Mixed martial arts is the fastest growing sport in the world. It garners more attention and new fans daily. The emergence of so many new athletes sometimes makes it hard for fans to notice some of the fighters on the verge of making it to the next level. MMAWeekly.com takes you deep inside the sport and presents you with some of the upcoming New Blood.
KEY VICTORY: Mark Ellis
WEIGHT CLASS: Hwt.
COUNTRY: United States
Ryan Martinez is one of the top heavyweight prospects to emerge from the Colorado fight scene, and for good reason. He’s cut from the same cloth as fighters like Shane Carwin, Junior dos Santos, and Cain Velasquez. He’s a big man, but he’s got athleticism and skills to accompany his size.
He has a solid base as a two-time All-American in freestyle and Greco-Roman wrestling, with knockout power in his hands. Martinez has also added strong BJJ skills to his arsenal courtesy of Infinite MMA.
Martinez has punched his way through the Colorado competition, fighting for the two most established promotions in the state—Fight to Win and Ring of Fire. Both are known for promoting top-tier talent, particularly Ring of Fire, which has propelled the careers of numerous UFC fighters.
His big break came at Pro Elite: Big Guns, where he decisioned fellow prospect Mark Ellis. He didn’t get the finish that he wanted, but he opened the first round of the Pro Elite heavyweight Grand Prix Tournament with a victory all the same, which is the most important part.
“I wanted to stand and bang with the dude, but, basically, he ran the whole three rounds we fought,” Martinez says. “Once he realized that his wrestling wasn’t going to work, he just got frustrated and kind of fled the entire time. Some might have said it was a boring fight. Others might have said it was a smart fight. I fight to win, so I was just trying to do the best I could to get a W on my record.”
Martinez feels that he’s ready for a step up in competition, due in large part to his training at Infinite MMA with Adam Martinez.
“Since I moved my training to Infinite MMA, I’m a lot more patient,” he says. “Instead of just going out there and brawling, I’m learning when to utilize my aggressiveness and when to be patient and counter.”
Martinez hopes to take what he’s learned and ride it all the way to the Grand Prix Championship. After that, the sky is the limit.
KEY VICTORIES: Abel Cullum, Marvin Garcia
WEIGHT CLASS: 135 lbs.
COUNTRY: United States
NICKNAME: The Jackhammer
Fighters have different reasons for becoming fighters. Some guys were always the fighting type. Some guys were athletes from other sports who found an exciting new rush from MMA. King of the Cage Bantamweight Champion Jared Papazian got beaten into the sport…literally.
Seven years ago, 16-year-old Papazian was hanging out with his twin brother by the AMC Theaters in Woodland Hills, CA. While there, the two brothers were approached by a group of more than 10 guys. One of the guys that approached Papazian had a face that was strikingly familiar. It belonged to the older brother of a football teammate that he had gotten into a fight with a month earlier. Defeated, the teammate went home to his older brother and whined about the outcome.
The gang locked Papazian’s brother in a storeroom and then began to beat and stomp the 16-year-old. The assault took place in a public setting and the onlooking crowd didn’t help. In fact, some of them joined in on the assault. After Papazian spent a stint in the hospital, he looked to mixed martial arts as a way of improving his defense in situations like the one at the AMC Theaters.
“I got jumped,” he says. “That kind of situation led me to MMA.”
Two years later, Papazian began his professional fighting career. He had a tough start, going 4-3 in his first seven fights. According to the Southern California native, poor management kept him from realizing his true potential. That’s when Darin Harvey came to the rescue. Under Harvey’s management, Papazian’s career has done a 180. He’s gone 10-3 since the management change and better business results have come from it, according to the 23-year-old fighter.
In addition to Harvey, Papazian found BJJ master Alberto Crane to help him with this ground game. With little grappling knowledge, the young Armenian yearned for the tools that would make him a better practitioner of ground fighting. The Crane-Papazian partnership began in late 2010 and has translated to gold. Papazian won the King of the Cage Bantamweight Title earlier this year in a fight against Abel Cullum and most recently defended it against Marvin Garcia in September.
Like most mixed martial artists, Papazian wants to make it to the big show. The UFC 135-pound division is a place that he wants to be, and he is working hard to make sure that he gets there. If things work out like his coach predicts, The Jackhammer will be pounding pavement on his way to the Octagon.
“It’s just a matter of time,” says Crane. “The UFC would be crazy not to have Papazian in their organization.”
KEY VICTORY: Ryan Diaz
WEIGHT CLASS: 145 lbs.
COUNTRY: United States
After defeating Jim Miller at UFC on Versus 5 in August, Benson Henderson grabbed the microphone and made a passionate call for the UFC to sign some of his teammates and training partners from The Lab in Glendale, AZ. Call it selfless, call it being a good teammate, but Henderson certainly made the case for his team, and now one of them is hopeful that UFC matchmaker Joe Silva is keeping his eye out.
Chris Gruetzemacher is a featherweight fighter who has trained alongside Henderson for several years, and he has helped him get ready for past fights, just like the one he had against Jim Miller. A natural athlete and former high school wrestler, Gruetzemacher actually fell into mixed martial arts almost by accident.
“I was a wrestler in high school, so I’ve always been competitive,” he says. “After high school, I got a job at Bally’s Total Fitness, just being a meathead and lifting weights. However, I wanted to get lean again like I was in high school wrestling, but just working out wasn’t making me any leaner and it definitely wasn’t satisfying that hunger to compete.”
To satisfy that hunger, Gruetzemacher sought out a BJJ class that would allow him to use his wrestling roots while learning a new art. It was around that time that he discovered The Lab in Arizona. About a year later, coach John Crouch joined the gym along with future WEC Champion Benson Henderson.
“I just kept coming to different classes and they were like, ‘So, you want to fight?’ says Gruetzemacher. “I just started living the lifestyle, and I’ve been doing it ever since.”
As he started working more and more with Henderson and training partners like former TUF winner Efrain Escudero, Gruetzemacher not only noticed that he wasn’t getting killed in the gym, but he was also actually competing.
For somebody that just kind of fell into MMA, Gruetzemacher seems like a natural. He’s now 8-1 as a pro, with seven wins in a row, including six by stoppage. He feels like he’s ready to make the jump into the big show and compete with the best at 145 pounds, but Gruetzemacher isn’t trying to call out Jose Aldo just yet. “I want to be smart,” he says. “I feel like I could be the best, but you have to walk through the fire first. I want to fight the best, but the reality is that I want to fight whoever is next so I can build my career.”