If you know Jonathan Martinez, the quiet man of the UFC’s bantamweight division, then you understand that fighting without a crowd present, like he will this Saturday in Las Vegas, is the perfect scenario.
“That's the best thing, so I'm kinda excited,” he laughs. “There's no fans, I don't gotta be nervous. I just gotta walk in there. It's pretty much like a street fight back when I was in high school.”
Street fight? Jonathan Martinez?
“There were no fans,” he continues. “So I just go in there, do my job and leave. Not actually leave, but run.”
I’ll say it again. Street fight? Jonathan Martinez? I don’t believe it.
“You don't believe it?” he laughs. “Man, I was bad, I was always fighting. I wanted to fight people just because I wanted to fight.”
That explains how he got here, a 26-year-old prospect with two wins in the UFC heading into his bout against veteran Frankie Saenz. But if you ask the Plainview, Texas product about that Octagon slate, he insists that all is not as it seems.
“To me, I'm still 3-1,” said Martinez, who is coming off a controversial split decision loss to Andre Ewell in February. How controversial? On the MMADecisions.com website, which polls media members, 12 of the 13 polled saw Martinez as the winner. The “Dragon” agreed.
“I felt good in the fight since I thought I did everything to win,” he said. “Then after that, it was like, ‘Damn, they gave me a loss.’ I checked the video again and I was like, 'Man, I did good, blocked all his hits, what else do you want me to do?'”
It’s one of the perils of the fight game. In most sports, you score more than the other team and you win, no controversy, no questions asked. In combat sports, three judges determine a fighter’s fate if the bout goes the distance. And sometimes what they see and what you see are two different things. I ask Martinez how often he’s watched the Ewell fight.
“I used to watch it all the time,” he said.
That could be worse than being locked indoors during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I know, just watching it,” he laughs.
There are worse fates, though, and Martinez did bounce back, taking solace in the support of fans, his team and his fellow fighters. He even got an Instagram message from Joe Rogan about the fight. Most importantly, he’s got a new fight in front of him, giving him the opportunity to put his last one in the past.
“I'm just ready to get back in there, honestly,” said Martinez, who knows what he’s up against in Saenz, but he’s confident that he will be getting his hand raised this weekend.
“I feel like all the fights are hard,” he said. “But I'm going against this guy, he's a big name, and this will pretty much be the start of a new winning streak.”
If he’s right, that streak will begin without the roar of the crowd he’s become accustomed to over the years. But I get the feeling Martinez will be okay with that.