For someone who doesn’t seem to be in a hurry, Leomana Martinez has accomplished quite a bit in a brief time. The 22-year old Fury Fighting Championship bantamweight champion sports identical 5-1 records as an amateur and a professional, primarily in Fury and Legacy Fighting Alliance, with all 10 victories coming via stoppage -- eight in the first round.
Watching the rangy bantamweight uncoil his arsenal of long kicks and sharp, straight punching combinations, it’s easy to guess he comes from a traditional martial arts background. Sure enough, like Lyoto Machida and Stephen Thompson before him, Martinez grew up in a karate school: Bushi-Ban Martial Arts is his parents’ dojo, where the younger Martinez once learned and now teaches alongside his father.
“It’s a typical karate environment [with] forms and katas,” Martinez told Sherdog.com. “But of course, since I have an MMA background and have stepped into MMA, we do sparring and grappling with the kids as well, not just strictly karate.”
That step into MMA came in his early teens, after having practiced karate since age four. The inspiration was understandable:
“My mom is Filipina-Hawaiian, so for me the biggest fighter, growing up, was B.J. Penn,” Martinez said. “My dad fought professionally a few times, and I wanted to follow in his steps, but B.J. was definitely a big inspiration.”
While Martinez’s karate was enough to secure him a winning record and a collection of eye-popping finishes, his two career losses had some similarities: older, stronger, more experienced fighters were able to grind the teenaged “Manaboi” to decision wins. In the wake of his lone professional defeat, Martinez decided to diversify his training. He began splitting time between Bushi-Ban and Metro Fight Club, where he claims his game has flourished under the guidance of head coach Saul Soliz, a Houston-area fixture who is best-known to the MMA public as a longtime coach at Team Punishment and a member of Tito Ortiz’s coaching staff on two seasons of “The Ultimate Fighter.”
“He’s upped my game a lot,” Martinez said. “My standup has always been there because of my karate background, but by him improving my wrestling, my standup has gotten better as well.” The results have been difficult to dispute, as Martinez has rattled off four straight knockouts on his way to capturing the Fury 135-pound belt last November.
For a fighter with a penchant for quick finishes -- none of his victories has eclipsed the seven-minute mark -- Martinez claims to be in no rush about the progression of his young career. Case in point: he claims he recently turned down an offer from one of the biggest management groups in the sport -- not because he’s holding out for a better offer, but simply because he doesn’t believe his career has progressed to the point yet where a full-blown management team is necessary.
“[They] messaged us through Facebook, talking about managing me,” Martinez said. “They manage Jon Jones, Jorge Masvidal, a bunch of American Top Team fighters. But I think I’m pretty young in my career right now. It was cool to have them contact me and drop all those big names, though. Just to have eyes like that looking at me was pretty cool.
“But for now I’m staying local,” Martinez continued. “I want to defend my belt a few times [and] see where things go from there. I’m 5-1 with five knockouts, so there’s not much else to say. I know the UFC is looking for people who can go in there and put people down, and I feel like I can step up and do that anytime.”
Martinez claims to be taking things one fight at a time, and the next fight for the rising Texas prospect is his first title defense, in the main event of Fury FC 31 on March 15 against an opponent to be named. Whatever that evening may bring, “Manaboi” can rest assured that more eyes are definitely following his doings.