Kragthorpe: MMA fighter Rad Martinez leads dual life
Hovering like a fighter's cornerman, Rad Martinez holds a towel, occasionally dabbing his father's mouth and speaking softly to him.
For two or three hours a day, Martinez is a brash warrior. He trains in mixed martial arts by running, lifting, boxing and wrestling, intending to cause pain.
For the rest of those 24 hours, Martinez is a humble caretaker. He attends to his father by feeding, stretching, wiping and dressing him, hoping to provide comfort.
"The Promise," as captured in ESPN's 12-minute piece that aired in July and stirred emotional responses, was a pledge to his dying grandmother. He would take over the responsibility for his father's care. An auto accident near the family's former home in New Mexico caused a traumatic brain injury that for 20 years has left Richard Martinez unable to walk or speak or probably even recognize his son, while needing constant assistance.
After his Clarion University wrestling career ended with a fifth-place NCAA finish, Martinez earned a master's degree in business from the Pennsylvania school in 2005 and interned with Real Salt Lake. His grandmother, Clara Martinez, died of cancer in 2006 at age 67. Her obituary said she would be "remembered for her complete devotion to her family and the Utah Jazz."
Her grandson absorbed the family aspect, in particular.
Martinez, whose mother died a few years before his father's accident (his parents had divorced), never pretends his role is easy, but says he's only doing what's necessary. Beyond the dedication that ESPN showed, the way Martinez views responses to the story says everything about him.
Instead of being validated by labels such as "hero," he focuses on those who share similar stories. They support his theory that "a lot people can do it, and a lot of people do do it" as circumstances dictate.
Martinez, 32, insisted that a fund-raising event scheduled Saturday in Orem be targeted to charity, rather than accept donations.
"We didn't do the story for that reason," he said, standing beside his father's wheelchair in the living room of the modest home they share on a busy street in West Jordan.
They've just finished watching "The Price is Right," a morning ritual during another demanding, thoroughly scripted day. To help his brother, Levi (who's raising his own family), grandfather and aides who fill in for him, Martinez posted a schedule that runs from 6:50 a.m. to 10 p.m., with 35 entries of detailed care instructions.
The routine is critical to his 53-year-old father's well-being, physically and emotionally. So is Martinez's training regimen, regarding his own career.
In that sense, the ESPN piece could be life-altering. The story is powerfully packaged. Martinez provides narration, and the only other voices heard are an MMA broadcaster's live commentary, interview clips from Levi Martinez and their father's rasping sounds.
Bellator, a notch below the Ultimate Fighting Championship in mixed martial arts, responded by signing Martinez to a six-bout contract, beginning Sept. 17. The New Jersey-based Gaspari Nutrition is sponsoring Saturday's participatory training session with MMA stars and is awarding Martinez an endorsement deal, although he turned down the event's proceeds, a Gaspari executive confirmed.
When company founder Rich Gaspari viewed the ESPN story, he said, "We've got to help this guy."
Larry Jaramillo, Martinez's wrestling coach at West Jordan High School, observed, "It just made me say, 'This is Rad.' He showed that same loyalty to me."
Ken Nellis, his coach at Clarion, said, "He always had the intention of going home and taking care of his dad, so what he's doing right now obviously is not surprising."
Others, just learning about him, were genuinely moved. On Facebook, a woman wrote about being "left speechless with tears running down my face."
Martinez is hoping for one outgrowth of this attention. His goal is to have a physical therapist visit his father for a couple of hours each day, reducing some responsibility and enabling him to train longer.
This is his life now, after he launched himself into the sport with urging from Clarion teammate Frankie Edgar, a UFC champion. As a wrestling purist, Jaramillo disdains MMA's brutal nature, but he understands Martinez's need to fight.
"He's had such a hard life, I think this is his way of reacting to his sadness," Jaramillo said. "It's his vice."
Rad Martinez and other mixed martial arts stars, including UFC middleweight Brian Stann, will stage a fund-raising event Saturday, organized by Gaspari Nutrition at the Academy in Orem. For a $40 donation, participants will receive training instruction. Proceeds benefit the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund and the International Brain Research Foundation. Call 801-225-2008.
Rad Martinez file
After his grandparents moved Martinez, his father and brother to Utah in 1996, he enrolled as a senior at West Jordan High School. Having moved down to 112 pounds to benefit the team, he finished third in the Class 5A state tournament. His brother, Levi, a year younger, placed third at 103 pounds as the Jaguars easily won the team title.
Martinez attended a Wyoming junior college and then wrestled for Clarion University for three seasons, finishing fifth in the NCAA meet at 133 pounds and posting a 98-27 career record.
In mixed martial arts, Martinez stands 9-2. His next bout is Sept. 17 on the Bellator 50 undercard in Hollywood, Fla. He will oppose Brian Van Hoven for the right to advance into a tournament. Although he was signed by Bellator to a six-bout deal, he said, "I really kind of need to win this fight" to further his career.