NEW BRITAIN - Nathan Martinez’s day is winding down, but you would never be able to tell.
Dancing in the ring at Martinez Boxing Club on Beaver Street in New Britain, Martinez trades blows with sparring partner Katie Taylor, a current WBA lightweight champion ranked as the second-best female pound for pound fighter in the world by BoxRec.
Taylor, who holds a 12-0 record to her name, attacks Martinez with a flurry of punches as the sparring session carries an intensity that could be felt in the ring on fight night.
“Man, she’s nasty.” Martinez’s father and trainer Jose Martinez says to himself from Nathan’s corner as the electronic bell rings behind him to mark the end of a sixth round of sparring.
Nathan returns to his corner, turning down an offer of water. He and Taylor look around for direction, while Jose and Taylor’s trainer Ross Enamait decide what to do next.
The six rounds of sparring have already eclipsed the four-round bouts that Martinez has fought in through his first two professional fights, but Jose wants to see more. Nathan has already been in training mode for nearly 12 hours, but his night isn’t over just yet.
“Let’s go eight [rounds],” Jose says as Enamait nods in agreement. “We can go two more.”
Nathan doesn’t flinch. The mouthpiece is back in, and he’s once again toe-to-toe with Taylor at the center of the ring. After a run of five miles in the morning followed by a series of abdominal workouts, the young boxer will go two more rounds before hitting the bag for another two hours, ending the latest day of continuous preparation that still doesn’t seem to wear him out.
“I feel good,” Nathan says confidently. “I’m always prepared for more.”
So Nathan continues, obeying his father’s orders from the corner to use his right hand with more frequency and to throw more jabs, something Jose notices when watching film of Nathan’s previous fight against Jerrod Minor.
Nathan doesn’t join his father in those film sessions. He leaves the studying to his trainers while he focuses on the physical work that begins as early as 6:15 a.m. From breathing in the crisp winter air on a morning run through New Britain to battling through the heat-filled gym at night, Nathan rarely takes a moment to focus on anything other than the ring. When he’s not training, he’s resting at home. He used to run through town with a hooded sweatshirt to hide his identity, but after two professional fights, a hood isn’t enough to conceal himself anymore. The residents of New Britain call his name and wave as he runs by, and Nathan has learned to embrace it. He doesn’t need to be a stranger to his native town anymore, only to the opponent that awaits him.
On this night, the opponent is Taylor, who is hardly a stranger. As sparring partners for the past two years, the two make sure to give each other their best as they both prepare for their next bouts, which Nathan anticipates to be sometime in April.
“She gives me the best work,” Nathan says of Taylor, the former Olympic gold medalist. “She’s the best sparring partner I’ve ever had in eight years of boxing. I hit her has hard as I can, but she can go with the punch.”
The two each land a few solid punches on each other before the final bell rings. This time, Nathan won’t pass up a sip of water before moving to the bags after touching gloves with Taylor, having concluded another solid sparring session.
“He was super sharp,” Taylor says of Nathan’s performance. “He was great on the counters and was very strong up close. He’s a great fighter. I see how hard he works in [the gym]. He’s going to go on and do great things in this sport.”
Nathan’s uncles and cousins congratulate the fighter on a productive night of sparring, say their goodbyes and slowly head out the door. As the crowd thins, Nathan’s work continues, throwing a combination of jabs and uppercuts into a stubborn punching bag. Jose pauses his conversation with Taylor to watch his son from the far corner of the gym, battling some fatigue of his own. Nathan spends his days training full-time, but only because Jose puts in long hours himself to make sure his son can help bring a family dream to reality.
Jose wakes up when darkness still hangs over downtown New Britain, getting out of bed at four in the morning to head to his first full-time job as a truck driver. By three in the afternoon, when Nathan is completing his midday break in between training sessions, Jose heads to the gym to prepare for his second leg of the day, training Martinez and the other boxers who come in for work at Martinez Boxing Club, often until eight or nine in the evening.
“It’s tough,” Jose says of his schedule. “But I’ve been doing it for a long time, since Nathan started boxing at 11 years old.”
Nathan says he rarely feels physical exhaustion during his long days of training thanks to years of operating on a similar schedule, but if he ever felt himself wearing down, he would look across the gym at his father for motivation to carry on.
“My dad has helped me a lot,” Nathan says. “He helps me with everything I need. My dad and my uncles push me hard. They always tell me what I’m doing wrong and help me be a better boxer.”
But thanks to the help from his family and his love for the sport, Nathan doesn’t find his demanding training schedule to be too difficult, save for the diet restrictions. As he pounds his gloves into the punching bag, Nathan just might be using a sense of anger seeded in hunger as motivation to deliver the hardest and most efficient punches possible.
“I love eating,” Nathan says with a laugh. “I eat everything. When I’m dieting, I don’t want to be bothered. It’s rough. You’re hungry and thinking about all the things you want to eat.”
Nathan tries to forget about the thought of food and focuses on his training, pounding away at the bag for another hour until he finally punches his time card for the night. Nathan has earned a night of rest, but it won’t be a long one. It can’t be.
Another day of training awaits at 6:15 the next morning.