Jon Jones will have wrestling coach Israel Martinez back in his corner after UFC 182. | Dave Mandel/Sherdog.com
Israel Martinez has been a fixture in Jon Jones’ corner ever since the light heavyweight champion made his first successful title defense against Quinton Jackson at UFC 135.
However, the raspy-voiced Chicago-based wrestling coach was not cageside during Jones’ most recent triumph, a lopsided five-round verdict over Glover Teixeira in April. Due to the relatively easy nature of the victory, Martinez’s absence didn’t register as much as it might have under different circumstances.
Daniel Cormier, Jones’ opponent at UFC 182, is an entirely different beast than Teixeira, an aggressive striker with a Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt. Cormier placed fourth in freestyle wrestling at the 2004 Olympic Games and was slated to captain the U.S. team in 2008 before kidney failure forced his withdrawal.
In short, the man behind the “Izzy Style” brand was going to be an integral part of any game plan constructed around defeating the most decorated wrestler Jones has faced to date. Shortly after the Cormier fight was announced, “Jonny Bones” put in a call to the man who had been embedded in his inner circle for the past few years.
“It was good to hear his voice, and I knew exactly what time it was,” Martinez told Sherdog.com. “It was time to get right back to work.”
So why had Jones and Martinez been distant in recent months? A report on UFC Tonight in early December suggested the two men had a “falling out” before the Teixeira fight, but Martinez claims it was more of a matter of two people with a tight-knit bond giving each other some space.
“I think at some point in my life and Jon’s life it was great to just take a break and work on some things that we need to work on. I think that’s more of the direction. I was away from home for a long period of time. You need a break,” Martinez said. “I just came home for a while and wasn’t down in New Mexico as often as I used to be because of Jon.
“ It was a great break. It was a good couple months of no communication. That’s what we needed.”
Running a championship camp requires a lot of working parts. Greg Jackson and Mike Winkeljohn are usually at the forefront of the Albuquerque, N.M.-based team, but numerous others play roles in the success of a star like Jones. Martinez has proven his over the past three-plus years.
“It’s great because Izzy is a very good mixed martial arts wrestling coach,” Jackson said. “He knows they communicate well. Izzy knows Daniel Cormier’s game well. It’s really a big advantage for us to have Izzy there.”
It can also aid a fighter’s peace of mind -- even someone like Jones, a former junior college national champion wrestler with a penchant for dominating grapplers with more accomplished resumes.
“Having people there in the corner that you know are competent, that will be there to help you out, I think it’s very important,” Jackson said. “You have that construct behind you of people you have confidence in that know what they’re doing.”
The relationship between Jones and Martinez might have temporarily become strained as the line between coach and friend began to blur. The two men have spent so much time together that Martinez considers Jones to be family.
“We were running for three straight years. We were running hard. Training, training, training. Outside of camp we were hanging out, going on vacations. We had a lot of time together. It was a just a good time to take a couple months off and then get back on the grind,” Martinez said. “...Me and Jon have always been in communication and we’ve always had a great time as friends and as coach-student. I’m good friend’s with Jon’s brothers, his wife.
“We’re all a big family. I wouldn’t even say friends. It’s what families do. You get in there, duke it out and put it all on the line together.”
Eventually, Jones and Martinez came back together. The timing and the opponent were right. And after all, Jones and Martinez might be working in MMA together now, but both are wrestlers at heart. That, according to Martinez, is a big part of why their pairing works. For the most part, when Martinez speaks, Jones listens. Maintaining a champion’s attention at a point in his career when everyone around wants to feed his ego is no small task.
“That’s part of what’s cool about me and Jon. At the end do the day you’ve got to give a guy some space,” Martinez said. “It’s hard with coaches up your ass. I push Jon hard and I push him to the limits. There’s no holding back. Israel Martinez is not a yes man to Jon Jones. That’s why me and Jon have a great relationship.”