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Martinez gives back through boxing

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Lathrop resident Felipe Martinez works with 9-year-old Stocktonian Manuel Jaimes on his backyard boxing ring Friday. Martinez trains professional and amateur fighters from all around the area and d...


POSTED August 21, 2009 10:41 p.m.
LATHROP — Many have looked, but few have found Felipe Martinez.

Those who have been unsuccessful believe he’s a myth. Who is this guy with all the answers, and if he’s so good why isn’t he charging anyone to train them?

Last year, Oakland native Dominique “Fallen Angel” Robinson was in search of a boxing instructor to help him develop a more efficient stand-up game as a professional mixed martial artist.

When he first heard about this Felipe Martinez guy from Lathrop, he shrugged it off.

Then he heard the same name again from someone else. It got to the point to where he heard enough about Martinez that he finally sought him out.

And found nothing.

“I started thinking he was a ghost,” said Robinson, the No. 1 ranked lightweight in the California-based Palace Fighting Championship.

He got a place in Tracy to be closer and eventually came across a friend of a friend who so happens to be Martinez’s neighbor.

Before a job interview, Robinson decided to pay his future boxing trainer and father figure a visit. Martinez wasn’t sold at first and challenged him to start training on the spot.

“I was thinking that this guy was pretty cool, because he’s willing to train a complete stranger right there,” Robinson said. “During the first couple of days he kept telling me that I’m going to quit.

“I knew he had a lot of people quit on him, and I’ve had a lot of people quit on me. So I was like, ‘I’m not going to quit.’ He’s kind of like a dad to me.”

That is Martinez in a nutshell.

The 43-year-old is a former amateur and professional boxer, a career he said spanned about 17 years. He was forced into retirement after breaking his left arm, but that wasn’t enough to completely get his mind off the sport he loves.

About seven years ago, a Manteca man approached him about training his sons to help them prepare for a tournament in Stockton. He enthusiastically agreed, and the boys won championships.

That was when the legend of Felipe Martinez began.

“The boys were champions, so they sent me other boys and more and more kept coming,” said Martinez, who has enough command of the English language to instruct his non-Spanish speaking pupils.

Martinez hasn’t earned a dime yet for his services.

He initially helped train young boxers at Stockton PAL before building his own makeshift gym in his backyard. Robinson, who has donated equipment to Martinez, half-jokingly urges him to charge his students and eventually open up a “real” gym.

Martinez trains three professional boxers and a handful of young amateurs from every corner of San Joaquin County. After work, his students begin flowing in at around 4 p.m. from Monday to Friday, and training ends whenever the last one leaves.

“I’m just not doing it for money,” Martinez said. “These boys winning belts, that’s why I like doing this. When they win, that’s how they pay me. I’m OK (financially). I just like doing it, you know?”

In July, 13-year-old Mantecan Matthew Guerrero earned his first title belt in the Junior Golden Gloves Nationals in Mesquite, Nev. Last weekend, brothers Quilisto and Hector Madera, 17 and 13, respectively, earned belts in the 16th Annual Concord Cup Invitational.

“Ever since I’ve been at this gym I learned new techniques,” Quilisto Madera said. “This is the best gym I’ve ever been at. Everything I know is from this gym. Felipe is just a great coach.”

Service paid.

Martinez does dream of one day hitting it big and playing a major role in developing one of the world’s top pound-for-pound professional pugilists.

But if that doesn’t happen he’s OK with it.

“My (former) coach is like 80, and he’s still training guys and moving pretty good,” Martinez said. “I think I still have a long way to go. I’m going to keep going until I just don’t feel good anymore.”

That’s the price he’s willing to pay, and until then he’s not willing to make any of his fighters pay him back.

That is the legend of Felipe “The Ghost” Martinez.

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