For many fighters, getting to the UFC is the culmination of years of work towards the focused goal of being in the world’s top promotion. They try for years, work with agents, head to TUF tryouts — all with a dream of getting that call from Dana White.
For 15-year MMA veteran Roque Martinez, that wasn’t the case at all. In fact, Martinez found his way to the UFC by chance and an unfortunate circumstance.
“I would say that the whole COVID situation played a huge part [of why I’m in the UFC],” Martinez revealed. “I was in Rizin, of course all of their events are in Japan. Since COVID started they have a travel ban for the foreigners going into Japan.”
Martinez was set to wait through that travel ban until they started booking shows again. However, after a few months, it began to look like that time wasn’t going to come soon enough.
“Basically I was kind of on standby to see what the deal was with them. My last fight in Rizin was my last fight on contact with them, but I was thinking most likely we’re going to renew with them,” he said. “I was thinking it was time to look at fighting elsewhere to stay active because I didn’t want to just wait to see how long until they lift their travel ban.”
That’s when Martinez got in touch with the Iridium Agency led by Jason House, who started to get feelers out for him with the UFC. It didn’t take long and Martinez had an offer for his debut.
Looking back at the whole ordeal now, he feels that without Japan’s travel ban, he would likely have never been here in the UFC.
“I can’t say that it wouldn’t have happened, but chances are that I would have probably continued to fight in Rizin,” he admitted. “The way it all played out for this year and COVID — me getting to the UFC is a direct result of everything that happened.”
And it’s not that Martinez doesn’t appreciate what it means to be in the UFC, it’s just that Rizin spoke to something deep inside of him — something he loved from his childhood and early training days.
“I grew up watching Pride… so for me it was a lot of that feel of that Pride nostalgia,” he explained fondly. “Those entrances and all the lights and the show, the production and everything like that — it just brings me back to that old Pride feel and that’s what stands out the most to me. I really loved the atmosphere.”
Martinez’s sophomore effort in the UFC goes down this Saturday at UFC Vegas 14, where he fights Don’Tale Mayes.