When you’re a fighter and you’re living in your gym with few paychecks, it’s hard not to question what you’re doing with your life.
“Sometimes you say, I (thought) I could just move out of the gym, get a steady job, and I’d be happy with that,” UFC flyweight Danny Martinez, who on Saturday makes his octagon debut at UFC 169, told MMAjunkie Radio. “I’d be happy raising a family. I’d be doing my job.”
But then, he said, he wouldn’t be setting a good example for others, and that’s something that’s become increasingly important to his identity as an adult. Martinez holds anti-bullying workshops for a California-based nonprofit, Athletes for Education, and said he’s inspired by the kids he works with on weekly basis.
Martinez goes into schools to talk about bullying for his program, Gremlin’s Kids (his nickname is “The Gremlin). He also coaches kids at his gym, San Diego’s Alliance MMA, where he also works with a bevy of UFC veterans.
“[Bullying] really shuts kids down,” he said. “That’s really what I got my mind into, and teaching kids day in and day out in wrestling and MMA for three years.”
The kids are children from low-income and single-parent households. They frequently need assistance for the holidays. And yet, Martinez said, they are fiercely dedicated to athletics.
“These kids, they really look up to me, and seeing them take goals and do everything they can has really pushed me to keep my dream alive,” he said.
Now, Martinez (16-4 MMA, 0-0 UFC) is on the cusp of realizing his long-held wish to fight in the UFC. He meets veteran 125-pounder Chris Cariaso (15-5 MMA, 5-3 UFC) on the FOX Sports 1-televised prelims of Saturday’s event, which takes place at Prudential Center in Newark, N.J.
Martinez, 28, has won his past four fights and has faced top-tier opposition such as Joseph Benavidez (in the now-defunct WEC) and Mark Hominick during his career.
He said that while in the cage, he fights like someone who’s been bullied.
“It’s like when I was in second grade and I would get all teary-eyed and crazy,” Martinez said. “That’s exactly how I still feel sometimes. I get real tense and aggressive, and I like that.
“People say that it takes you out of the fight. That’s fine. It takes you out of the fight. But it’s going to keep you in the fight when you’re getting your ass kicked by Mark Hominick in the 15th minute in Montreal, Quebec.”
The opportunity comes after a year of inactivity in which fights fell through and Martinez questioned his path in MMA.
“I was in the gym, day in and day out, grinding away, and getting all these guys ready for the big shows,” said the fighter, who recently welcomed a new daughter into his life. “Now that that time is here, I’m grateful for it.”
Martinez, who made a brief appearance on “The Ultimate Fighter 18? before losing an elimination-round fight, said his goal is not only to find success in MMA, but also increase his role as a community leader.
“I’m hoping to do is start a wrestling team with these kids,” he said. “These kids play sports, and they win. They win championships. They win championships every time they play. If they had wrestling in their life, it’s ridiculous what they could probably deal with themselves.
“My morale would go down after I would get a fight and they would cancel a fight, but teaching these kids and them telling me they look up to me, and I would say, ‘I’m just a coach, (and) they don’t really have anything to look up to. I’m not a Benson Henderson. I’m not a Dominick Cruz. I’m not a champion. But I see what they’re talking about now. They just look up to somebody that really cares and gives back to the community. That’s what kept my drive going.”
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