Jose “Chiquiro” Martinez entered a Toyota car dealership on an overcast Wednesday afternoon in mid-February in the town of San Sebastian, Puerto Rico.
No, he wasn’t looking for a new car. He was looking for a sponsor.
Boxing in the island of Puerto Rico comes with certain expectations. An undefeated, highly-ranked, rising contender such as Martinez fighting on ESPN in the main event in Puerto Rico should fetch Martinez sponsors aplenty, but at the moment, Martinez is not exactly trying to field many offers. Martinez, alongside a childhood friend who is still an accounting student at the University of Puerto Rico's Mayaguez campus, presented a modest proposal in the hopes that the dealership accepts it and sponsors the young fighter. Martinez made no grand presentation, nor did he appear as loud and brash. In fact, he talked more about family, friends and giving back to the people of Puerto Rico who have helped him get to this point.
In an island that is still recovering from the devastation that were hurricanes Irma and Maria last fall, finding sponsors was a difficult task. Martinez recognizes the fact that everyone on the island is simply trying to survive with whatever resources were remaining. In fact, he was reluctant about asking companies to sponsor him, but he does not have much of a choice. He wanted to find sponsors to at least help out with costs with potentially the biggest fight of his professional career happening in Ponce, Puerto Rico on March 24. This fight will be Martinez's first as the WBO-NABO champion.
“I really don’t like trying to go to companies and ask for sponsorships because we’re all hurting from the hurricanes, but I’m in a spot where I have to try and find sponsors,” Martinez said.
Among the stable of talented fighters Puerto Rican legend Miguel Cotto, who recently retired after his last fight last December at Madison Square Garden, has, Martinez is perhaps the closest one to achieving his dream of winning a world title at this moment. Fellow Miguel Cotto Promotions fighters Angel Acosta and Alberto Machado already won world titles last year and Martinez is on the cusp of challenging for the World Boxing Organization’s super flyweight world title. First, he has to defeat Alejandro Santiago. That fight is scheduled to be the headliner for a card being televised on the ESPN2.
The fight against Santiago is a rematch from their first fight last year which ended in a draw, the only fight in Martinez’s career to not end with Martinez winning. That fight was set to take place in Puerto Rico, but the hurricanes forced the fight to be moved out of the country, but now, Martinez will get a chance to fix that draw in front of his home country fans.
“That first fight was supposed to take place in Caguas, but because of the hurricane, plans had to change and the card had to take place in Mexico. It was really tough for a while living in the aftermath and finding a place to train. No one was training much inside Puerto Rico and I left the island for maybe a week-and-a-half to train until we can go back and keep training. Fighting on ESPN and bringing that victory for Puerto Rico because of the hurricane was a big motivation. Thank God that I got the victory," Martinez said.
To some on the outside looking in, Martinez isn’t as big a rising star in Puerto Rico in the same way Acosta and Machado are as world champions or even in the same way fellow undefeated Puerto Rican contender Felix Verdejo is. But in all actuality, Martinez is perhaps primed for greatness.
Martinez has slowly been groomed by Cotto to eventually become a superstar in Puerto Rico and was primed for success even before signing with Cotto. Martinez studied at The Eugenio Guerra Cruz Community School Specializing in Sports in the Albergue Olímpico (ECEDAO), a boarding school designed specifically for the top athletes in the country to go through extensive sports training while continuing their education throughout their childhood and is overseen by the Department of Education and the Puerto Rico Olympic Committee. In Puerto Rico, if you’re an athlete attending that school, then you are considered a truly special athlete.
Perhaps an unintended (or intended) consequence of Cotto signing a promotional deal with Oscar De La Hoya's Golden Boy Promotions is the increase in opportunities Cotto's fighters have had to compete on major boxing cards and fight for world titles. It is interesting to note that both Machado and Acosta won their world titles after the Cotto-Golden Boy signing. The man called "Chiquiro" hopes to join those boxers and win a world title in arguably boxing's toughest division.
"I’m eternally grateful to Miguel Cotto and Miguel Cotto Promotions who have brought me to this point in my career. Miguel Cotto is a guy who’s always been there to help his boxers, has given countless advice just as he has for Machado and Acosta and all the prospects fighting for Miguel Cotto Promotions. Cotto has given the people of Puerto Rico countless glorious moments and I’m blessed to have Cotto help me," Martinez said.
Martinez’s first pro fight on a major boxing event saw him defeat then-unbeaten Oscar Mojica at the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas as the opening bout to the financially successful November 21, 2015 pay-per-view fight between Cotto and Mexican superstar Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez. Martinez’s fight wasn’t shown on television, but there was a large gathering of Puerto Ricans outside the venue watching the fight on a big screen.
Since then, Martinez has quickly risen up the ranks to become a legitimate contender and one of boxing’s next great Puerto Rican fighters. As of February 27, Martinez sits at No. 5 in the World Boxing Organization’s rankings in the super flyweight division. That’s not an easy task considering the talent that compete in boxing’s 115-pound division: Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez, Jerwin Ancajas, Khalid Yafai, Rex Tso, Juan Francisco Estrada, Carlos Cuadras, etc...
Martinez’s goal is to eventually get to the top of the mountain and win a world championship. Even with those lofty goals and his sky-high potential, he remains grounded, humble and always ready to give back to his fans. Martinez organizes a yearly get-together in his hometown of Las Marias, a tiny town located on the western side of Puerto Rico with a population of less than 9,000 people, where he spends time with friends, family, sponsors and fans as a symbolic thank you for all the support and help throughout his life. Martinez also helps around as a recreational leader in Las Marias whenever he isn't boxing.
Coming back home, Martinez hopes to not only come out with the win, but also give his fans an exciting performance and further increase his chances at fighting for a world title.
"I think this might the one of the biggest, if not the biggest boxing event in Puerto Rico after the hurricane. Santiago and I are two great fighters and we have a lot of good fighters on the card, so I hope to give a good show and walk away the winner,” Martinez said.
In regards to his next fight, Martinez said he is ready to take on the world, no matter who that next fighter is. Martinez knows that each fight and each win will put him one step closer to challenging for a coveted world championship.
"After the fight, we’ll see what’s available out there and who [WBO President] Francisco Valcarcel and Miguel Cotto Promotions offer as a next opponent possibly for a world title. Whether it be against Chocolatito, Rex Tso or anybody, I’m ready to fight anybody and everybody. But right now, I’m focused on my fight and when I win, whatever happens happens," Martinez said.
But first, he'll have to win this first fight. He will have some financial help for this upcoming bout, as that dealership in San Sebastian agreed to sponsor Martinez, perhaps a sign of good things to come for the 25-year-old boxer who dreamed of winning a world championship ever since he started boxing as a young seven-year-old title.