Melissa Martinez wants to get in the business of winning championships, and she doesn’t have to look further for a blueprint of how to accomplish that than her favorite NFL team.
The 22-year-old Mexico City native is a dedicated fan of the New England Patriots, the team that’s won six Super Bowls since 2001 and been in title contention for the better part of the last 20 years.
Martinez goes for her own gold on Saturday in McAllen, Texas, when she fights Desiree Yanez for the inaugural Combate Americas strawweight championship and the right to be called the first female champion in promotional history.
Martinez is 6-0 as a pro so far, with five of this wins coming by way of knockout. Officials are positioning her for maximum exposure on a card that will be headlined by former UFC champion Tito Ortiz and professional wrestling star Alberto El Patron. It’s only fitting that she draws inspiration from one of the most famous franchises in all of sports.
“I admire each player a lot, their game, their psychology and their strategy in each game, they’re the best,” Martinez told MMA Fighting via a translator. “Obviously I admire [quarterback Tom Brady], he is one of the greatest icons in America, but my favorite player is [wide receiver] Julian Edelman. He is an impressive athlete, always gives his best, and is always for his team.”
A karate practitioner since the age of 2, Martinez has long had her own impressive team behind her. Her parents are both karate teachers, and her brother David is also an unbeaten Combate Americas competitor in the early stages of his career.
Unsurprisingly, the family was supportive when she decided to make the move to MMA. And as much as she looks up to Brady, Edelman, and the Pats, it’s David who has been with her on every step of her journey.
“When I started on a professional level, I didn’t know much about the world of MMA, and when I saw the company on television, I said, ‘Wooow,’” Martinez said when asked what she knew about Combate Americas before signing with the promotion in 2017. “I didn’t know it was broadcast on television, and I told my brother, ‘I wish we both fought there.’ and months later Combate Americas contacted my head coach.
“[David’s] career is still active; he has had only two fights within the company, and I would like him to be given more opportunities. I have fought more times myself and he has been in this for a longer time. I consider myself his student. He is my greatest example inside and outside the cage. Someday I want to be like him as an athlete and even more as a person.
“I do not fight if he is not there. He is my greatest pillar and guide on this path, I consider him my greatest strength.”
Asked what fighters she admires, Martinez names current world champion Valentina Shevchenko and former champion Rose Namajunas, as well as Mexican stars Alexa Grasso and Yair Rodriguez. She has a long way to go to reach the heights of those athletes, but for now she’s keeping her 2020 goals modest: Defend her Combate Americas title, graduate from college and win a kickboxing championship.
Martinez has vowed to continue her kickboxing career, even as she is starting to make her mark on the MMA scene. Being a 115-pounder with consistent stopping power will get the spotlight shining on you fast and Martinez booked her ticket to a title fight with a vicious finish of Caroline Gallardo in the main event of Combate 36 in April.
A victory over Yanez will bring Martinez a championship and her own footnote in the MMA history books. Despite the fact that she described herself as being “emotional” when she got the call to co-headline the promotion’s pay-per-view debut, she’s not getting ahead of herself, even when asked how it might sound to hear the words “Melissa Martinez, first female Champion of Combate Americas” become a reality.
“I like that phrase how it sounds,” Martinez said. “But for now I prefer to focus on one round at a time and do my best.”