‘Gritty’ UFC 169 Flyweight Danny Martinez Looks to Make the Best of His Last Big Chance

Danny-MartinezDanny Martinez knows Saturday night’s UFC 169 event could be his last real chance to make a name for himself. The flyweight veteran of Team Alliance in San Diego had an opportunity slip past him five years ago when he battled Joseph Benavidez in the WEC, losing a hard-fought decision. After years of trying to work his way back to relevancy and campaigning for an opportunity to compete in the UFC, he finally got his foot in the door last year when he was selected as a castmember of The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) season 18. Unfortunately for “The Gremlin,” despite being a hefty favorite to succeed on the show, he once again came up short in his bout to get into the house, losing via second round armbar against eventual finalist Davey Grant. Martinez was devastated to say the least: “I hate to say it, but I got starstruck,” recalls a disappointed Martinez. “I counted my chickens before they hatched. Way before the fight started, I thought I was already on the show. I felt like the fight to get on the show was already a done deal. I showed up to the fight and it wasn’t me. It didn’t feel like I was in the fight. When the ref started it, I was still contemplating what I was going to do in there, second guessing myself all the way through the second round…My mind wasn’t there. It was nothing outside the ring, it was just me thinking the finish line was there. I already thought I was on the show, thought I was in the UFC, thought I’d become a reality star and that was a terrible way of thinking and it showed.” Known for his tough performances against even the stiffest of competition, Martinez acted like a completely different fighter when all the cards were on the table, even doing something he’d never have previously considered attempting in a fight. Martinez remembers it vividly: “I took some illegal blows and said, ‘Are you gonna deduct a point, Herb Dean?” I actually asked Herb Dean if he’d deduct a point. That’s not me. That’s not the way I’ve ever fought. I’ve always been a gritty fighter and I’m not gonna say I was soft, but that wasn’t the old Danny Martinez in there.” DannyKidsEver since, the Tempe native has been champing at the bit for one last chance to redeem himself, and he found inspiration through his work with his anti-bullying organization “Gremlin’s Kids.” “Despite everything I’d been through, those kids still looked up to me. No matter how I felt about myself after my performance, they didn’t see me as a loser. That was huge for me” Martinez initially began working with children as a way to pay it forward for a friend who went out of their way to be there for him growing up. “His name was Chito Enrique Sanchez,” Martinez states as he gets a little choked up. “He was probably the most influential person in my childhood. He gave his time to every single kid that was in his family and in the neighborhood and he was probably six years older than me. I was playing video games over there every day. He was the cool kid. He was like everything you could hope for in a big brother, even though I had a big brother. I started “Gremlin’s Kids” because of him. He passed away six years ago to a DUI that wasn’t his fault and that was right when I just started in MMA. I feel like he’s always been on my side and he’s my inspiration through this whole journey. Him being on my shoulder for eight years has been the reason why I worked out so long, so hard and driven myself to love the kids, because he was there for me and all the kids in the neighborhood. He was taken away too soon.” With a heavy heart, Martinez prepared for an opportunity to step in at the last second for a fight in the UFC, knowing he was likely on the UFC’s short list should someone get injured. “I went back to the gym and took it as a second chance,” stated Martinez. “I realized that I had made it through 350-some contestants. I had the personality to get there, but I let my mind get to me before I even stepped through the front door. I knew it was coming and I had to be ready whether it was a week out, 10 days, anything for that next phone call to come,” Martinez said. “I’ve known about the potential for a short notice fight since November. I’ve buckled down and stripped down everything. I’ve been training, dieting and keeping my weight down in the 40s like flyweights are supposed to do and that’s helped me with my cut and it’s been good so far.” The call finally came earlier this month when top Japanese prospect Kyoji Horiguchi dropped out of his bout against Chris Cariaso. This time, Martinez was more than ready. He accepted the offer to make his UFC debut with zero hesitation and all the sacrifice, the trials, the errors, finally feel worth it. “It feels good,” said a relieved Martinez. “It feels fantastic that I’m here but I also know that I have to win to be here and to prove I belong here. I’ve been in the big show twice on The Ultimate Fighter and in the WEC and I’ve lost both of those opportunities. I feel like this is the opportunity that I can’t let slip anymore considering my age and the tightness in the flyweight division. A win is much-needed for myself and that’s what I’m taking into this. It’s what I need to carry on in my career. It’s a big, big chance and opportunity that I can’t mess up and I’m gonna take it, man. This is my last chance. dannymartinezPeople have talked about me for years, ‘This kid has the talent, this kid is tough.’ It’s time to show to myself and the UFC what everyone else has been saying. I agree with it too. I’m a gritty fighter and I want to win this fight for my kids, myself and the people that have always believed in me the past eight years.” One of those people who has always believed in him is his current head coach, Eric Del Fierro, a man Martinez likely owes his entire current livelihood to. “I thank Jamie and Eric Del Fierro for everything,” says Martinez. “The truth is, when I was in Tempe, Arizona earlier in my life when I was turning things around, I was on probation and I was getting judge releases to go to Alliance MMA. They were releases to leave the state for two weeks, come back for two weeks and leave again. I asked Eric if he’d write a letter to the judge so he could release me and he wrote it, saying ‘Danny’s been doing great here with the kids.’ I had just started working with the kids’ classes, giving a helping hand. The judge read his letter, saw I changed my life and told me he’d take me off probation if I left the state of Arizona and moved to California. I did that, moved to California. Jamie and Eric Del Fierro let me live in the gym for three years, not asking for a single dime, and that’s what started my dream. The release of my probation and letting me work with the kids, I owe everything to them.” With everything in his entire career leading up to this golden opportunity on Saturday night, Martinez is prepared to go the extra mile, endure whatever it takes to make the best of his potential 15 minutes against Cariaso: “I’m going in there hard as hell, getting gritty with it,” exclaims Martinez. “It’s gonna be Fight of the Night for sure. I’m not worried. I know what’s going to happen. I know I’ve got to break his will. If I have to break myself to break him, that’s what I’ll do. We can both break, and whoever recovers first is the one that’s gonna be the winner.” He wouldn’t have it any other way.

Written by Brian Hemminger

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