By Austin Killeen (click on picture to enlarge)
Last Saturday before a sellout crowd at Buffalo Thunder Resorts and Casino, Antonio Martinez suffered his first loss in four and a half years. Pat Holmes told me before the bout not to overlook Martinez’s opponent, Gabriel Gutierrez. After six hard fought rounds of boxing, Holmes looked like the wish sage from a Hollywood ‘B’ movie. Standing mid-ring with his left eye completely shut, Martinez was on the wrong side of a split decision. The Texas import, Gutierrez, had made a reasonably good imitation of the great Julio Cesar Chavez. If Martinez was going to have his picture taken in profile, any photographer would have been challenged to find his good side. Martinez sells tickets faster than Gypsy Rose Lee, standing in front of Minsky’s Burlesque Theater in the 40’s? In bringing in a live opponent for Martinez, Holmes had outdone himself. Nobody would have been surprised if the house fighter had grabbed the mic and announced he was retiring from boxing to compete in Bridge tournaments. This article was supposed to be about a fighter with eleven bouts without a loss, now it’s about a boxer who has lost one in a row.
Martinez took his first breath on May 28, 1986 in Espanola, NM. Antonio married his childhood sweetheart of thirteen years, two years ago. For the record, his lovely wife has a name, its Claudia. Antonio might be tough in the ring, but around his bride he’s a big bowl of pudding. Did I mention he has a fan club, founded by his mother Donna? I’m not sure if there are any other members, but this woman can make plenty of noise all by herself. Martinez commented, “I turned pro with a lot of enthusiasm, but with one fight a year, I lost the fire. I was strictly a brawler and training myself. Veteran pro Joaquin Zamora gave me some helpful tips from time to time but he had his own career to worry about.” I had seen several of Martinez’s fights, and he was little more than a slugger. He was wild with his punches and lucky if they found their target. As a result Martinez had only one win in six pro bouts, hardly the record of a future contender.
Martinez continued, “In September of 2013 I approached Pat Holmes at the conclusion of one of his fight cards, asking if he would become my trainer. When I hooked up with Holmes I started fighting regularly and the enthusiasm was back. My mindset changed and I was eager to fight. With Pat it’s nonstop working, if I don’t have a fight I’m still in the gym. Suddenly I was working on becoming a boxer/puncher and could see the improvement.” Along with Albuquerque’s Fidel Maldonado Jr., Martinez seems to have reinvented himself. Holmes worked on Martinez’s confidence, matching him with the usual suspects while improving his technique. No longer was Martinez swinging for the fences, but pacing himself while looking for clean openings. Suddenly Martinez was winning, with many of his victories coming by knockout. He was on a four bout win streak, three by stoppage.
In May of 2016 Pat Holmes imported Benjamin Vasquez from Texas to face his reclamation project. I had seen Vasquez in action and knew he could hit hard. This was a dangerous test for the Espanola fighter, but I was surprised by his improvement since coming under the care of Holmes. Entering the final round Martinez had fought a smart fight, answering the power of Vasquez with his own clout. Moving to center ring for the final round, Martinez decided to dance around the ring with his hands in the air. As a former referee and judge I knew that was a big mistake, because you’re telling the judges you’ve already won the match. That’s not the message you want to tell them, the verdict was a draw.
He bounced back with a first round TKO and once again was matched up with another dangerous opponent. “When I fought Brian Castillo, I agreed to fight at junior middleweight otherwise I would not have been on the card. Castillo was a cage fighter who fought as a southpaw. When you box a southpaw you’re suppose to keep your lead foot outside of theirs, but I got careless and was dropped by a left hand to the chin.” Watching the fight it looked like Martinez had given up too much weight, but he rallied to win the decision. This was the result of a tight defense and finding openings, for solid shots to the head and body.
Next up was a rematch with the dangerous Benjamin Vasquez. At the opening bell Martinez came forward behind an excellent left jab, which created openings for his other punches. On several occasions he was able to trap Vasquez on the ropes, where he was able to land some nice combinations. Vasquez was reacting to Martinez’s offense and not setting up his own attack. It was a very entertaining round. The second round featured some exciting exchanges when Martinez landed a devastating right to the head, dropping Vasquez. The Texas boxer was in no condition to continue and the referee wisely halted the match.
Back to the present: I met with Martinez a few days after his loss to Gabriel Gutierrez and asked him about his first loss in four and a half years. “In the opening round I had a hard time adjusting to his length, and he was able to score from long range.” After surviving a first round beat down Martinez came back to win the second. “By the third round my left eye was completely shut and I couldn’t see his right hand. He won the fight by staying on my blind side. I lost and I have no excuses. If I had been given the decision it would have been outrageous.” Although Martinez lost the decision, he looked to be in great shape even with the handicap of fighting with one good eye. Martinez commented; I credit that to Pat, who made sure I was ready to go before I got in the ring. Assuming there’s no rematch I asked Martinez what would be next for him. Martinez responded, “That would be up to Pat. I’m sure he wouldn’t match me too easy or too hard first time back. I have no plans of retiring anytime soon, I just want to get better.”
I’ve been ringside for most of Antonio’s career and he’s grown on me. I didn’t think much of him when he started out, but he’s like “The Little Engine That Could”; he just keeps improving. I like his approach regarding the Gutierrez fight. “Gutierrez beat me, the next time I’d have to start faster. I have no excuses, I lost.” Martinez is a warrior who is a fan friendly favorite. Whatever he decides to do, I wish him the best in his future.