Lightweight contender Ryan Martin always knew he’d be in this position
LAS VEGAS – The typical 7- or 8-year-old kid might think primarily about such things as the video game he wants to buy or playing with his friends. Ryan Martin? He knew what he wanted to do with his life at that age.
Martin, who fights on the Canelo Alvarez-Gennady Golovkin card at T-Mobile Arena on Saturday night, was 7 when he followed his older brother to the Westside Boxing Club in Chattanooga, Tennessee, his hometown. The boy hadn’t thought about fighting – he has had exactly one street fight in his life, he said – but he was immediately captivated by the sights and sounds of the gym.
“I sparred, jumped rope, I hit the bags, everything … all on the first day,” Martin said Thursday afternoon, a few minutes after the press conference to promote the Canelo-GGG undercard. “It was like running around as a kid. I had so much energy.
“I remember thinking, ‘I want to go back, I want to go back.’ And I fell in love with it.”
Boxing quickly because more than just a sport for Martin; it became his life.
He spent more time at the gym and eventually traveling to and from amateur tournaments than he spent at home with his mother and step father – much more. Boxing provided a second family that kept him out of trouble and focused on something positive.
And focused he was. Martin’s dream was to fight in the Olympics and he put in the necessary work.
“My boxing family raised me into who I am,” he said, referring to those who guided them as he learned the sport. “They gave me all the life tools that my parents didn’t teach me. I was always at the gym or traveling to some tournament as a kid.
“I gave up a lot, from school graduations, going to the prom, going to concerts, things like that. I wanted to be successful. That’s why I did it. And I have no regrets.”
Martin didn’t realize his Olympic dream. He was knocked out of contention by Robert Easter in a qualifying tournament, which “crushed my dreams right there.”
He was a boxer for the long haul, though. There was no giving up, particularly when you have the kind of ability he has. And not when you have people who believe in you.
Tim Van Newhouse met Martin at the gym when the latter was 10 years old and the two became close. Nine years later, after Martin lost to Easter and decided to turn pro, Van Newhouse became his manager.
Van Newhouse convinced the rapper 50 Cent to underwrite Martin’s career and the young man was off and running.
“Ryan moved with me from Chattanooga to Cleveland,” Van Newhouse said. “I called 50 cent and convinced him he had a special kid in Chattanooga he needed to see. He said, ‘Not too many boxers come out of Chattanooga.’ I said, ‘I promise you, 50; he’s special.
“And he did invest in Ryan. He funded Ryan’s first 13 fights before we severed ties.”
Martin, now 24, hasn’t disappointed Van Newhouse. He is as dedicated, as focused today as he has ever been. His dream of becoming an Olympian has been replaced by dreams of becoming a world champion, which might not be far away.
He already is a popular figure in Chattanooga, where he speaks to children about the value of hard work and dedication.
“Ryan takes himself and the sport very seriously,” Van Newhouse said. “He is super dedicated to the sport. … And when you buy into a program and believe in yourself as much as he does, with his athletic ability, his range, his height, his boxing IQ, he is potentially a fan friendly world champion.”
Martin (19-0, 11 knockouts) IS a potential world champion, according to most observers.
His reported 200-plus amateur fights give him a terrific fundamental foundation. He’s an excellent all-around athlete. And, at 5 feet 11 inches, he’s very tall for the lightweight division. He just needs a little more experience.
He is scheduled to face tough Mexican Francisco Rojo (20-2, 13 KOs) in a 10-round bout Saturday on pay-per-view. He was focused on that fight Thursday but the image of a shiny belt is not far back in his mind.
Van Newhouse believes Martin could fight for a major title as soon as next year.
“I’ve been thinking about (a world title) since I turned pro,” Martin said. “Every kid wants to become a champion. Now it’s within reach. I just have to keep working hard, keep improving. I can’t look past anyone or anything.
“… It’s amazing. I have people writing me today telling me, ‘I remember you were always so focused, you always wanted this.’ And now it’s here. It might be surprising to them. I knew this would come.”