Every combat sports career is an obstacle course. Mana Martinez has had a few more obstacles to face on his way to a Saturday bout against Cameron Saaiman. But the bantamweight prospect isn’t complaining.
“I'm excited to be back home,” said the Houston native. “It's been a real blessing and honor to train back at home.”
Now working with Bob Perez, longtime coach of heavyweight contender Derrick Lewis, Martinez honed his craft under the tutelage of Saul Soliz, who tragically passed away in August of 2021. Less than two weeks after Soliz’ passing, Martinez won his UFC debut, defeating Guido Cannetti. As for the future, Martinez found a new home in Lee’s Summit, Missouri with the Glory MMA team, and while he lost his first fight with James Krause in his corner to Ronnie Lawrence, last October he decisioned Brandon Davis and felt like he was in a groove with his new coach.
How To Watch UFC 285 In Your Country
“Him and I had started clicking,” said Martinez. “You could definitely see it. The first fight, we were kind of off on our cadences and my delay of throwing combos or certain things in the Octagon. But this last one, we were starting to click.”
Then Krause was suspended indefinitely by the Nevada State Athletic Commission for failing to disclose an injury suffered by Darrick Minner before a November 2022 fight, and Martinez was left without a coach.
“It was upsetting, of course,” said Martinez. “But what can you do? Life goes on, man. Everything happens for a reason, and I know God has a bigger, better plan and it's just been awesome coming back home to train.”
UFC 285 EMBEDDED: All Episodes
By this point, if you assume that Martinez is a glass half-full person, that’s accurate. But that attitude takes some work.
“I think about the bigger picture,” he said. “I think when my career is all wrapped up and said and done, it's going to be one of the most beautiful stories ever told. And from having one coach pass away, rest in peace, to another coach who's dealing with some things, and now I'm with my third coach and being back home, that’s my journey. And like I said, I know when this is all wrapped up and my kids' kids are watching a movie about me or reading books about me, it's, it's going to be beautiful.”
So who plays Mana in the movie?
“Somebody like Tom Holland, you never know,” laughs Martinez, who says he does have some Spider-Man moves in him for this week’s fight.
“I do, I do. It's going to be a fun one – he (Saaiman) pulls out his moves, I can pull out fancier ones and I'm excited, man; this is going to be a striker's delight and is definitely going to be a crowd pleaser.”
UFC 285 FREE FIGHTS: Gane vs Tuivasa | Gane vs Lewis | Jones vs Rua | Jones vs Machida | Shevchenko vs Andrade | Grasso vs Wood
When it comes to crowd pleasing, Martinez hasn’t disappointed. And even in his lone UFC loss to Lawrence, his third-round surge got his hometown fans at Toyota Center standing and cheering.
“I was thinking that I had to just go out there and fight my fight,” said Martinez of his mindset going into the final round against Lawrence when he was down on the scorecards. “If you go and rewatch that first and second round, specifically that first round, I don't know who that guy was. And I don't know if I was trying to rely a little bit too much on James's game plan and strategy, and there was nothing wrong with it, but I just wasn't myself. And going into third round, I said, I'm going to leave it all out there. And I've got that fighting spirit in me. I’ve got to give a big thanks to my Hispanic side and also my Filipino-Hawaiian side, which, if you ask me, are the two best breeds you could ever ask for as a fighter. So that's a huge part of my bloodline that I’ve got to give thanks to. And there's just no quit in me from that beginning to the end. I'm going to always go out there and give it my all, no matter if I'm down two rounds, three rounds, four rounds, and you best believe it, I'm coming to finish it if I'm down like that.”
UFC 285 COUNTDOWN: Jones vs Gane | Shevchenko vs Grasso | Full Episode
Martinez didn’t get the finish that night, but it wasn’t from a lack of trying, more a lack of time, but he did get plenty of respect and street cred out of that gritty battle, and the lessons learned led him to a victory over Davis. Now he takes that knowledge and experience from both fighting and life into T-Mobile Arena against a hungry 22-year-old in South Africa’s Saaiman. And if it gets into the late rounds again, Martinez is ready.
“I'm a fighter, so if I know it's one going into that final round, I'm going to leave it all out there,” he said. “And as much as I dislike going to the judges the past three fights, it's very much helped me because through the regional scene, I was blowing through everybody. So now that I have that experience under my belt, now that I've had adversity inside the cage being down two rounds against Ronnie and adversity outside of the cage, losing my coach, losing two coaches, it has made me the ultimate fighter and the toughest guy you could ever ask for.”
UFC 285: Jones vs Gane took place live from T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada on March 4, 2023. See the Final Results, Official Scorecards and Who Won Bonuses - and relive the action on UFC Fight Pass!
Aljamain Sterling & Henry Cejudo GET HEATED previewing…