Michael Brandy, Deseret News
WEST JORDAN — His dad doesn't notice the bruises.
He doesn't notice the disappointment, tears or even the joy.
In fact, Radly Martinez isn't sure his father even knows who he is.
"I hope he does, but I don't know," said Rad, who cares for his father, Richard, in their West Jordan home. "If he seems alert some days, I ask him if he knows who I am, but he never answers. I don't know if he recognizes me as his son."
A car accident in 1991 left Richard in a near-vegetative state, and since his grandmother's death a few years ago, Rad has been caring for his father around the clock, every day. He feeds him, bathes him, changes him and exercises the 51-year-old's atrophying muscles.
Rad's only breaks come a few hours each afternoon when he heads to the gym. Just 45 minutes from his home, the Throwdown Elite gym might as well be in another universe. There, Rad Martinez, the soft-spoken, articulate and devoted son, works as hard as he can to become one of the fiercest, toughest and feared mixed martial arts fighters in the state. He's currently the Throwdown Lightweight Title Belt champion for 155 pounds with a 6-1 record.
"I knew from the moment I saw him, the potential he had," said Johnny Riche, promoter for Throwdown Elite Productions. "I talked to his brother and asked what we needed to do to get Rad training with us."
Riche said there are only a handful of local MMA athletes with the skill, work ethic, training and personality to make it in the UFC.
"He has the work ethic, the attitude, the skill and potential," said Riche. "How physical he is, Rad happens to be one of those few guys."
Rad isn't quite sure what MMA means to him at this point in his life, but he is willing to see how far his talent and Throwdown's coaching will take him. His trips to the gym and his nights in the cage are a brief bit of freedom from a life consumed almost completely by his father's care.
"It's one way of me getting away, letting off stress and steam," he said. "It kind of is two separate worlds … I really can't tell Dad about it. I can show him the bruises."
When Rad returns from a tough bout or a practice a little black and blue, he might take some ribbing from his grandfather about how a guy can sport shiners and still come out a winner, but he can only imagine the razzing his father might give him.
"I think he'd tease me a little bit," said Rad. "I think he'd like it … My dad was a hard-nosed tough guy; he was a mechanic and he raced cars … I don't know what he'd think of MMA."
He smiles and puts his hand on his father's shoulder and says, "I think he'd think it was pretty cool."
Rad's road to the cage was as rough as some of his fights.
His parents divorced when he was 4 years old, and he and his younger brother, Levi, moved to California with their mother. A few years later, his mother began to struggle with health problems, so she sent the boys to live with their father, Richard, and his parents, Alberto and Clara Martinez, in New Mexico. His mother passed away when he was 7, and he and Levi settled into their life in New Mexico among their father's extended family.
Tragedy turned his life upside down again on April 1, 1991.
Rad remembers sitting at the kitchen table in his grandparents' home. The boys went there after school when their father worked.
"I was grounded, sitting at the table doing homework," he said with a slight smile.
The phone rang and a friend told Clara Martinez about an accident, an overturned truck. The caller said the truck looked like her son's company vehicle.
"It was only a mile from the house so she went over there," Rad said. "When she realized it was him, she went on to the hospital."
At the hospital, the family was told that Richard had suffered severe head trauma and it wasn't clear if he'd even survive.
"I remember thinking if this was an April Fool's joke, it was not a good joke," said Rad glancing at his father, seated next to him in a wheelchair for their daily ritual of "The Price is Right."
"His condition wasn't good," Rad said. "I remember thinking I hope he doesn't die. Our mom had passed away, so we were familiar with death."
Richard was in a coma for weeks. After that, he went to a rehabilitation center. For a year, Rad and Levi lived with their father's brother, Dennis Martinez. Then they moved in with Richard's parents. Rad grew up watching his grandmother care for his father, and Levi Martinez believes that has a lot to do with Rad's decision to take over their father's care after Clara's death.
"He was always close to our grandma, and she always put Dad first," said Levi.
Rad acknowledges his affection for his grandmother plays a role in his devotion to his father.
"She didn't want me to do this," said Rad as he gently wipes his father's mouth. "But I heard her say to Dad 100 times, 'Richard, what is going to happen to you when I'm gone?' She was desperately afraid of what was going to happen to him. I told her, I was going to do it. So I'm going to do it. She did it for 17 years, 24 hours a day. If she can do that, then I can do it."
That determination, that drive is what makes him a top-notch fighter. It also made him a successful college wrestler, although he almost chose a completely different path.
The boys moved with their father and grandparents to West Jordan when Rad was a senior in high school. He played football and wrestled for the Jaguars, but he wanted badly to graduate, get a job and start earning his own money.
"I didn't want to go to college," he said. "I wanted to start working. My wrestling coach got me a job taking care of swimming pools. He rode me every single day about going to college. 'You've got to go to college; you've got to go to college.' He finally talked me into it."
He also helped him secure a wrestling scholarship with Northwest Community College in Wyoming. After that he went to Clarion College in Pennsylvania, where he wrestled at 133 pounds. He graduated, coached for the college and earned his master's in sports management.
One of his college teammates, Frank Edgars, began fighting in the Ultimate Fighting Championship and he trained a little with him in martial arts that year.
"He kept saying, 'You've got to do this. You'd be great at it,' " said Rad with a grin. "I moved home and started an internship with Real Salt Lake. I wanted to work in sports."
He watched Edgars continue to evolve into a talented MMA fighter, and he and his brother began to pay attention to the growing sport. In 2006, he began helping with his father's care more and more. Then in 2008, another friend talked him into taking some jiujitsu classes with him at Gold's Gym.
"I was getting a lot of compliments, people saying I was big and strong," he said. "After three weeks, they talked me into a tournament and I took second. The bug had bit."
They bought some equipment and began training for an MMA fight. They really didn't know what they were doing, but they were having fun.
"I didn't miss some of the training for wrestling, but I missed the competition," he said. Rad fought an amateur fight and won but hurt himself. He recovered, fought again and lost a close decision.
Meanwhile, Levi Martinez, who owns a wrestling club for youngsters, saw Johnny Riche at a wrestling tournament. Riche told him Rad should try out at Throwdown in Orem.
Rad took his brother's advice, and coaches there loved Martinez.
"They let me work out there for free now," he said. In addition, he now gets coaching on the disciplines of MMA, boxing, wrestling and martial arts.
As lonely as parts of Rad's life have been, his brother has been one of the constants.
Just 16 months apart, Rad and Levi grew up wrestling, but without family in the stands.
"I do feel like we missed out on a lot of things," said Rad without a hint of self-pity. "My grandparents weren't able to go to football games or wrestling matches because they were with my dad. That was hard."
But what he lacked in parental support, he has found tenfold in brotherly love.
"Levi loves it," Rad said, breaking into another grin. "He thinks I can beat anybody."
Rad had gotten used to competing alone, but he said it is comforting to look to his corner on fight nights and see Levi standing there cheering.
"He is the familiar face," Rad said.
Levi Martinez said he hopes to see his brother in the UFC by the end of the year.
"Aside from being his brother, I think he's the best fighter in Utah," said Levi. "I think he has the potential to be in the UFC, and that's our main goal."
So just where will Rad's MMA skills take him?
"That's a tough question," he said. "I don't see it as a hobby. I'm taking it very seriously. Do I see it as a career? I don't know about that either. Right now I see taking care of my dad as my career and MMA as more of a part-time job."
He acknowledges that his commitment to his father may limit his options in MMA — and life in general. While other competitors are training several hours twice a day, Rad barely squeezes in three hours each weekday.
"I can't lie, yes I do (feel it's a disadvantage)," he said. "I know I need more time in the gym, but I just have to find a way to do more with less. I have to pack more into that three hours. I just have to work harder."
It isn't just a competitive edge Rad may be sacrificing by choosing to care for his father. Levi worries that he's giving up having a family of his own.
"I have an 8-year-old daughter and a 6-year-old son," said Levi, "and I want to be at every event in their lives. I don't want them to grow up the way we did with no one there ... I don't worry about it, but I am concerned about the choice he's made."
Levi helps out as much as he can, but he knows the toll caring for his father took on his grandmother. And while he's concerned, he also admires his brother's decision to do the same.
"I think it's a testament to his character and his strength," said Levi as he moves across the room to help Rad move their father from his wheelchair to a bed.
Rad doesn't believe he's giving up that much.
"If I am able to find someone, and if I'm able to have kids, I think they'll understand why I'm not in the stands," he said, acknowledging he's dating a woman who has no trouble with the constraints of his life. "I knew why my grandparents weren't there ... I have always been a homebody anyway."
For Rad, it is simply what a son does for his father, and he knows his care, his affection may even extend his father's life.
"It makes me feel like he's my kid," said Rad as he tells his father what he's making for lunch. "It makes me love him more. There are those times when he's on my last nerve, but that's how kids are. It doesn't make me love him any less. I love him more. But I'm still his kid, and he deserves respect."
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