“Loyalty and devotion lead to bravery. Bravery leads to the spirit of self-sacrifice. The spirit of self-sacrifice creates trust in the power of love.”—Morihei Ueshiba
Recently, I had the pleasure of watching a video on ESPN’s ‘Outside the Lines’ special, which specifically highlighted the life and challenges of an aspiring MMA fighter from Utah by the name of Rad Martinez.
What specifically caught my attention and what made Rad’s story so unique and inspiring wasn’t just that he was working hard to pursue his athletic dream (which is difficult enough), but that he was also balancing those efforts with a very demanding home life.
You see—for the past five years, Rad has become the main caregiver for his father, who unfortunately suffered a severe brain injury over 20 years ago as a result of a terrible car accident.
Rad and his family must now face many hardships and obstacles as a result of this incredibly demanding situation, but they have continued to stick together and persevere despite many overwhelming responsibilities. It’s hard not to appreciate the toll that a commitment like this can take on any individual, and it certainly reinforces the power and importance of family, love and loyalty.
After watching the video, I took it upon myself to reach out to Rad for a quick interview. I hope you enjoy it.
James Ryan: Hi Rad, how are you?
Rad Martinez: I’m good, James. How are you?
JR: I’m doing great! I’m really glad that we could finally connect. By the way, I just finished watching your ESPN ‘Outside the Lines’ video again because I wanted to get a fresh perspective before speaking with you today. Truly amazing stuff!
JR: Anyway, I know that you’re a very busy guy, so I don’t want to take up too much of your time. As you know, like many people, that video was the reason that I had first heard about your story, and so, I can only guess that it has brought you a lot of attention as a result. How has your life changed, if at all, since the release of that video?
RM: Well yea, you’re right. It has brought me a lot of attention. I guess the biggest thing was that shortly after the video came out, I signed with Bellator to fight in one of the bigger fighting organizations. And while my brother, Levi, who’s also my manager, had been talking to all of the fight organizations trying to get my name out there—trying to get me signed on with one of them, and was talking to Bellator—I think the ‘Outside the Lines’ special kinda pushed them in the direction towards me, so that was a big change.
Another thing is that I’ve had a few sponsors...well...a really big sponsor, Gaspari Nutrition—they saw the video and were inspired by it, and they got in touch, so now I’ve got one of the biggest nutrition companies in the world—they’re my big sponsor now.
And then, just so many people through Facebook and Twitter have gotten a hold of me—I mean—I think my Facebook page went from 300 friends to about 2000 friends in about a week. So, it’s given me a tonne of exposure and people have contacted me and have said just nothing but nice things, so it’s been kinda crazy.
JR: That’s awesome. Do you find it overwhelming at any time?
RM: Ummm...not terribly overwhelming. I’m kinda stuck here at the house for 20 hours of the day, so I’m kinda shielded away from it because I’m not out in the public as much. I don’t even know if, you know—only like two or three people have even noticed me when I’ve been out in public, so maybe that’s—maybe that wouldn’t have even been that big of a deal, but yes, I feel like if I were out more and seen more, it might have become overwhelming. But since my life here at the house kinda shields me away from it, it hasn’t been too crazy for me.
JR: Well, that’s good then. I had previously read that Bellator had signed you, which is amazing. What weight class are you going to be fighting in?
RM: My first fight was at 155, but I believe they want me to move to 145. Hopefully, I’ll be competing in the 145-pound tournament—I think they have another one starting in August. They have one in March and then starting again in August, so I believe they want me at 145.
JR: Okay good, and so you’ve already had a fight with them? I saw on your Facebook that you had won your recent fight. I wasn’t sure if that was a Bellator contest or not, but was it?
RM: This latest fight that I had won was done locally here in Utah, but the one before that was with Bellator.
JR: Oh, okay.
RM: After their December show, Bellator told me that they were taking three months off, and if I were to wait until March, then that would have been six months before I fought again. So they said, “That’s a little too long, so we’ll let you fight locally in Utah.” So that’s why I was able to fight here.
JR: Yea, they seem to be pretty flexible over at Bellator. I’ve spoken with their champion, Hector Lombard before, and I know that he competes outside of Bellator on occasion, and there seems to be some flexibility there that you wouldn’t find in the UFC for example, so I guess that’s good that they’re willing to accommodate you that way.
I was also curious, in terms of accommodation—just how is it that you’ll be able to—I mean, as the main caregiver of your father, it seems like time is obviously difficult to come by at times, even just for training. So I guess it raised a question mark in my mind, which was that as you’re competing with Bellator and you’re having to travel for any of these events—has Bellator stepped up with any kind of a deal or help that they’re willing to offer you so that you can go out to these events?
Or what arrangements have you made to ensure that you’re father is well taken care of?
RM: Yea, it’s a difficult situation trying to get enough time to train for the fights, but when—and we haven’t had anyone step up to give us more help—it’s a little hard what with my dad’s situation. My grandfather’s still here and helps as much as he can, but you know, it’s hard to have somebody come into my grandfather’s house and somebody who he doesn’t know. So we can’t just bring somebody in. But what happens when I have to travel is that my brother, who’s my manager—he steps up and takes a couple of days off of work and he spends all of his time here to make sure that our dad is taken care of completely while I’m gone. So he really takes that load on while I’m away and that makes me feel much better to have somebody—my dad’s other son, step in my place and help to take care of him. I couldn’t do this fighting without his help.
JR: Right. And that makes sense. I guess that I just hadn’t really even considered your brother as an option because like you said, he is your manager, and I guess I just assumed that he would have been someone that you would have liked to have in your corner. So then—who do you have in your corner? Where are you training right now? Who are your coaches?
RM: Well, I’m training out of Orem, Utah, with my gym, which is called The Pit Elevated, and our head coach is Jason Mertlich, and if my brother can’t be with me, Jason travels with me everywhere that we go, and he’s one of the best coaches in the world. So I feel very confident having him in my corner if my brother can’t be there—and it’s not that my brother can’t be there—I mean, I’m very comfortable having him in there with me, but at the same time, I would be very nervous if he wasn’t here at home with our dad, so it’s tough for him that he can’t be there to watch the fights, but he knows what is most important to me, so he’s doing what I can’t be doing.
JR: I see your point. And so what is the long-term plan with your father by the way? Is it to hopefully make it as a professional fighter and to eventually bring in some outside help? Does he require any physiotherapy outside of what you’re already providing him with?
RM: Well, we’ve been doing it this way for 20 years—we’re in our 21st year now, and we haven’t had anyone come in so far to do anything. The physiotherapy that I give him—that’s primarily what he gets, and so right now, the goal is to try to be able to balance the two—trying to still be competitive in fighting and taking care of my father—give him the best care that he needs.
If my father requires more time, then what that’ll mean is that fighting will have to come to an end for me, because although I take it very seriously—you know, I wanna be the best that I can be—the most important thing to me is my dad and giving him what he needs. So right now, I’m just gonna try to balance the two out and try to stay competitive in fighting, but also, to give my dad the care that he deserves.
JR: Right. Now, I recall you saying something in the video about your grandmother and how eventually you started to notice the toll that taking care of your dad had been taking on her. Do you feel like that some days? Do you feel like some days you’re just too overwhelmed with everything that’s going on? Do you ever struggle?
RM: Some days, I get to the end of the day and I’m just beat—I’m tired, exhausted, and it can seem overwhelming, but I see that my grandma used to do it all, and she was 68-years old and 105 pounds. So, whenever I think that it’s hard on me, I can only imagine how much harder it must have been on her. So the days get hard—some days are harder than others, but I go to bed, I get a good night’s rest, and I recover a little bit quicker because I’m a younger person. I’m a strong guy, so I just get up the next day and we just go about our business, and just hope that the next day is going to be easier than the last one.
JR: Well, it’s easy to see why so many people find inspiration in what you’re doing. I sincerely hope that everything works out for you. By the way, both of our fathers were mechanics, which I found to be pretty interesting.
RM: Oh really?
JR: Yea. My apprenticeship as a child basically consisted of holding the flashlight in the driveway. [Laughs] Did you ever get more involved than that in terms of engine repair or anything like that with your dad?
RM: Well, when my dad was—and plus my dad was a racecar driver as well—so when he was working on his car, we were very young, so like 9 and 10-years old. So while he was working on the car, we were out running around playing in the dirt.
JR: Yea. [Laughs]
RM: I wish I would have been there more and watched and paid more attention, because right now, I don’t know what to do with a car, so... [Laughs]
JR: [Laughs] Well honestly, I’m the same way. Because like I say, my apprenticeship was basically holding the flashlight—my dad was always trying to get me in there to show me stuff, but I mean—same thing. I was your age—8, 9, 10-years old, and you know, at that age, I would have sooner been out playing in the dirt. [Laughs]
RM: Yea. [Laughs] Yea, I wish I would have paid more attention, but you know—kids are kids.
JR: This is true. The video has that cage...is that The Pit? Is that actually where you train—outdoors like that?
RM: No, ESPN brought in a cage. They wanted to make it a little more dramatic.
JR: [Laughs] Well, it definitely was.
RM: They got a hold of somebody, and had the cage built up, out in the middle of nowhere, and it was freezing that day.
RM: But you know, they wanted to play it up, and go with the drama and cinema of it all, so it was kinda fun. People were pulling up and saying, “What’s going on with this cage out here?” And we would tell them, so nah, it was just for effect.
JR: Well that’s pretty neat though. Obviously, it did look amazing with the country in the background. Utah is a very beautiful place. So that cage—they actually built it right there on the spot? It wasn’t air-lifted it in or anything?
RM: No, there’s a guy named Jeremy Horn who’s really big in the MMA world, and he sets up cages for fights all over the State here. They called him up and paid him the money, so Jeremy Horn sent a couple of his guys out and they built that cage.
JR: Wow, that’s pretty cool. So where you train...did I read somewhere that you’re training with UFC Lightweight Champion, Frankie Edgar?
RM: Well, no, he’s one of my best friends, and he’s the one who actually talked me into doing MMA. But we wrestled together back in Pennsylvania and we were on the same team. We wrestled with each other every day, so he trains out of New Jersey now and I train here. We’re trying to make it so that I can get out there to train with him for a little bit and bring him down here, but it hasn’t worked out yet. We talk to each other all the time, but we still haven’t been able to train with each other yet.
JR: Okay, well hopefully soon. Now in my opinion, I thought that the ‘Outside the Lines’ video that ESPN did on you was very well done—very professional. And I think that they not only put your situation into a positive light, but I think that the sport itself was made to look good as well. Now in contrast, when they did their recent special on the UFC—I’m just curious, did you get a chance to check that out at all?
RM: I think so.
JR: Well, the focus was on fighter pay in the UFC, and they had brought Ken Shamrock out, and they had interviewed several other fighters who had all requested to stay off the record, where they basically were saying that the UFC, as a company, is making billions of dollars off of the backs of the fighters that they’re not paying very much to.
I’m just wondering if you’ve had a chance to see that?
I know that Dana White was complaining that ESPN doesn’t like the sport of MMA and that they’re always out to make the sport look bad, but I didn’t see it that way. I watched both your video and the UFC video, and I thought that ESPN had a very valid point—you can’t have these billion dollar owners, and then have these fighters that are putting themselves at massive risk for a mere thousands by comparison. So I thought that they had a good point and I didn’t think that it was a negative for the sport as much as I thought it was just a negative for the UFC. Anyway, I was just curious if you had seen it and what your thoughts were on it?
RM: I saw a couple minutes of it. I didn’t get to see the whole thing, and it’s kinda hard to choose a side on that. I think ESPN has a very valid point in that at least the undercard fights—the fighters don’t make very much money. It’s only a couple thousand dollars.
But also I can see the UFC’s side. Look at all of these other sports—baseball for example. Recently, a player by the name of Prince Fielder just signed a contract with the Detroit Tigers for 214 million dollars, and I see that the UFC wants to try to keep it away from something like that, which I agree with. I don’t believe that any athlete deserves that much money to play a game. I would never want to see any athlete in MMA make money like that—money that I think could be doled out deservedly to other people.
I do think the lower echelon athletes do make significantly less and could make a little bit more, especially considering that the UFC is the biggest fight organization in the world, and they probably are making billions of dollars—at least millions, but billions too. So I think they could do a little bit better to compensate.
JR: Sure, I mean, many of these fighters are on the undercard, but at the same time, they’re not having to sacrifice any less of their lives to be there, and if you think about what a long hard road it is just to get a foot in the door with the UFC—I mean, these are people that have spent their athletic career just to be at the lower level, and if they’re only making $6,000 or $8,000 per fight, and they’re only fighting a couple times a year, then that makes it pretty tough to survive and stay competitive, right?
RM: Yea, very tough. Especially for some of those fighters, who that’s all that they do. And I think that it’s rare for any fighter—that fighting is all that they do. There are a lot of fighters who have other jobs just to support their families. If they’re only able to live and relying on a fight salary, then that wouldn’t be enough to live off of. So I agree.
JR: Well, once again Rad, I’d like to thank you for your time, and thank you very much for agreeing to speak with me. One last question for you though...who’s going to win the Super Bowl this Sunday?
RM: Ohhhhh...I’m rooting for the Giants, but it scares me a little bit, all the sports shows that I watch now are kinda counting out the Patriots, but you can never count out the Patriots. So even though I’m rooting for the Giants, I’m really afraid that the Patriots are gonna pull it off. [Laughs]
JR: [Laughs] Yea, same here. Awesome. Okay, well thanks again, and have yourself a great day!
RM: Okay, sounds good. Thanks, James.
This is my interview. If you don’t like it...I have others. You can check them out at www.mrjamesryan.com