When youâ€™re a fighter and youâ€™re living in your gym with few paychecks, itâ€™s hard not to question what youâ€™re doing with your life.
â€œSometimes you say, I (thought) I could just move out of the gym, get a steady job, and Iâ€™d be happy with that,â€ UFC flyweight Danny Martinez, who on Saturday makes his octagon debut at UFC 169, told MMAjunkie Radio. â€œIâ€™d be happy raising a family. Iâ€™d be doing my job.â€
But then, he said, he wouldnâ€™t be setting a good example for others, and thatâ€™s something thatâ€™s become increasingly important to his identity as an adult. Martinez holds anti-bullying workshops for a California-based nonprofit, Athletes for Education, and said heâ€™s inspired by the kids he works with on weekly basis.
Martinez goes into schools to talk about bullying for his program, Gremlinâ€™s Kids (his nickname is â€œThe Gremlin). He also coaches kids at his gym, San Diegoâ€™s Alliance MMA, where he also works with a bevy of UFC veterans.
â€œ[Bullying] really shuts kids down,â€ he said. â€œThatâ€™s really what I got my mind into, and teaching kids day in and day out in wrestling and MMA for three years.â€
The kids are children from low-income and single-parent households. They frequently need assistance for the holidays. And yet, Martinez said, they are fiercely dedicated to athletics.
â€œThese kids, they really look up to me, and seeing them take goals and do everything they can has really pushed me to keep my dream alive,â€ he said.
Now, Martinez (16-4 MMA, 0-0 UFC) is on the cusp of realizing his long-held wish to fight in the UFC. He meets veteran 125-pounder Chris Cariaso (15-5 MMA, 5-3 UFC) on the FOX Sports 1-televised prelims of Saturdayâ€™s event, which takes place at Prudential Center in Newark, N.J.
Martinez, 28, has won his past four fights and has faced top-tier opposition such as Joseph Benavidez (in the now-defunct WEC) and Mark Hominick during his career.
He said that while in the cage, he fights like someone whoâ€™s been bullied.
â€œItâ€™s like when I was in second grade and I would get all teary-eyed and crazy,â€ Martinez said. â€œThatâ€™s exactly how I still feel sometimes. I get real tense and aggressive, and I like that.
â€œPeople say that it takes you out of the fight. Thatâ€™s fine. It takes you out of the fight. But itâ€™s going to keep you in the fight when youâ€™re getting your ass kicked by Mark Hominick in the 15th minute in Montreal, Quebec.â€
The opportunity comes after a year of inactivity in which fights fell through and Martinez questioned his path in MMA.
â€œI was in the gym, day in and day out, grinding away, and getting all these guys ready for the big shows,â€ said the fighter, who recently welcomed a new daughter into his life. â€œNow that that time is here, Iâ€™m grateful for it.â€
Martinez, who made a brief appearance on â€œThe Ultimate Fighter 18â€³ before losing an elimination-round fight, said his goal is not only to find success in MMA, but also increase his role as a community leader.
â€œIâ€™m hoping to do is start a wrestling team with these kids,â€ he said. â€œThese kids play sports, and they win. They win championships. They win championships every time they play. If they had wrestling in their life, itâ€™s ridiculous what they could probably deal with themselves.
â€œMy morale would go down after I would get a fight and they would cancel a fight, but teaching these kids and them telling me they look up to me, and I would say, â€˜Iâ€™m just a coach, (and) they donâ€™t really have anything to look up to. Iâ€™m not a Benson Henderson. Iâ€™m not a Dominick Cruz. Iâ€™m not a champion. But I see what theyâ€™re talking about now. They just look up to somebody that really cares and gives back to the community. Thatâ€™s what kept my drive going.â€