NORWALK --For the past three months, Eddie Martinez has served as an instructor at the Sitan Gym in Norwalk, where he teaches the essentials of the world's fastest growing stand-up combat sport, Muay Thai.
Known as the "Art of Eight Limbs" as it allows fighters to strike with punches, kicks, elbows and knees, Muay Thai originated in Thailand, where it is now the national sport. It has evolved into a staple of life for the 29-year-old Martinez, who instructs six days a week.
"The whole environment and the whole life of Thai boxing, I definitely have to pass it on to all the people. I have a bunch of guys right now that definitely want to learn from me," he said.
Martinez got his start in martial arts in karate and taekwondo while growing up in his native Venezuela, and moved to the United States when he was 13 to help his older brother, Brayner, build a career in American kickboxing. It was as recent as six years ago when the younger Martinez started practicing muay Thai--and quickly, he found his niche.
"I became involved in all those different arts. I just wanted to step it up a little bit more," he said.
Referred to as the "most difficult stand-up fighting in the world" by Martinez, Muay Thai evolved thousands of years ago from muay boran, which was taught to the Siamese army as a hands-free form of combat.
"It's pretty intense," he said.
A short time after the introduction to Muay Thai, Martinez joined the amateur ranks. He fought 28 times at that level, often against competitors who were in the professional ranks in other countries such as Canada.
"Most of them, they were professional fighters coming down to the U.S. and fighting as an amateur because it's a lot easier," he said.
After prospering as an amateur, Martinez turned professional two years ago and has continued to build a gaudy resume in the ring. In 33 career fights at the two levels, the 5-foot-10, 160-pound Martinez has notched 28 wins and more than a dozen knockouts. He won his first world title at the Arab Boxing World Championship in Dubai, United Arab Emirates last March with a seventh-round knockout of Russia's Illman Arskahanov in the 75kg category.
"That was kind of my highlight of my career as a pro fighter," Martinez said.
To reach such heights, Martinez has invested countless hours of training, and he credits his success in Muay Thai to his background in martial arts.
"I wouldn't be where I am right now in Thai boxing if it wasn't because of my background in karate or taekwondo," Martinez said. "That really helped me a lot to be a little bit above other fighters in Thai boxing because I was a little bit faster and I could see the punches and kicks a little bit better."
In the months leading up to a fight, Martinez commits himself to a strict training schedule that consists of a six-mile run in the morning, and an hour and a half of abdominal crunches, pushups and situps immediately after. In the evening, three days a week, he drives to Queens, N.Y. and practices different strategies with his coach and the other amateur and professional fighters with his team, Sitan.
At his Westport Avenue gym in Norwalk, he demonstrates many of those same techniques to customers interested in taking up Muay Thai.
Martinez's next challenge will come on Saturday at Muay Thai Combat Mania in San Marino against Iwwiset Pornnarai of Thailand. Martinez called the event "the biggest fight of my career, as an amateur or pro fighter."
Martinez has been fighting long enough to know that such opportunities don't come around often.
"Fighting a Thai fighter, it's very difficult," he said. "They're like the most dangerous fighters in the world right now.
"When you get to the level of fighting a Thai fighter in such a big event, that's when you know that you've actually made it in Thai boxing."
Like many fighters, Martinez has paid a physical price over the years as an amateur and professional to reach the grand stage. More often than not, he has been the fighter to deliver the crushing blow--but he's no stranger to the cruel side of Muay Thai.
Martinez recalls the time he moved up in weight for a fight in Atlanta and was clocked by his opponent with an unexpected elbow to the head, causing him to black out for a few seconds.
"In that second or two that I was hit, I don't remember very well how I got hit. I didn't see the blow coming--that was the problem," said Martinez, who had fought many times prior to that with elbow blows illegal. "You get knocked down or you get knocked out."
That made Martinez step back and analyze his future in the professional ranks.
"It scared me," he said. "That made me realize that I'm either staying where I am right now as a 147 fighter--I don't make the mistake of going up to 155 or 154 and fighting people that heavy--or I retire."
Martinez anticipates fighting competively for another year to year and a half before retiring. He plans to pursue a career in business, while continuing to teach Muay Thai, in the future.
"I've got other goals in my life that I want to do. Thai boxing is not everything in my life," Martinez said. "It's too risky."
For now, he is focused on his next chance in the ring.
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