MMA fighters trying to reach the highest level of the sport often find themselves faced with a tough Catch-22 situation. In order to be an elite level talent, you need to fully commit yourself to your training, making MMA your full time job. However, until you reach that highest level, MMA typically doesn't pay enough to make it your full time job. And so fighters are frequently forced to make hard sacrifices in order to juggle the realities of day to day life with the rigors of becoming a world class athlete.
For Bellator's Rad Martinez, the situation is even more difficult. That's because there is a sacrifice Martinez is simply not willing to make.
Rad Martinez spends most of his day focused on one primary task - the care of his father. It's a full time job that requires constant attention, and it's not one that Martinez intends to give up anytime soon.
As told in the ESPN video "The Promise," when Rad was 11, his father was in a serious car crash, resulting in a traumatic brain injury that necessitates around the clock care. During the school years of Rad and his brother, it was their grandmother who provided that care (their mother had already passed away). However, when she was diagnosed with cancer, she knew she would not be able to provide for the family much longer. As his grandmother grew ill, a young Rad made a promise to her - that she would no longer need to worry about their father, because from that day forward, Rad would take care of him. She passed away not long after, and to this day, Rad Martinez has been a man of his word.
That means near 24 hour care of his father, from getting him dressed, to feeding him, to putting him through grueling physical therapy. This happens every day, like clockwork, in the home shared by Rad and his father. There have been sacrifices needed because of this. And as Rad Martinez makes his way up the ranks in MMA, he may have to face those sacrifices. As Martinez himself says - would he be a better fighter if he had more time to commit to training? Certainly. But he made his promise, and he's doing what is right. And he'll keep doing until, as he says, his father is better, or one of them passes away.
This Thursday night, Martinez steps into the Bellator cage for the biggest fight of his professional MMA career. It's the finals of the season 7 Featherweight tournament as he faces Shahbulat Shamhalaev. Because of his circumstances, every Martinez fight feels like it has an extra weight. For this one, that weight is massive, as he is not just fighting for a tournament victory and a shot at the Featherweight title, he's also fighting in front of a hometown crowd in Utah.
No matter what happens Thursday night, one thing is clear - Rad Martinez is a uniquely inspiring individual, whose devotion to what is right is incredible to see. Win or lose, Thursday's fight will be an emotional one. And it's one where, despite my appreciation for Shamhalaev, and my best attempts to be an impartial writer, I can't help but root for Martinez - to see him break through the Catch-22 and show that even in the face of great challenges, he can be the best. All while staying true to his word, and putting his own needs secondary to his father's.
It's a difficult balancing act for anyone to master, but Martinez has already shown that he just might be able to do it. Join us here at Bloody Elbow Thursday night to see if he can pull it off.