Paso Robles pro boxer prepares for first professional fight

Messing with Bryan Martinez is not wise.

Just ask one of his sparring partners, who received a punch so vicious that he quit and spent 20 minutes in agony.

The 24-year-old boxer from Paso Robles will make his professional debut Friday night in a scheduled four-round bout at the DoubleTree Hotel in Sacramento against undefeated middleweight Joeshon “Shontime” James (4-0), of Dixon.

Martinez has spent the past three years preparing for this opportunity by training under former professional boxer Michael “Coach Mike” Dixon, also of Paso Robles.

He has a 7-1 amateur record with three knockouts.

“I’ve waited and waited,” Martinez said. “It has already been moved three times because of COVID. You have to have a mentality that you are ready to go. You risk your life in the ring. It’s you or the other guy.”

When Martinez talks about his upcoming fight, he expresses a cool confidence, outwardly unafraid.

“I’ve been working non-stop in the gym, staying in shape, doing what I have to do and my emotions are, ‘I’m ready,'” he said.

On a recent afternoon at Knockout Boxing Gym and Fitness on Combine Street in Paso Robles, Martinez pounded away on Dixon’s boxing gloves as they maneuvered around the ring – working on footwork, sight and speed.

“Ninety-eight percent of the time, the guy with the technique and the footwork will outbox the other guy,” Martinez said.

Dixon agreed: “Footwork is so important. If you can move in both directions and fight from both sides, that’s going to be a problem. He has boxed against some really good amateurs and sparred with pros. I know he’s ready.”

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Professional boxing Bryan Martinez, a 24-year-old resident of Paso Robles, gears up for his first game in Sacramento on January 21, 2022. He sparred with trainer Michael Dixon at Knockout Boxing Gym in Paso Robles, CA. Laura Dickinson

Football helped boxer develop toughness

Martinez — who grew up in Paso Robles and played soccer for the Bearcats — said his father was a former mixed martial arts fighter and trained under Dixon in Paso Robles.

Bryan Martinez, weighing 160 pounds, first met Dixon at age 14.

A soccer player at Paso Robles High, graduating in 2016, Martinez developed his defense physique as a tackler, enjoying the camaraderie of a team sport.

A few years after high school, he started training seriously as a boxer and took some of that football toughness into the ring.

“I think the best part is that I played football and that was exciting,” said Martinez. “But that’s like a team, you know? When you’re boxing, it’s just you and the other guy. You can’t count on anyone else.”

Martinez said that if his opponent throws a punch, it’s important to shake it off quickly.

“You feel them, but you have to show that you didn’t feel them at all,” Martinez said.

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Professional boxer Bryan Martinez, a resident of Paso Robles, gears up for his first game in Sacramento on Jan. 21, 2022. Martinez spars with his trainer (not pictured). Laura Dickinson

Martinez ready for professional competition, says coach

But Martinez is also known for dealing with pain.

“I caught someone here with the spleen shot during a sparring match,” Martinez said. “He sat on the stool for about 20 minutes.”

Dixon added, “That was the day we went through four guys,” and they realized they probably had to take it easy with the local competition.

“We had to get out of town to spar quality,” said Dixon. “Since then, we’ve had him spar with an Olympic Russian and a 12-12 professional who wasn’t that great, but he’s a professional and they’ll have different techniques and pace.”

Dixon wants Martinez to spar with as many good fighters as possible so they hit the road training in Bakersfield, Lompoc, Los Angeles or wherever they think they can get some good sparring training.

“I think he is more equipped to be a better pro than he is an amateur,” said Dixon. “Actually, it’s because of his conditioning. He’s going to take people into deep water and drown them.”

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Professional boxers Bryan Martinez, a resident of Paso Robles, gears up for his first game in Sacramento on January 21, 2022. A view of the Knockout Boxing Gym in Paso Robles, where Martinez is training. Laura Dickinson

Dixon taught Martinez to fight in a left-handed stance or in his natural right-handed stance, shifting and moving to the side to fire blows to the ribs or catch his opponent exposed or off-balance.

Dixon studies the techniques of fighters like Andre Ward, Muhammad Ali and Floyd Mayweather to pass knowledge on to Martinez.

They carefully watch their upcoming opponent’s fight film to discover weaknesses and develop a plan.

Although they train hard, one of Dixon’s beliefs is not to overwork his fighters.

Dixon said he sparred with guys in his fighting days at California Men’s Colony and did 10 or 12 rounds with two or three different sparring partners, but he doesn’t want Martinez going more than six rounds since he’s fighting a four round fight.

“My deal is to keep him safe, keep his brain safe and get him ready to go,” Dixon said. “And part of that is getting into great shape without doing too much.”

Representing Paso Robles

Martinez says he is fighting for his family, which includes his daughter, girlfriend, parents, aunts, uncles and cousins, who will encourage him as a professional.

While not many professional boxers have come out of Paso Robles, Martinez said he has good mentors in Dixon and Adriel Pebenito, the gym owner, a former pro featherweight and lightweight, who helped lead the way.

Martinez trains about four to five times a week at Knockout Boxing Gym, Pebenito said.

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Professional boxer Bryan Martinez, a resident of Paso Robles, gears up for his first game in Sacramento on Jan. 21, 2022. Martinez spars with his trainer (not pictured). Laura Dickinson

In recent years, Paso Robles has seen a number of talented fighters make it through the gym, including a few who developed there, left the area and continued their careers elsewhere, Pebenito said.

But Martinez could be an inspiration to a younger generation who could stay in Paso Robles and possibly follow in his footsteps.

“I would say the way things are going (pro fighters coming out of Paso Robles) should be duplicated more often,” said Pebenito. “It’s not that we haven’t had enough people. We’ve had good prodigies here. Some of them are just here for the love of the sport and not looking for recognition.”

Pebenito said Martinez is talented and strong but only lacks fighting experience, adding that he will need to stay focused when the spotlight is on him.

Pebenito said he was nervous about stepping into the ring during his fights, but he used that fear to channel adrenaline.

“If he had a little more experience it would be great, but I think he can do it anyway,” said Pebenito. “They go for the shot and they can do it.”

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Boxer Bryan Martinez, a 24-year-old resident of Paso Robles, sparring with trainer Michael Dixon at Knockout Boxing Gym and Fitness in Paso Robles. Martinez gears up to fight his first pro match Sacramento on January 21, 2022. Laura Dickinson

This story was originally published January 19, 2022 10:40 AM.

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Covering the city of San Luis Obispo, Nick Wilson has been a reporter at The Tribune in San Luis Obispo since 2004. He also writes regularly on K-12 education, Cal Poly, Morro Bay, and Los Osos. He is a graduate of UC Santa Barbara and UC Berkeley and is originally from Ojai.


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