Anthony Rocco Martin has been in this position a couple of times before and flourished.
A winner of five of his last six, Martin enters the final fight of his current contract this Saturday when he takes on Neil Magny at UFC 250. The welterweight bout takes place on the event’s main card at the UFC APEX in Las Vegas.
While some fighters can feel the pressure of competing with one fight left on their deal, Martin is elated to face it head-on this weekend.
“My goal is to be a UFC champion,” Martin told MMA Fighting while appearing on What the Heck. “As long as I feel like I can be a champion, I’ll try to stay in the UFC. The second I feel like those dreams are gone, I’ll be a little more willing to test free agency and see what my worth is.
“I’ve been in this position once or twice before and every time they’ve backed me into a corner I come out fighting and put on my best performances. This is a big one. This is the one I’ve been looking for. This is the opportunity I’ve needed and I don’t know how they could ever let me go if I run Magny over.”
When Martin made the move to 170 from the lightweight division, he picked up four impressive wins in a row to set himself up for a fight with Demian Maia in June 2019. The ATT Atlanta product stole the momentum down the stretch, but ultimately lost a majority decision to the multi-time former title challenger.
Martin, 30, bounced back in November to pick up a unanimous decision win in enemy territory over Ramazan Emeev at UFC Moscow. Martin was scheduled to compete at UFC Lincoln in April against David Zawada before the event was cancelled due to COVID-19 concerns.
After weeks of texts and requests, Martin and his manager Ali Abdelaziz no longer had to pester Sean Shelby once Magny’s name came into the picture.
“When I say this is a big opportunity, it sounds like I’m getting a favor. But I genuinely feel this is a fight that I deserve,” Martin explained. “This is a fight that I’ve earned. I’m excited I’ve taken the right steps to be where I’m at, to get myself into this situation.
“Realistically, everything’s in my control now. If you want a new contract, go out there and whoop some ass. If you want a new contract, show them what you’re worth. It really puts me in a great spot. If I whoop Magny’s ass, they have to come to the table with something good—that nice ribeye. I like feeling like I control my own destiny rather than relying on Sean (Shelby) or someone else.”
Following a fourth-round knockout loss to Santiago Ponzinibbio in November 2018, Magny was flagged by USADA ahead of his next scheduled fight with Vicente Luque six months later. It took almost a year, but Magny was cleared of any wrongdoing and he made a successful return to the octagon against Li Jingliang at UFC 248.
“The first thing that pops into my head, and probably most people’s heads when you hear Neil Magny is big and good cardio,” Martin said. “I don’t think he’s got the greatest boxing, or greatest kickboxing, he doesn’t have a skill set other than cardio where he’s at an elite level. I think that matches up very well with my skill set.
“Anyone where I feel like you’re not a specialty, I feel like I match up really well. He’s a very good fighter that can overwhelm you and that’s how he gets a lot of his victories. He overwhelms you with constant activity and I have a gameplan for that. I think that he’s gonna bring out the best fight in me and it’ll be a different type of fight than I’ve had. It’s going to be an exciting fight because his style of fighting is going to bring out the best in me and I don’t think he’ll be in a boring fight because he brings so much pressure.”
Sometimes in life, timing has a way of bringing things together. For Martin, that’s what UFC 250 is, an opportunity to get a new and more lucrative contract with the UFC, and do it against an opponent he’s had his eye on for a while.
“I’ve wanted this fight for a long time,” Martin said. “He knows I’ve wanted it. He was a top-15 guy and that’s what I was chasing, so I said his name a few times. He went right on social media and unfollowed me. He can act like he doesn’t know who I am, but he was definitely hearing what I was saying.
“I’m excited, I think that it’s a perfect fight. Perfect time, too.”
This Saturday night, Martin takes on Magny for more than just a win bonus. As 2020 has been chaotic for a lot of people around the globe, Martin can turn a time of uncertainty into success at UFC 250.
“This is by far the biggest fight of my career, and the most meaningful of my career up to this point,” Martin stated. “If I would’ve beat Demian, it would’ve been a different story, but this is my biggest fight and my biggest opportunity. I’ve taken the right steps in my training and everything is in my control now. That’s the type of pressure I like. I don’t have to beg, or talk my way into a fight.
“I’m going in there set up for battle against a legitimate top-15 and it’s my time to prove to the world that I belong here, and that 2020, 2021 is going to be my year.”