LOS ANGELES — The Joey Torres story is not a pretty one. Instead of wearing the title belt of a boxing world champion, he's in Nevada State Prison serving a 25 years-to-life sentence for murder.
Eight years ago, Torres had two AAU championships--in the lightweight and welterweight divisions--and unlimited potential.
Then he pleaded guilty to the murder of his manager. He's been in prison ever since, but his attorney says that under the plea bargain deal made at the time, he should be a free man by now.
Today, at 27, Torres knows what he wants and is going after it.
He wants to fight again. He wants to help kids stay out of trouble. And he wants to get out of prison.
He might have a shot at all three.
"I was 16 going on 35, I grew up too quick," Torres said in one of several telephone interviews from prison in Carson City, Nev. "I was 15, 16, I was fighting men in their 20s and knocking them out. I got blinded by the fame, hooked by people patting me on the back.
"I met dignitaries, I fought all over the country. I ate dinner with Muhammad Ali when I was 16 at a fancy restaurant. You get implanted in your mind, 'I'm good, I can't do anything wrong, I can do anything and not get in trouble.'
"About 90% percent of the coaches and managers, they were just bums who couldn't make it. People wanted to exploit me because God gave me a knockout punch and a solid chin."
Torres had a knockout punch, all right. He also had a chip on his shoulder and a drug problem.
"I've known him since he was a kid," said Ruben Urquidez, one of the trainers at the Jet Center, a boxing and kick-boxing club in Van Nuys, the area where Torres grew up. "I was one of his early trainers. He was good. When he first came around, he was a very cocky-type person.
"When I threw him in tournaments, I'd try to get tough guys to teach him a lesson, the trouble is he'd beat them."
Finally, Torres lost, ending up behind bars at age 19. His original sentence called for a maximum term of six years in the California Youth Authority, but later, he was sentenced to a term of 25 years to life in prison.
It was alleged that Torres tried to order a gun through the mail.
Torres did not contest the charge in court. However, he says now it was a misunderstanding.
"I sent a letter out of the institution in regular mail, and I told my fiancee since she was moving to the town of Stockton to find a gun, some kind of protection for her and the kids," he said. "They used that letter against me to send me back to court. There were no charges against me, I never did a day in the hole, I never got in any trouble at all."
Torres still has some big names in his corner.
"I've known Joey since he was a little boy," said Jimmy Montoya, who has managed Hector (Macho) Camacho, Kid Meza, Andy Ganigan and Jose Caba, among others. "I think he could have been a world champion, he had the ability.
"Joey used to be a street mover. If I didn't see him for three or four days, when I'd see him I knew he'd be hungry. But he'd always be willing to help me do something."
Now, Torres wants to help other young people who might make the same mistakes he made.
"I just want these kids out there to stop and think, and see me for what I was and what I could have been," Torres said. "I had the potential to be a champion, and now I sit as a chump because of bad judgment and some people around me who didn't care about me.
"I hope kids can use me as an example. If they won't listen to their parents or people who care about them, I hope they'll listen to me."
What are his chances of getting out of jail?
"I think he has a strong legal issue; I think the case law supports his position," said Cheryl Lutz, who was originally appointed to represent Torres while working for the State Public Defenders' office.
Lutz, who now works for the California Appellate Project, says she will represent Torres without pay if not appointed by the Federal Court. "He entered a plea and he was told he would be in CYA until he was 25, that the longest they could hold him was until he was 25."
And what are his chances of boxing again?
Torres has applied to the Nevada State Boxing Commission for a license, and hopes to learn soon that he'll be eligible to fight again.
He stands just 5 feet 6 inches, but weighs more than 200 pounds, thanks mainly to years of weightlifting.
"You know what (heavyweight champion Mike) Tyson looks like?" Torres said. "Put that on another body."
"He looks physically healthy," said Montoya, who has agreed to manage Torres in the ring. "He'd have to drop a few pounds. Joey used to be real fast. You don't have to be too fast at 160 pounds, 170 pounds.
"I'd have to lengthen some of his muscles, get him down to 175 pounds, then under 170. He's a tough, tough kid. You could hit him with everything, he'd want some more.
"If he listens to me and if he has 50% of what he had as a kid, I can do something with him. I've told him I don't have time to waste."