Punishment Martinez is an interesting wrestler in Ring of Honor.
He doesn’t fit the typical profile of an ROH wrestler — a big brawler who is deceptively quick and has excellent martial arts skills. However, he has moved up from the Top Prospect Tournament and is now heading into their next pay-per-view as a defending champion.
On Friday night, Punishment Martinez heads into the Best in the World pay-per-view as the reigning television champion and will defend the title against Bullet Club member Adam Page in a street fight.
ROH Best in the World is available to all HonorClub members — free for VIP members and 50 percent off for regular members. With Punishment Martinez involved in one of the major title matches on the show, he took the time to speak with Monsters & Critics about his career and how it feels to represent Ring of Honor as one of their top stars.
You’ve been wrestling for about 14 years now. Could you talk a little bit about your journey from wrestling 10 years in the indies to taking that step to Ring of Honor?
Martinez: You know, like most people, I was doing the independents locally in the area where I trained, which for me was Jersey and just coasted for many years, you know, kind of relied on my size and natural athletic ability but I never really gave it 100 percent.
I never saw the inside of a gym, I’ll tell you that much. I was overweight and just didn’t have that extra drive that others do that are successful.
And then, one day I was working on a good job, but I was told that I couldn’t take any more time off to do independents. So, if I wanted to continue working there, I had to stop wrestling.
For whatever reason, that day it hit me more than any other day where it was like, “What am I doing with my life type of situation.”
I decided to go for it and without hesitation, which is really weird, I just told my boss they had my two-weeks-notice, and I left without knowing what I was going to do and how to pay rent and just decided to go all in on everything.
I started eating right, I started training, I lost over 100 pounds, and then I surrounded myself with positive people. That was really big as well, and then just getting myself better opportunities.
You know, once you put yourself in a positive mind frame and you start working hard for something, opportunities just pop up everywhere and that’s kind of what happened. I got opportunities with a lot of different places — not just Ring of Honor — and then I did Ring of Honor tryouts, and I impressed and got on their radar. I kept progressing and progressing until finally, in their words, I was undeniable, and they offered me a job.
Your dad was involved in martial arts, and you guys had a school running around the time that the first UFC event started. How did working with your dad in martial arts influence how you’ve grown as a wrestler over the years?
Martinez: Anybody who sees me in the ring can see clearly that is heavily influenced by martial arts. That definitely prepared me for the physical combat aspect, you know, and being able to flow and move in the ring like a fighter.
It just made everything so much easier to transition to pro wrestling. We had this school. The UFC was just starting to come around; mixed martial arts was something new at the time. At that time, it was just straight up martial arts, karate, you know, that type of competition.
So, there wasn’t a lot of the influence you see today. Now, once we closed the school down and I stopped training for a couple of years, that is when I transitioned into pro wrestling. And that’s kind of where I just coasted. But yeah, a hundred percent — had it not been for the martial arts, I don’t know if I’d be as successful as I’ve been in the last couple of years, at least.
You worked with Matt Riddle. I see a lot of change in wrestling with more of a martial arts influence — things with you, Matt, even back in the day with Ken Shamrock coming in. Do you see wrestling changing in that format – making it a look a little more realistically fighting in the ring?
Martinez: Well, I think wrestling has changed. And I think the change — as far as that style — it’s at its peak right now. I don’t see it going any further — just because pro wrestling is still an art of pro wrestling.
I think this is at its limit as far as being influenced by other styles just because there’s so much of it now, with submission wrestling and stuff like that. But, if it goes any further than you’re basically just another form of MMA and I think that’s the line that pro wrestling can’t cross because then it’s not pro wrestling anymore.
I think it’s at its peak, but we can definitely use things to influence or base our styles around, like myself and like Matt Riddle. For as much as you see him and what his background is, he is still a pro wrestler now. He was a former MMA fighter, but now he’s a professional wrestler. That’s an art in itself, you know.
I trained Matt Riddle. I guess because we had the martial arts in common, it was a little easier for me to kind of give him advice as to how to combine his style with pro wrestling. And then, on top of that, he’s just such a student of the game and such a fan that it was just easier for him to pick it up just an all-around in general.
Speaking of being a fan, you used to go to Madison Square Garden WWE cards all the time as a kid. What wrestlers did you watch back then that you looked at and said — I want to be like this person when I start wrestling?
Martinez: I know this is going to come as a shock, but The Undertaker. He’s the reason why I fell in love with pro wrestling. I saw something that he was featured on when I lived in Puerto Rico and was mesmerized.
Since that day, I really wanted to do this because of what I saw. But then, at Madison Square Garden he was obviously the top guy — but after that, it’s hard to pinpoint one or two because there’s so many that influenced me in their own way.
When you look at the top guys, by far The Undertaker was ahead of the pack. But then after him. Razor Ramon was huge on me. Just cool as hell.
You know there’s nothing wrong with liking somebody who’s just cool, right? Of course, Diesel for a little bit because it was pretty much that era.
You know, it’s funny — and I appreciate him more now and I think the world of him now — but as a kid, I wasn’t crazy about Shawn Michaels. You know, he was more for the girls and the pretty boys.
I liked the big guys and the rough guys and the evil guys, you know. I was there at Survivor Series when Sid beat him for the title at the Garden and I was 100% cheering Sid on.
I was more leaning towards those guys instead of like Shawn Michaels and even Bret (Hart). I like Bret, but I wasn’t a huge Bret fan. When [Steve] Austin first came on, I was more of an Austin guy and this before everybody liked him. I think once everybody started liking him, I stopped liking him so much.
You came into to Ring of Honor and you and competed in the Top Prospect Tournament. Now you’re heading into the Best of the World pay-per-view as the TV champion. What does that mean to you to go into this huge event in one of the title matches as the champion, after starting where you did?
Martinez: Man, you just saying that back to me — it just gave me goosebumps. You know, I’m very appreciative of everything. I work hard for everything that I achieve, but I understand that just because you work hard doesn’t mean you deserve it or you achieve whatever it is that you’re trying to. That’s not how life works.
So, every time I hear it or read it or just look at the belt itself or just stuff on TV or something, man I’m just proud and it’s real and I can’t believe this is life. But, it means the world to me.
You don’t know what’s going to happen. I was lucky to impress and be given an opportunity to be the Top Prospect Tournament. Fortunately for me, I impressed enough that I ended up getting a job out of it.
Ring of Honor is not known for big guys, you know. The big guys have not had great success in Ring of Honor before. There’s only a handful of guys that have held championships that are my size or around that size.
When I look at it, it’s like, wow, I kind of overachieved in the two years that I’ve been in the company, if you really think about it. My personality – what you see — it’s not Ring of Honor-typical. My size is not Ring of Honor-typical.
My style is a mix, so I could get away with some of the stuff that I do for Ring of Honor fans, but it’s not the norm. Me as a person, altogether, is not a norm for Ring of Honor. So yeah, I feel like I said, I can’t believe this is life.
This is crazy that I’ve achieved this. And, no pun intended, but it is an honor to be a champion and going into the pay per view. I’m going on a pay-per-view as a champion, man, and I am happy. I just work hard to not let anybody in the company down.
You won the title at an Honor Club event. It wasn’t even the television show. The fans who have never been to a Ring of Honor show thought it was going to be a regular event and saw a title change. The fans were going crazy after that because they knew they were seeing something special. What can fans expect when they come to Ring of Honor shows whether it’s a TV show, a pay per view, or one of the honor club events?
Martinez: Exactly what you just said — something special. Every single event — even if there’s no major title change — there’s usually something that people walk away from. If it’s not just the matches, there might be a moment or two or three that fans just walk away in awe. The experience altogether is usually something special and that’s something that we work hard for — and not just the company — I’m talking about the boys.
We take pride in what we do. We try to deliver the best show possible for our hardcore fans. We have such a loyal fan base, so we have to give them what they want because that’s what we’re here for.
If not, then there’s we shouldn’t be here, and we shouldn’t be in the position that we’re in. So, you’re talking about the title change, but the last time we were in Texas Christopher Daniels went through a flaming table.
You know what I mean? Like, it’s crazy you know and that was also a live event — it’s not TV or pay-per-view, although now, everything streams live on Honor Club, so it’s a little bit more special for viewers because it is airing live.
But, for us as performers, whether it’s pay-per-view, tv, live stream, I-pay-per-view, whatever the circumstance — for us and Ring of Honor, the goal is always the same. Put on the best show possible for our fans, for the viewers and for ourselves because we take pride in what we do
What can fans come to expect from Punishment Martinez vs. Adam Page at Best in the World?
Martinez: Well, it’s a street fight, which I guess inadvertently has become my match in Ring of Honor for the past couple years. I faced War Machine in a street fight — ended up leaving them laying — and B.J. Witmer laying, who was my tag partner, and walked out with my hands up high.
My next street fight was with Jay White last year at the Death Before Dishonor pay per view and a lot of the same, you know, tortured and punished him and ended up walking away with the victory.
Pretty much gonna do the same to Page. Gonna put him through hell and I know he’s gonna give it to me because he can definitely give it as well as take it, so it’s gonna be a war.
But, in the end, I’m going to come out with my hands raised. At least that’s my plan, and then we’ll go from there. But, yeah, it’s gonna be something to watch because we’re two guys that we’re trying to establish ourselves as the future and like the main guys in the company and the guys that we want the company to build around us. So, it’s kind of like a battle for future supremacy almost.
I’m looking forward to seeing that pay-per-view. I’m excited about a lot of matches on that show and its kind of exciting to be a Ring of Honor fan right now.
Martinez: It definitely is. The company keeps growing and it’s an exciting time. The card is stacked, and we deliver every time on pay-per-view for whatever reason.
I honestly don’t understand why everybody’s always surprised at how great Ring of Honor pay-per-views are. It should be a given. This card is really good. I mean, this is probably one of my favorite cards as far as me being a part of the company. I’m excited to watch the rest of the matches as well as compete in this event.
What do you see as a future for Punishment Martinez?
Martinez: Champion — to be World Champion. But, my goal is to be, if not one of, then the main attraction in Ring of Honor. That’s a goal of mine — to get to that level.
I see the guys there now and I just look at them and I really honestly believe that I can achieve that. I work hard every day for it.