By now, we've heard the story of Rad Martinez, a Utah-based wrestler who takes care of his paraplegic father while training in mixed martial arts.
His gritty, hard-nosed work ethic has paid off tenfold already, with incredible performances in the first two rounds of the Bellator season seven featherweight tournament as he's used his wrestling in reverse to keep the fight standing against solid grapplers Nazareno Malegarie and former IFL champion Wagnney Fabiano.
His scrappy, never-give-up style has propelled him to the finals but up next is an absolute killer.
While Martinez has scratched and clawed his way to two hard-fought decision victories, Shahbulat Shamhalaev had eviscerated his competition, crushing both Cody Bollinger and Mike Richman inside the first round. They'll be duking it out on Friday night (Dec. 7, 2012) in the main event of Bellator 83 in Atlantic City, New Jersey.
Martinez spoke to MMAmania.com about his upcoming fight, the backlog of featherweight title contenders and how his 30 minutes of cage time in this tournament could actually be an advantage in this exclusive interview.
Check it out:
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): How did you balance celebrating Thanksgiving in the middle of a Bellator tournament? Did you avoid it completely or just scale everything down?
Rad Martinez: Well the good thing is I don't cut a whole lot of weight. I usually walk around about 15 pounds over. I was able to enjoy Thanksgiving, not go crazy, but enjoy it and have a couple plates. I didn't let my weight get out of hand so I was okay.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): When did it really hit you that you're in the finals of this thing, that you're one fight away from a title shot?
Rad Martinez: Well, it really kinda hasn't for me. I've stayed really calm and focused and I look at this as the next fight. I try not to let myself go to that place of "title shots for this" because you start to look forward and get too excited. It hasn't hit me. I'm more focused on my opponent right now than anything.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Have you had any thought at all about past that? I know you're focused on your opponent but what do you think of the current backlog of title challengers at featherweight in Bellator?
Rad Martinez: Well that happens. Patricio Freire was preparing for his title shot and Pat Curran broke his orbital or something. Unless we want to do an interim title, we just have to wait for the champion to get better. Right now, I've got my fight ahead of me and after that, we'll see what happens.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Shahbulat Shamhalaev is a terrific striker and everyone has been raving about his handspeed from his last fight, but in his first fight in the tournament he also controlled Cody Bollinger on the ground, avoided a few submissions and then dropped some pretty nasty ground and pound. What do you think about his ground game?
Rad Martinez: Everybody at this level is proficient and tough everywhere so mostly I've been focusing on stand-up but I feel that if there's a place I have an advantage, it'll be on the ground and it'll be with my wrestling. Not that I'm not impressed but I feel like that's the place where I should have the advantage with wrestling on the ground. I guess I'll have to see if I can get him there because he has fast hands and hits hard so my best chance to win is to put him on his back.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Can you talk about the evolution of your striking game? Before Belaltor and even in your first fight in the promotion, you were more of a wrestling-based mixed martial artist but in your last three fights, you've primarily beat your opponents on the feet. How does that help your confidence?
Rad Martinez: It helps it tremendously. I've been working with my coaches and my workout partners since I started to improve my stand-up and sometimes it just takes certain opponents to force you to work your stand-up and try to win a fight there. That's exactly what happened in my last two fights with Malegarie and Fabiano. They were both jiu-jitsu experts so I was thinking the best chance to win those fights was to stand-up. It forced me to strike and it showed that I actually have some good striking but I'd just been relying on my wrestling before. It gives me a ton of confidence especially going into a fight like this.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): What's been the most difficult process of this tournament so far, having to fight three times in three months?
Rad Martinez: It's just been trying to figure out how hard I should train, how much I should push myself in between fights. My mind tells me that I need to go harder but my body tells me that I need to slow down. The hardest part is trying to get that balance and not overtrain over these last three months.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Some people might think that Shamhalaev will be at an advantage because he's had so much less cage time during this tournament, but do you feel like because he hasn't left the first round yet, that could actually be a disadvantage if you're able to drag this fight into the later rounds?
Rad Martinez: Yes, exactly. It might be a little advantage for his body. He's not as beat up as mine is, but he also hasn't had his conditioning tested. I don't know how he's going to be in the second and third rounds and I don't know if he knows. I feel like that is an advantage for me and if I can get the fight out of first round, get it into the second or third rounds, he might be a little anxious and unsure what to do in those later rounds. Yeah, I feel like that is an advantage.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Now you actually got engaged during this tournament. How did that come about and what made you decide this was the best time to pop the question?
Rad Martinez: It really just gives me something more to work towards. It gives me something to work harder about now that I'm thinking about my future wife. It didn't take any focus away from my training or my fighting. If anything, it helps me to be even more focused. The Monday after I won, I went straight to the jewelry store and it was nice to have that big paycheck to help pay for the ring. I was pretty sure that she was the one and I had an idea of when I wanted to do it.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Have you pictured yourself as a champion? Is that something that's crossing your mind yet?
Rad Martinez: I really haven't. I have thought that, "Yeah, it would be cool to get a chance at that title shot," but right now, it's more important that I put myself in a position to get there. I have one person in front of me before I can get there. I'm not thinking about being a champion, I'm thinking about the person I have to get through to get there. Right now, it's all about Shamhalaev.
Rad would like to thank his team at The Pit Elevated, his sponsors Gaspari Nutrition, Herbata Tea Company, Cross-fit and his family and fiance for all the support. You can follow him on Twitter @RadMFTW.