The calls still come early in the morning during the school year, asking if he’ll be a substitute teacher for the day.
Even if Raul Martinez were still living in San Antonio, the bantamweight would already have a few miles of roadwork under his belt.
“I was just turning pro the last time I subbed,” he said. “I will, like, go visit my mom at work (at Five Palms Elementary School) and the kids are like crazy. They’re like, ‘Mr. Martinez when are you going to fight? When are you going to substitute?’”
Martinez’s mother helped him get a job in the school system after she’s worked as the cafeteria manager in the elementary school for 15 years.
“They usually call you about 6:00 in the morning, 6:30 in the morning,” Martinez said. “It’s either the principal or someone else. It’s always ringing.”
In the year since Martinez, 23, stepped into the classroom for the last time, he’s had two televised fights that have the rest of the boxing world asking more of the students’ former question: When are you going to fight?
The answer is Friday at the Aragon Ballroom in Chicago on the Telefutura “Solo Boxeo” event headlined by New Mexico’s Johnny Tapia.
Martinez(9-0, 6 KOs) turned heads in his decision victory over Jose Torado on ESPN’s Friday Nigh Fights. He’d gained a spot on the broadcast portion of the card at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas after Juan Diaz cancelled his lightweight title bout because of injury.
“When I know I’m going to be on TV, it brings the best out of me because I’m not that type to get nervous in front of the people,” Martinez said.
The two-time U.S. national amateur champion and 2004 Olympic team quarterfinalist is still fighting to gain recognition in his hometown, which he says doesn’t come so easily.
“I’m just coming up and people know about me,” he said. “But they’re waiting for me to fight against a big fight like a 10-rounder. I think I’ll get my respect there.”
Martinezknows what the big 10- and 12-rounders are like. He got his first glimpse as an 11-year-old when Jesse James Leija fought Azumah Nelson to a draw at the Alamodome.
Even then, Martinez admitted he “wasn’t into the boxing scene.”
Instead, he’d taken on a multi-sport lifestyle that stretched into high school. He played shortstop and outfield in baseball. In basketball it was point guard and football it was cornerback, wide receiver and quarterback on the occasional sneak.
Martinezeven joined a San Antonio swim team and played golf with one of his friends on the high school golf team.
“Me and about five people on the golf team, just a couple months ago, we were watching the video of us playing golf,” he said. “We were like, ‘Man, we suck.’
“But we just tried everything.”
Soccer and boxing were something Martinez shared with his father, Ramiro Martinez. The elder Martinez played sweep for the Mexican national team during the 1960s, and also fought as a professional.
“My dad always had a punching bag we’d hang out in the backyard,” Martinez said. “He’d show me how to hit it. My friends would come over and spar against each other.”
The influence of the bag prevailed against any soccer pedigree. But the pursuit of boxing during his teen years was left solely in Martinez’s hands and without pressure from his father.
“I would always tell my dad I want to be a boxer,” he said. “But he never listened to me because I’d train for a couple of days, then I wouldn’t box for months.
“Then another fight would come up on pay-per-view and I’d box.”
By his sophomore year in high school, Martinez had taken to the fistic art with more determination. He trained every day and finally dropped every other sport by the age of 16.
His focus on boxing paid off with mounting amateur victories. By 2002 he’d won his first national championship in Las Vegas, which he would repeat again before advancing to the U.S. Olympic quarterfinals.
“After that, my career just skyrocketed,” Martinez said. “I started needing to do something.”
Doing something entailed becoming a professional. Main Events recognized his talent as an amateur, and tried to cultivate his abilities with a training facility in Jarrell, Texas, just north of Austin.
Martinez’s debut on May 8, 2004 against another first-time pro, Duma Trevizo, went three rounds before Martinez earned a technical knockout.
Knockouts flowed – be it technical or putting his opponent to the canvas for a ten-count – through the six fights after Trevizo. His first outright knockout was a first-rounder against Lamont Lindsey in his second fight two months later in Houston. He also put out Garret Hand with a first-round TKO in Colorado and stopped Len Martinez in the first on a TKO in Houston.
With a second-round knockout of Roberto Solis and a TKO of Jose Luis Cardenas, he’d earned six knockouts before his decision with Torado. Felix Flores Murillo managed to be the only one in Martinez’s first seven fights that didn’t fall prey to his fists, but to a disqualification instead.
Martinez’s opponent Saturday, Miguel Martinez, is the most experienced opponent he’s faced to date with a 41-24-1 record. Miguel Martinez has donned a few minor belts, including the Mexican flyweight title, but has ever claimed a major championship in two International Boxing Federation attempts and one for the World Boxing Organization.
Despite Miguel Martinez’s pitfalls in the past, a victory for Raul can only broaden his fan base and lead to greater opportunities.
Still, he’ll occasionally entertain the thought of following in his father’s footsteps as a professional soccer player. But then he’ll bring himself back with one sobering thought.
“Soccer is just another level now. Same thing with everything,” he said. “Once you leave a sport and try to go back, you can’t catch up to it. Too many good guys out there, they’ll make you look silly.
“I want to be the one making people look silly.”