Given all that’s gone on, it’s hard to believe that it’s less than a year since Mana Martinez tried to secure a UFC contract on season four of Dana White’s Contender Series last September.
He didn’t get the nod from the UFC President after his submission loss to Drako Rodriguez at the APEX, but Martinez roared right back with a pair of first-round finishes that lasted a combined 92 seconds, the second one a 32-second defeat of Jose Johnson in May that did earn him a contract as it came in front of White and the Lookin’ for a Fight crew.
Now he’s on the bantamweight roster and facing Guido Cannetti this Saturday. And though there will be a painful absence in his corner, as Martinez mourns the loss of his coach Saul Soliz, who passed away earlier this month, “Manaboi” fights on in honor of the respected and loved Soliz.
It’s what Soliz would have wanted, to see his charge reach the heights of the sport and compete against the best of the game, and while being a UFC fighter is still something Martinez is getting used to, by Saturday, he’ll be all-in and used to everything that comes along with having those three letters on his gloves. That wasn’t the case the last time he fought at the APEX.
“I think that's what kinda shook me up a little bit in my last Contender Series opportunity,” he admits. “I wasn't quite used to flying and the media, but I became accustomed to it. Another thing was fighting in an empty arena, which I will be doing again. But I'm totally mentally prepared for that; the last fight I wasn't quite ready for it. I'm used to fighting in my hometown and hearing everybody cheer me on. So this next fight it will mainly be me mentally preparing. Of course, I go in there physically ready in phenomenal shape and ready to go, but I'll definitely be in there more mentally prepared than I was for my Contender Series opportunity.”
If you don’t know already, Martinez hails from Houston, Texas. The flight from Houston to Las Vegas takes a little over three hours. What’s going to happen when Martinez gets a fight in Australia or Abu Dhabi?
“I know, but I don't really like flying as it is. I don't care about the turbulence and all that, but just sitting there, I'm a real antsy guy.”
Which means trips to Hawaii to visit his family really wear on him, but hey, that’s life in the UFC – see the world and fight people trained to punch you in the face. It’s a life few could fathom living, but the 25-year-old Martinez is one of that select few, so when he dropped the Rodriguez fight, he wasn’t sulking for months on end. He knew exactly what he needed to do to get in position to get that UFC deal.
“Of course, with any loss, I'm a true competitor at heart, so it really hurt me and held me down for a few days, maybe a week or two, but once I shook it off, I was right back to the gym grinding and I knew all I needed was at least three good wins by way of any type of finish and I'd be right back to another Contender opportunity or a phone call up,” he said. “It only took two fights, surprisingly, and things worked out the way they was supposed to, so I'm super excited and happy that it all played out the way it did. I'm grateful.”
He’s not just happy to be here, though. In fact, Martinez is already scouting the folks he may be throwing hands with sooner rather than later.
Dana White: Lookin' For a Fight – Return to Houston
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Dana White: Lookin' For a Fight – Return to Houston
“I'm not looking past my opponent at all,” he said. “But, for example, I was out there (on July 24) cornering my teammate Adrian Yanez, and there were quite a few 35ers on that card, so I was interested in looking in there and studying them and, of course, whatever Fight Nights or prelim fights that are on the undercard to pay-per-view cards, I've always watched those 135ers and I'm always on the lookout, seeing who 's coming up, and I'm sure they'll see me coming up and making my rise up to the top. Those are my colleagues and my co-workers, but I definitely gotta look out for them and watch out for them.”
And now they’ve got to watch out for Martinez, who has ended all eight of his wins by knockout, five in the first round. That’s just the way he likes to operate, so don’t expect him to be chasing Fight of the Night bonuses; he’s all about having a quick night at the office so he can go deposit his Performance of the Night check before the bank closes.
“The fans should expect me to go in there and look for a finish in every single fight, whether it's standing or on the ground, preferably standing,” he said. “I'm gonna go in there and I don't want to say put on a show because I want to get in and get out. But expect me to look for a finish - it might be flashy, it might be technical, but I'm always going to try to stop my opponent and never leave it in the judges' hands.”