down.
Finney wasn’t the only one looking ahead, though. Harris was as well.
“So, I kinda put the bug in the promoter’s ear before the last fight […] that the heavyweight title would be next,” Harris said. “This is about building a resume to be a pro. And it’s about bringing him along at the right pace. He’s not going to struggle with an amateur in this area. So, I can take that off the table; I can give him any fight. We’re probably going to go after the 185 champ after that because I can’t get him a fight with anybody other than a title fight. They have to take a title fight. But no one wants to fight him.”
There isn’t a moment that’s too big for Finney. He played in multiple high school playoff games, played against the likes of athletes like former five-star Georgia Bulldogs’ quarterback Jake Fromm, wrestled in state championships and nationally, facing the country’s best competition.
“I’m ready,” Finney said. “Any guy, any person, you know, they can come and bring it. I’m ready for all of them because I won’t get phased by the pressure. I won’t get phased by the lights. I won’t get phased by things that are on the line.”
Every coach said the same thing regarding Finney’s future, including his Jiu-Jitsu coach at Agoge Gym, Sterling Peace that said, “He really can go all the way. If he sticks to it, you’re looking at some of the higher organizations, like Bellator and the UFC […] and knocking on those doors and making some noise.”
As of now, it’s proposed that Finney will get his coveted heavyweight title matchup against Romans in mid-May. If Finney were to become victorious in that bout, he may then vie for the middleweight title, with the idea of making him a triple champion — again, if victorious. But Harris said there’s no rush to turn him pro because he wants to see how he progresses with his training, along with giving him a variety of fights during his amateur career.
“The goal is — top goal — go to the UFC and to eventually become UFC champion,” Finney said. “That is my primary goal right now. That’s why I work hard every day. That’s why I come in [Agoge Gym] two times a day. That is my primary goal. I want to be a world champion one day. And I truly believe with my mindset and hard work and dedication, that will be attainable … and it’s not too far on the horizon.”
SERIES ARCHIVES – SEASON 2
Vol. 7 – Torrez “The Punisher” Finney’s Journey From The Mats To The Cage
Vol. 6 – The Day Softball Was Called Home, One Year Later
Vol. 5 – Regina Kirk Impacting Lives Through a Triumphant Journey
SERIES ARCHIVES – SEASON 1
Vol. 4 – Holiday Spirit Shines Bright
Vol. 3 – Strength Through Adversity, the NaKeia Burks Story – *#1 in Nation (CoSIDA – 2020)
Vol. 2 – Together is Better, Siblings Find New Home in Chattanooga
Vol. 1 – Mission First, Family Always