One of the great things about writing about boxing in general but especially from the perspective of the Houston boxing scene, is that it’s allowed me to speak to many of the legendary and esteemed boxing personalities in town.
From what I’ve been told from some of these esteemed boxing men, and from what I’ve read and heard around the city, the professional boxing scene in Houston was more of a training ground in the old days than it is today. This is not to denigrate any of our boxing family out there doing their best to keep the professional boxing scene alive today, because we have some very capable, and ambitious boxers, managers, and promoters keeping our local boxing scene alive.
The difference is mostly because we don’t have the Josephine Abrocrombies, the Texas Boxing Enterpises, and the Lou Viscusis’ in town today like the old timers had in their day. In the late 60’s, 70’s and 80’s Houston even had Bud Adams, owner of The Houston Oilers, involved in boxing, building a gym and managing boxers along with millionaire Hugh Benbow. This brought many opportunities to the members of our local boxing scene and resulted in a golden time in boxing for our city that many of the old timers still fondly remember.
One Houston boxing coach, manager, and trainer who has dedicated virtually all of his time and efforts into bringing Houston boxing and it’s boxers back to the prominence they once held, is local coach David Martinez of Martinez Boxing International. Coach Martinez, currently operating his Martinez Boxing Gym in Midtown, Houston, Texas, has a strong professional stable of boxers, mostly from Houston, and some from as far away as India and Africa, that are making noise nationwide due to his dedication. His intention seems to be to get his fighters fighting consistently and with purpose, at home and anywhere in the nation and world.
Coach Martinez has taken an ambitious and aggressive approach to the handling, training, and coaching of his boxers, and has had tremendous results thus far. I was able to sit and speak to Coach Martinez at length recently and had a great time getting to know his past and present in boxing, along with what he’s looking forward to in the future.
Clutch City Boxing: Coach, can you tell me a little about what brought you to boxing and where and when you got started in the sweet science?
David Martinez: Well I grew up on a farm in Manhattan Kansas, where I wrestled in school, so I’ve always enjoyed combat sports and being involved with them. I took third in the state my freshman year and sixth in the state my junior year. When I came to Houston, I was up to no good and felt getting back into wrestling would help me focus. I wasn’t able to find any wrestling schools, as wrestling isn’t as big here in Texas as it is in Kansas. I still wanted to be active and enjoy the one on one aspect of combat sports so I thought I would try boxing.
In 1990 I started out at Lee Canalitos Gym in Chinatown, where Lee Canalito, Walt Hailey and Ray Zaragoza were coaching at the time. I wasn’t initially fighting or anything, just sparring a lot, and having a good time. After a while I had the opportunity to take a great job that didn’t leave much time for training, so I slowed down at the gym but stayed in contact with all the fighters and followed their careers etc.
Clutch City Boxing: What lead you to decide to go into the coaching and managing aspect of boxing over competing?
David Martinez: Well as I said working in the corporate world didn’t leave enough time for me to train the way a person needs to in order to box, but I had already been bitten by the boxing bug. After a couple of years of not being in the gym regularly, I decided I wanted to start working with the kids as a coach and that’s what I did. From there, working with the amateurs initially, things just evolved to the point to where I’m at now.
Clutch City Boxing: Okay let me back up a little bit. Was Lee Canalito’s Gym where you began coaching?
David Martinez: No, I actually started at The Main Street Boxing Gym. By this point I had been in Houston, and in and around boxing for years so I already knew all the coaches at Main Street as well as many around town. I went in and talked to Harry Thomas and Aaron Navarro, who I’d known forever it seemed. I was working a corporate job at the time and walked into the gym in suit and tie, to find Harry and Aaron sitting on the ring apron. I approached them and said I wanted to get back into boxing as a coach and they both immediately began advising against it. I believe their actual words were, “Oh no man you don’t want to do that. There’s no money in boxing, you end up losing your kids, you lose your wife, you’ll lose everything”. I told them I left I really wanted to give back to the kids, so I decided to get back into boxing against their advice.
At first I had not one person in the gym to train but I persevered and eventually had a team of thirty kids who all competed on the amateur level. I would take the money that I made from my corporate job, and give back to the kids by using the money to buy them uniforms, so that they looked good and felt good when they competed. I started off just taking them to local boxing shows to compete and just went from there. Between working with the kids and training corporate clients for Bobby Benton and Lou Savarese, things just progressed.
Clutch City Boxing: That’s great, so did things start off well for the kids in competition or was there a learning curve since you were still new to coaching at the time?
David Martinez: You know what? Honestly, the kids did great right from the start. We had a few Golden Gloves Champions and a couple of National Champions, and kids that won lots of tournaments. I was blessed to have some really good kids who were also very successful. Even though I was new to coaching at the time, I think just being surrounded by all these great coaches and boxers, helped immensely.
Clutch City Boxing: How long were you coaching at Main Street?
David Martinez: I coached at Main Street for seven years then I went over to Ray’s Boxing Gym for a couple of years, where Ray welcomed me with open arms. I have to be honest with you, I learned a lot from Ray Ontiveros. He’s a really good, tough, old school, boxing coach. He doesn’t believe in the strength and conditioning aspect of things everyone is going to these days, he feels you can get everything you need from the boxing, the boxing exercises, and calisthenics for the most part, and I believe in that also to this day.
Now, I have added some strength and conditioning type things into my boxers workouts but it has to be functional, boxing based, based on what the fighter may be needing. For instance if he needs work on balance, core strength, making sure both sides of his body are equally strong, things like that. So I still believe in the tried and true, old school ways, but I’ve added a few things and made my boxer’s workouts a sort of fusion between the two.
Clutch City Boxing: Who or where would you say you have patterned your coaching style from?
David Martinez: I would have to say from everyone I’ve worked with, or who has worked with me, and that’s the truth. The reason is because for instance working with Aaron Navarro is different from working with Harry Thomas, and working with Harry Thomas is different from working with Ray Ontiveros etc. I went to Baby Bull Gym and worked out of there for a while, where I feel I started coming into my own as a Coach. I also was able to work with Willie and Clara Savannah for a while, which was absolutely amazing. So I’ve been fortunate to have been able to work with many great coaches and I think my style comes from all of them. That plus being able to be in training camps with Robert Garcia and Freddie Roach, where I also learned a lot, and learned different ways to do things. So I’ve combined all the great things I’ve learned from all these great coaches and put it all together and made it my own.
Clutch City Boxing: Very impressive, so let’s follow your boxing career chronilogically and talk about your start in professional boxing.
David Martinez: Actually it started back at The Main Street Boxing Gym. At that time I hadn’t worked with any pro fighters but Bobby was nice enough to let come with him to a couple of fights. I was able to watch the training camps of boxers that trained at or came through The Main Boxing Gym. I was able to watch Austin “No Doubt” Trout train. Cedric Agnew, Nagy Aguilera, and a few others.
I was able to experience being a part of my first big professional fight because of Nagy Aguilera. Nagy saw how passionate I was about teaching the amateurs and he wanted me to experience a big pro fight, so he told Bobby he wanted me to come with them to one of his big fights. The card was at that Aviator Center in Brooklyn, New York and Nagy fought on the under-card of Zab Judah and Danny Garcia that night. He actually paid for me to come with them to the fight and allowed me to be a part of the whole thing, which was amazing and very generous. As Nagy was about to make his walk out to the ring we all stood around him and me not actually being a part of his coaching staff, of course I was standing behind everyone. Nagy called for me to come up to the front and had me stand in front of him, putting his hands on my shoulders, and he said, “You’re walking me into the ring David”. It was an awesome experience that I thank him for and will never forget. Being able to be a part of the excitement and energy of a big time boxing show, with all the lights, cameras, etc, that was the moment I knew I wanted to be a professional boxing coach.
Clutch City Boxing: So you were off to the pros from there?
David Martinez: Well I knew I was going into the pros already at that point and had already started helping pros out a little in the gym, but I still had one more dream in amateur boxing and that was to coach a fighter at the Olympic Trials. So slowly but surely I started transitioning over to the professional side of things but I stayed in the amateur scene in order to take someone to the Olympic trials, which I was able to do with Jake Crenshaw. Jake wasn’t able to win the whole thing but he fought his heart out and did very well, I love that kid.
Clutch City Boxing: You also worked with several other elite boxers and teams before you came over to the pros full-time correct?
David Martinez: Yes, so basically after working with the kids at Main Street and with Ray Ontiveros, I started to know everyone at all the amateur tournaments and they started knowing me, just from seeing all the same people at all the big tournaments. From there coaches from Houston and other cities around the nation would ask me to come help out with their fighters, and I also gained a lot of experience that way. I got to work with Annalicia Sustaita, who’s a five time National Champion from Dallas, and her sister Maricia Sustaita, who’s also a National Champion, and that was a great experience. I loved working with those girls and they along with their parents, are just awesome people. I also took an all female team to The Ringside Tournament where three of my boxers won, and things like that.
This was all before I started working with Jake Crenshaw though. When I started working with Jake, I actually took time off from work, and dedicated all my time to working with him, to help him make the Olympic Trials. We were together every day for six months and I think the results speak for themselves. Jake and I went 11-0 together during the time, locally and nationally, he won The H.O.R.N Tournament, took gold at the Olympic Qualifiers, then of course went to the Olympic Trials, which was a great experience.
Clutch City Boxing: Who was the first professional boxer that you trained?
David Martinez: I actually was trying to think outside the box and I brought in Albert Mensah from Ghana, Africa. I worked with him for six months then found out he was already under contract with someone here in Chicago, so that was a big let down, to start things off in the pros.
Clutch City Boxing: An interesting introduction to the professional boxing scene?
David Martinez: Yes it was a big letdown but I never wavered and soon I was working with so many people, that the sting of that experience went away.
Clutch City Boxing: What came next?
David Martinez: Wow, it’s hard to say, things just kind of snowballed from there and I started working with lots of pros. Let me see, well Alejandro “Porkchop” Guerrero, from Dallas was another one I worked with after that. I took “Porkchop” to Robert Garcia’s gym to attend a training camp, and from there he decided to stay after he was offered a contract to sign on with Robert Garcia. Since then I’ve been working mostly with the local pros, from Houston, Dallas, San Antonio, and the Valley, working on getting somebody to the top.
Clutch City Boxing: And how is that going for you?
David Martinez: I have ten fighters in my stable now. A lot of the guys I’m working with now are diamonds in the rough type guys. Guys that may have had a rough start due to poor management and what not, and maybe got a couple of loses on the record for that reason, but in reality are great fighters. What I’m doing is helping them to get back on track, and give them the proper management and personal attention they should have gotten to begin with. So my stable is actually pretty good, I’m very excited about my stable right now.
I’ve also brought in Pitbull Sharma from India, who’s an animal. Sharma is amazing, and he will be making his pro debut in The United States soon. I’ve got Josue Morales, who got a great win recently, where he was able to be seen and talked about after performing soo well. Josue is actually in training to fight an Olympian for a title next month. There’s Dominique Griffin, who’s 2-0 as a professional and on his way to great things. We have Robert Silva, who’s 10-1 as a pro, who also performed really well recently and is primed for big things. Thomas Hawkins, who fought very well against one of Virgil Hunter’s boxers in New York recently. Gosh I don’t want to forget anyone but there’s about ten boxers I’m working with now, it’s an awesome stable.
Clutch City Boxing: What does the future hold for Martinez Boxing, and what are you hoping to accomplish in the next five years?
David Martinez: The goal is to get my guys titles. I’m approaching this the way I approached amateur boxing, which was getting my guys to the big fights nationally. I feel that I could get my guys fights, and wins locally all day, every day, but it’s what they do in the big shows that really count and what’s gonna get them ranked nationally. When I look for fights for my guys nationally I look for fights against boxers that I know they can beat, then it’s up to them whether they put the work in that decides whether they actually win or not. Of course I do everything I can to help them in training so that they can be successful, but I can only do so much. I’ve had guys come into training camp late, where they didn’t give themselves a chance to really get into shape, and it didn’t work out so well for them and things like that. With the type of fights I get my guys they have to be one hundred percent focused and committed because we are really working on getting their careers to the next level and getting them the big fights. So that’s something we really stress here and work on with our guys, keeping them focused and in phenomenal condition so that they can perform at their best.
Clutch City Boxing: That’s a really smart approach Coach and it seems to be working really well so far. I’ve noticed The Martinez Boxing Gym is starting to become one of the gyms the elite boxers in town are coming to in order to get high level sparring, how do your guys like this? I mean do they all get along well with each other and with the guest that come out to spar?
David Martinez: Yes, it’s great, the guys love it and it’s been fun and a great honor for me to have this stable, along with the guys that call me and ask to come spar. As you know at our grand opening, we had Golden Boy prospect “King” Ryan Garcia come to the gym and work out and he wants to come back and spar. We’ve had Dimas Deleon come in from The Valley, Jorge Ramos, A.B.O. Light-Heavyweight Champion Alfonso Lopez has come in to spar, local prospect Eric Manriquez has come in, it’s just been great. I feel very lucky and honored that these guys call me and say they want to come spar and/or work out here, and blessed that having this gym has allowed me to accommodate them.
Clutch City Boxing: The gym is definitely a “dog house” that guys know they can come to in order to get good sparring. You’ve mentioned to me before that you want everyone to feel comfortable here and I’ve seen that personally to be true, is this part of your approach to boxing that you feel has brought you success?
David Martinez: Yes definitely, I try my best to give all my guys the personal attention they deserve, along with anybody that comes in here to spar or work out. My house is their house, if they come in and forget to bring a water bottle or Vaseline, things like that, we don’t hesitate to give them whatever they need. I just want people to feel comfortable and at home here. This gym is set up for the pros, and we have everything they need to allow them to be successful, it’s a great place to be.
Clutch City Boxing: Awesome Coach, one more thing, what is your approach to training your guys and working their corners?
David Martinez: The main thing for me is trust. Trust is a very difficult thing to establish at times because as pros some of these guys have maybe gotten some raw deals in the past. My approach is to let them know and prove day in and day out that I will do everything I possibly can to help them be successful, and as long as they are also doing everything they can, there is no reason why we can’t win together. I feel that if I haven’t given them my all and/or they haven’t given their all to prepare for a bout, we shouldn’t even be on that card.
By the same token when we both know that we’ve given a hundred percent, the fights and the corner work is easy. I’ve been mic’d up for bouts on ESPN, Showtime, and HBO and everyone could hear and see that I don’t scream at my fighters or denigrate them. I focus on remaining calm and giving direct, simple instructions. I try to not only calmly tell them what they need to do, but to also explain to them exactly how they can do what they need to do. In the last bout I worked with Thomas Hawkins, Andre Ward was working as a commentator at ringside, and he took me aside after the bout and complimented me on my corner work, which was amazing! I mean I was star-struck just being able to speak to Andre Ward but for him to compliment me on my corner work, wow, it was a big thing for me.
I do my best to be professional in everything I do and also carry myself as a professional. My guys and I go in there and do our best and we leave it all in the ring, then get out of there hopefully with a win. I think people notice that and this approach has served me well, as many of the people working in boxing at the highest levels have been really amazing about welcoming me into that level with open arms.
Clutch City Boxing: Thank you for your time Coach and we will see you soon.