In just a few short years, two-time World Team member Patrick Martinez (87 kg, NYAC) has deservedly earned a reputation as a capable international competitor. For some athletes, tangling with foreigners requires a pronounced adjustment period, as the positions and wrestling styles often associated with the lot from across the Atlantic offer a bevy of differences compared to what typically unfolds on domestic soil. US wrestlers are not supposed to get the hang of it right away, there are a lot of lumps to take at first. Martinez took his share, unquestionably, but he also figured out ways to make his approach work a lot earlier than most expected.
Martinez’s 2016 campaign is what really put him on the map in the most literal sense. Although he made the 2015 Las Vegas World Team at the beginning of his second full year, it was the following summer when things picked up a head of steam that couldn’t be ignored. Martinez nailed down bronze medals at both the Pytlasinski Open in Poland and the Grand Prix of Spain, two challenging international events made all the more so with the Rio Olympics on the horizon. Those two bronze medals not only boosted his collection of hardware, but they also led to Martinez being ranked in the top-20 by UWW at the time.
Another World Team appearance came next, and when 2017 rolled out, Martinez wanted to keep the momentum going in his favor. He started off the Thor Masters Invitational in Denmark with two dominating victories before a concussion/lacerated chin cut his day short. He recovered in time for April’s World Team Trials and moved back up to his original weight of 85 kilograms, the most competitive weight class in the country. A fifth-place finish served as a disappointment for the 27-year-old, resulting in a summer spent shoring up his technical arsenal, and just as importantly, his physical viability. Martinez couldn’t be deemed a small 85 by any stretch, but he had been too much of a “tweener” for too long, a wrestler who could move up, down, and back up again provided the circumstances met the right criteria. If he was going to commit to 85 for the long-term, something had to change.
So that’s what he devoted himself to — changing. Martinez packed on a bit of a size to fill out his frame and worked closely with US Olympic Training Center resident coach Mohamed Abdelfatah on opening up his offense. The process demanded total concentration. Rather than hop on a flight to Europe for a tournament or two, Martinez stayed home in Colorado Springs as the warm weather months disappeared from the calendar. It’d be a while before Martinez got back out there again, but when he did, he made it count.
Voted on by the fans, Martinez walked away with our first-ever Impact Performer of the Year award due almost entirely to how he closed out 2017. A win at a special dual meet in Belarus marked the beginning of what would turn out to be a 40-day overseas training cycle. But it was just an appetizer for December’s main course. First was a gold at the Lavrikov Memorial in St. Petersburg, Russia, which represented Martinez’s first foreign tournament victory. If one is good, two is even better. A week later, Martinez completed the second half of his back-to-back podium trips with another gold, this time at the Arvo Haavisto Cup in Finland, a traditionally popular stop for US Greco athletes. Two wins in short succession were enough for the community to tab Martinez as their guy, so we caught up with him to get his thoughts on that blitzing end to the calendar year.
2017 Impact Performer of the Year — Patrick Martinez (87 kg, NYAC)
5PM: You were looking for a fresh start coming into the new season, so forget the tournaments for just a second: how important was it knowing you were going to spend as much time overseas as you did?
Patrick Martinez: It was very important. I kind of tailored that plan to suit my needs because I feel like many US wrestlers need to spend as much time overseas as possible. So it just happened to work out where all of these trips were kind of lined up together and I was able to take advantage of that and spend 40 days in Europe training and wrestling with foreign competition.
5PM: You said publicly that you have been looking to take a more offensively-minded approach. When you’re training overseas, how do you work on being more offensive against guys who are a lot of times, more experienced than your domestic partners?
Martinez: They are more experienced, but I gained a feel for what these foreign wrestlers have. In the US, I can get by a lot of times by bullying people and doing this and that, but there is a lot more finesse involved overseas. You have to know when to push the pace, while at the same time, look for your attacks. That is what my offense has kind of transformed into — high-paced, but also looking for plenty of attacks. I think that is going to be the key to my success. When you’re moving your opponent constantly and you have him off-balance, that’s taxing on him and it is also setting up a lot of opportunities for you to score. Mixing that grind with the finesse is the key to it all.
5PM: Do you have to wrestle domestic opponents differently than you do foreigners? Or at this point in your career, do you have to wrestle everyone the same way?
Martinez: At this point, I have to wrestle everyone the same way. I’m doing whatever it takes to win, that’s pretty much it. Obviously, I am going to have strategies going in against different opponents, but at the end of the day, I have to do whatever it takes to win.
5PM: We didn’t get to see video of what took place in Russia at the Lavrikov Memorial tournament in St. Petersburg. That was a hardcore regional event for that area. The first question, what was that environment like? Was it just like any other event, or were there differences? Secondly, how encouraging was it to get yourself to the top of the podium?
Patrick Martinez: It was very encouraging. I kind of jokingly compare that tournament to the Dave Schultz. I don’t know why, it has a similar atmosphere to me. I call it the “Dave Schultz of Russia” (laughs). But it was good to get back on top.
I wrestled a Belarusian guy who I had wrestled the previous week at a training camp. I beat him a lot worse in the match that I did in practice. I think I tech’ed him in the match, but in practice he was a tougher opponent. I guess I opened up more in the tournament. In the finals, I had another Russian guy who I trained with while I was in Russia. A tall, lanky guy. I knew he had a really good bodylock position and he’s good at countering bodylocks, too, so I knew to stay out of there. We were at practice one day, and you and everyone else knows that Tracy (G’Angelo Hancock) is phenomenal from the bodylock position, and this guy was catching Tracy on all his throws (laughs). Going into the match, I knew not to get into a bodylock with this guy, because he’s dangerous.
But getting back on top of the podium, it felt good. It felt like it was a long time coming. I worked hard to earn that gold medal in Russia.
5PM: The Haavisto Cup is a tournament the US traditionally performs well in, and this year that event was bigger than usual. You’re always trying to win, I know this. But how important is the number of matches you get at an event? I’d imagine that is part of this, too.
Martinez: Of course. When I am overseas training, the main goal is getting as many overseas matches as possible. That is going to prepare myself for the World Championships and other high-profile events. These tournaments, they matter, but they matter more for the experience than for the wins. But thankfully, I was able to win them all.
5PM: What is the general plan as of now leading up to the more serious parts of the season?
Martinez: As you know, this next month of January is focused on strength and conditioning, I’ve been working on that all summer. This is to kind of fine-tune my strength and conditioning in order to get ready for the rest of the season. My first competition of 2018 is going to be in Cuba (Granma Cup). I debated on going to Denmark, but Cuba is a little more feasible.
5PM: It’s a ranked tournament, too.
Martinez: Yes, I was on the fence about going to Cuba or Denmark, and honestly, I was leaning more towards Denmark. But then Coach (Herb) House told me that Cuba was a ranked tournament, so I was like, Okay, that’s my decision right there, I’m going to Cuba. I originally wanted to go to Cuba in the first place just because of the stigma behind it and it has kind of been a banned country for Americans to go to, blah, blah, blah. I was trying not make that a deciding factor, but then when I heard it is a ranked tournament and that there were going to be more countries there than anticipated, I knew that was where I wanted to go.
After Cuba, say the mid to end of February I come back. In March, I’m going overseas to Belarus for the Nikola Petrov tournament and that camp. That will probably be a “Lone Wolf” mission, I don’t know if there are any other Americans going. But I want to get another high-level competition in before April rolls around and the US Open and the Trials come into play. That’s my plan up until then.
5PM: You have earned six legit international medals over the last two years with now a couple of wins sprinkled in and you’re one of the US guys who has been able to translate what you do here internationally. Why? What do you have going on that allows foreign competition to make sense to you?
Patrick Martinez: I don’t know so much that it’s foreign competition makes sense to me. I think it is just me embedding myself fully in the lifestyle of being the best wrestler I can be. I feel like that plays a big part. This isn’t just something that I do on my free time, it’s my life. And I think for anyone to be successful in the sport of wrestling, or any sport for that matter — and at the highest level possible — you need to live the life of it. You just can’t do it on the weekends or a couple hours here, a couple hours there. It is a full-time job and a full schedule. So I think that translated into success for myself in a short period of time. I take this very seriously. This is my life, this is my livelihood. I want to be the best in the world, and that’s the main reason for my success in a short period of time.