The rising unbeaten lightweight sensation takes another step toward a world title - and stardom - when he faces the smooth-boxing Jackson Marinez in a PBC event Saturday night on SHOWTIME.
Most people, when they look at a lump of clay, see … well, just a lump of clay. But highly skilled artists, a group in which certain boxing trainers form a relatively small subset, see that lump of clay and envision the potential champion contained within.
The possibilities for such highly fulfilled expression rests not only in the mind and expertise of the trainer, but as much or more so in the unrefined talent level of the fighter who consents to subjecting himself to the rigors of the process of transformation.
With a 15-0 record and 11 victories inside the distance, lightweight prospect Frank “The Ghost” Martin, at 27, might best be described at this time as a work in progress. But his esteemed trainer, Derrick James, has a vision of when the daily sculpting done in his Dallas gym might reach fruition. If all goes according to plan, Martin – a rising lightweight who squares off against late replacement Jackson Marinez (19-2, 7 KOs) Saturday night in San Antonio, Texas, in the Alamodome – eventually will take his place alongside, or at least in close proximity, to James’ prize pupils, WBC/WBA/IBF World Welterweight Champion Errol Spence Jr. (28-0, 22 KOs) and Undisputed World Super Welterweight Champion Jermell “Iron Man” Charlo (38-1-1, 19 KOs).
“Frank didn’t have that long an amateur career (58 bouts), but he did beat Vergil Ortiz in the finals of the National Golden Gloves,” James noted. “Even then Frank showed great athleticism, phenomenal hand speed and outstanding coachability. He wants to be great, and that’s what’s going to take him there. Some guys have that kind of talent, but you can’t tell them anything.”
Martin, a southpaw as is his role model and promoter, Man Down Promotions head Spence, listens to James’ instructions and puts the requisite time in to incorporate them into his evolving skill set. But despite his highest ranking in the 135-pound weight class currently being No. 14 from the WBO, he dares to think a shortcut to the big fights and big paydays he dreams of is possible instead of taking the more standard longer way around.
“I feel like I have to play catch-up, even with getting people to know who I am,” he said of the grand vision quest he is convinced is his destiny. “Just being in the mix longer. It’s kind of, like, `Who is this guy?’
“I’m trying to get something (a world title shot) by the end of this year, maybe the beginning of next year. Nobody specific. The next fight (after Marinez) I’m really looking for is a title eliminator that gets me to where one of those guys got to fight me.”
First, he must get past Marinez in the televised opener of a Premier Boxing Champions event Saturday night on SHOWTIME (9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. CT). Daring to look too far ahead represents a common pitfall that can impair even an accomplished fighter’s progress, but James understands Martin’s impatience even as he counsels him to wait until his time to shine even more brightly arrives in due course.
Toward that end, having Marinez in the opposite corner might represent more of a learning experience than might have been the case with his originally scheduled opponent, Ricardo Nunez (21-3, 19 KOs), a free-swinging big hitter from Panama who was unable to resolve a visa issue and was replaced on Tuesday by a fighter with a pronouncedly different style. Marinez, a Dominican who is taller and more technically proficient in a purely boxing sense, will offer Martin another opportunity to demonstrate that he can shift gears on the fly, as it were.
“ I understand I got talent, but I don’t let that get to me. I work hard. ” Undefeated Lightweight Prospect - Frank Martin
“They were saying early last week that (an opponent switch) was possible,” James said. “I found out (Tuesday) it was true. But the way I teach and we work, it’s open. We work on so many different things. It just so happens that we’d been working on something basically set up for a fighter like this, a tall guy who’s a boxer. What we do in the fight should be implemented within that, within our system. It should not be a problem.
“We’re constantly building, we’re constantly developing. Those big fights could start coming within a year or two. Who knows? For now we’re just going to keep tweaking this and tweaking that, so when it’s time to step up he can do so.”
For his part, Martin appears to be taking the sudden switch of Nunez to Marinez in stride. And why not? No matter how much preparation he might have put in to face a certain style in training camp, there is no guarantee that the other guy will not unveil some unanticipated wrinkles of his own on fight night. Sliding seamlessly from Plan A to Plan B or even Plan C is the hallmark of any rising star intent on demonstrating he is not a one-trick pony.
“It’s just about me adapting,” said Martin, the Detroit-born, Indiana-raised and now-Texas-based chameleon who relishes the notion of showcasing his complete pugilistic portfolio at the present time, although he knows from his work with James that further diversification is always possible, and certainly preferable.
“[Marinez] is different, a taller guy. He throws shots from different angles. He’s a boxer. Really, it’s just me adjusting to that style. I do believe he’s a better opponent than Ricardo Nunez.
“I got talent. I understand I got talent, but I don’t let that get to me. I work hard. I work hard all the time. I do a lot extra because I always feel that I’m playing catch-up. I can’t be caught chillin’. I’m always trying to learn.”
It was that determination to raise himself up to the next level, and the level above that, which made Martin, with much figurative clay still encasing his early development, decided to come to Dallas and make his case for entering the inner circle as represented by Spence, Charlo and James.
“My brother (Maurice James) was working with him in the gym,” Derrick said. “We eventually went to lunch – me, Frank, his cousin Jalen Smith, who was a linebacker with the Cowboys at the time. I had talked to Errol before I talked to Frank, to see if this was someone he might be interested in signing and promoting. Errol said, `Yeah, I like him.’ So I talked to Errol and from there we kind of got it going, and he moved in permanent.”
Permanent, maybe, but Frank Martin is still seeking a more prestigious place at the table, his own share of the glory and all the perks that come with it. Saturday night, he hopes to author another chapter in his story of personal growth and commitment.
For a closer look at Frank Martin, check out his fighter page.