Anthony Rocco Martin has recently taken it upon himself to watch every UFC event in chronological order.
“I’m on UFC 43 right now. I’ve watched every fight. I’m talking about the prelims and all.”
For most of us, that’s just some good binge-watching with our UFC FIGHT PASS subscription. For Martin, it’s part of being a student of the game.
“There’s these old techniques that might be coming back around. Everything is kind of a big circle. The evolution of the game is so crazy. I’m a huge fan of MMA. I try to watch as much as I can. My main thing is: you should always try to evolve. If I go to a seminar halfway across the country and I learn one thing to bring back and put in my game, I feel like it’s more than worth it.”
That mindset is clearly paying dividends for Martin, who has won seven of his last eight, and is undefeated in four fights since moving up to welterweight. He faces his biggest test to date Saturday when he meets veteran contender Demian Maia. Knocking at the door of his division’s top shelf fighters, Martin can see a clear path if he can best the Brazilian in Minneapolis.
“I’ve been looking back at it; Demian Maia fought for the belt. Then he fought Colby (Covington), who fought for the interim belt right after that. Then he fought (Kamaru) Usman, who fought for the real belt right after that. So I definitely feel like he’s a gatekeeper to the title. And I think a win over Demian Maia could easily put me one or two fights away from a title shot.”
It won’t be easy, of course, and Martin knows it. But he has clarity in his vision.
“I’m only fighting to be the champion. I’m not here to fight Demian Maia. I’m not excited about fighting Demain Maia. I’m only excited to beat Demian Maia. I’m only happy if I beat Demian Maia.”
It’s that same confidence and sense of purpose that results in one of his biggest pet peeves: fellow fighters who go into bouts saying they have nothing to lose.
“These guys are going into a fight like, ‘Oh, it’s a win-win.’ No, it’s not a win-win, unless you never dreamed of being the champion. How the hell is it a win-win? If you lose, you don’t come back with the belt. You lost.”
“Another big thing that bothers me is people say, ‘I win or I learn.’ No, you still lost. You lost in a lot of different areas. You lost your record, your momentum, your respect maybe in the UFC’s eyes, the respect in the fans’ eyes. There’s a lot to lose. You definitely need to learn from your losses, but it’s a loss.”
Admirers of those platitudes may wince as they read that, but it’s evident when the refreshingly straightforward Martin speaks that he believes fully in what he’s saying.
“Belief in your abilities is the biggest key to success. If you don’t truly believe in what you’re doing, or how you’re training, or who your coach is or who your training partner is, if you don’t truly believe you’re in the best shape, in the best spot…at some point it’s going to come out. You’re going to get exposed.”
Getting exposed is something Martin has no plans to do. And with visions of names like Robbie Lawler, Tyron Woodley, and Kamaru Usman on his hit list, he can scarcely afford to.
“There’s nothing bigger in this sport than self-belief. I truly believe in what I’m doing and all my abilities. I feel like I’m the best fighter in the world. And I truly believe I’m at the best camp in the world. I’ve got the best coaches in the world around me. And I think this is definitely my time.”
Steve Latrell is a writer and producer for UFC.com. Follow him on Twitter @TheUFSteve