It’s easy to see why a bond exists between the parties and it’s great to see this sort of old-fashioned deal work in a world that’s constantly moving forward- and not always in a good way.
Martinez had a standout amateur career with proven pedigree, winning multiple titles, including being a two-time U.S. National champion, also winning the U.S. Challenge, the PAL and was a four-time Texas State Golden Gloves champion. Martinez was also the number one flyweight in America for three years and travelled around the world with the American team. Though he never got to fight at the Olympics or the World Championships, Martinez did fight at the 2003 Pan American games, returning from Santo Domingo without a medal.
It was at this point when Martinez didn’t make the Olympic team that he opted to turn over signing with New Jersey-based promoter Kathy Duva, stayed with her and her company, Main Events, until 2007. Of course, back in the mid-2000s, Main Events also represented Juan Diaz and Rocky Juarez, also Texans and already at the world title level. This allowed Martinez to regularly fight in Texas; however, by 2007, Diaz had left to fight for Don King and Juarez moved to Golden Boy Promotions. So when the dates that had previously been easier to come by dried up, Mesorana chose to have his fighter released from his contract. Duva obliged, allowing Martinez to cancel his contract seven months early to sign with Top Rank and plough on with his career.
After a couple more wins, one of which netted him the little-known IBA crown, Martinez was given the chance of a lifetime when he fought a rising Nonito Donaire for the IBF flyweight title in the Philippines. It was a fight that was never thought to be easy, ending within four rounds. Martinez says of the loss, "I wasn’t at 100% at that time and you not being 100%, you’re not going to beat a great champion like Donaire. That fight I’ve put in the past. I know that wasn’t me that day so you have to keep going forward and follow that path to becoming a world champion and I’m real close to accomplishing my goal”.
Martinez’s first title shot was down at flyweight, though he started his pro career at 118 pounds. "I was around the bantamweight division for several fights, then I started going down to 115 and then I fought at 112 two times, one of which was to Donaire, and I decided to stick [around] to take a run at 115. I feel I’m not a big guy so making 115-118 is perfect for me" Like all fighters, making weight isn’t easy for him but Martinez continues to stay disciplined, adding with a chuckle, "I’ve had 29 fights and never lost to the scale."
So when Cristian Mijares surprisingly vacated his IBF super flyweight title in mid-August, "Cobrita’s" goal took one step closer when he was matched with Rodrigo “Gatito” Guerrero for the vacant title.
It’s not the first time they have fought. They met late last year in a fight many believed Guerrero won, something Martinez doesn’t agree with. "I mean to me, I won nine or 10 rounds out of that fight. He did throw a lot of punches but a lot were landing on my gloves. I tell everybody I had the face of a loser because of a headbutt on my forehead and then a cut under my eye which was caused by a punch, so I had the face of a loser with blood [all over my face] but every time I would go to the corner after each round, I was confident I won the round. When I heard the judges, they were like the other people who thought I lost. The one judge who gave it to him, I was like, ‘What was she (Judge Lisa Giampa) watching?’ He missed a lot of punches. I blocked a lot of punches. I was countering and I was boxing him but two of the three judges got it right but I still feel I should have got it by a larger margin (Martinez won a split decision by scores of 115-113 twice against 117-111 for Guerrero).
Of the rematch, Martinez says, "I’ve been in the gym training for Mijares but now they’ve changed the opponent to Guerrero. Either way, I think it was going to be a tough fight because it’s a world title fight and a world title fight isn’t going to be easy. So I’ve been staying active in the gym and it’ll pay off on the eighth of October."
Having previously shared 12 bloody rounds with Guerrero, 15-3-1 (10), Martinez knows his strengths. "He has a great chin. I almost stopped him in the ninth round with a good shot to the chin and some body shots I just didn’t follow up with the right combinations. He has a great chin, a big heart. He throws a lot of punches, so you have to be in great shape to beat a fighter like Guerrero. He’s young. He’s hungry. So that’s why I’m here in training camp. I’m training my butt off because I know he’s capable of giving me a real hard fight again."
That familiarity with Guerrero, 23, also allows him to see weaknesses. "He’s a straightforward guy. I don’t think he has the versatility to change his style. If he wants to box me, I think I’ll outbox him, so pretty much, he has to come forward and hope that he wears me down but that’s why I’m here in training camp, training to go 12 rounds. So pretty much, I see him as a one-style fighter coming straight at you."
Martinez and Guerrero meet again this weekend in Tijuana. Martinez, 29, will have to go behind enemy lines to win the title in his opponent’s backyard. That’s not something that overly concerns him. "Um…yeah, I’m pretty sure it’s on the boxers’ mind that have to travel outside their country but I’ve fought in Mexico two times before, both times going ten rounds, both were unanimous decisions, so I feel if I perform to the best of my ability, I feel I can win by knockout or by unanimous decision this time."
Though Martinez hasn’t fought since the first Guerrero bout, it is largely because he was due to meet Mijares until injury curtailed that in May. Despite almost 11 months of inactivity, he has remained in the gym in Jarrell, Texas. "After the fight, I was off because of a hand injury. I hurt my hands a lot in fights. And my cuts, so I had to be out of the gym for a little while but right after they healed up [I was back in the gym].”
As Martinez knows this obviously won’t be easy but as he’s already said, winning a world title was never going to be. As he heads across the Rio Grande, full of optimism, knowing if he can turn back Guerrero, he’ll achieve his lifetime ambition.