LEWISTON – Henry Martinez said he had to make a choice which to put first: fighting or family.
He chose family. But that doesn’t mean the former Ultimate Fighting Championship combatant has put away his Mixed Martial Arts gloves or his skills.
“The profession was tearing apart the family, trying to train 2,000 miles away,” Martinez said. “And it was the same the other way around, the family making it hard to do the training.”
On Saturday, Martinez, 9-5 as a professional, will be back in the ring for his first post-UFC fight against Dez Green (8-1) as one of nine professional fights on the 31-bout New England Fights VII card at the Androscoggin Bank Colisee in Lewiston.
Martinez and Amanda Wellito have been a couple since 2010 when they met in Albuquerque, N.M., where Martinez, a native of Espanola, N.M., and former University of Oklahoma wrestler, trained at the renowned Jackson’s gym. Then Wellito, who had been living with her father, returned to Maine where her mother and sisters live.
Martinez was in the early stages of what would be a three-fight agreement with MMA’s top promotion, the UFC, when he decided to move to Brunswick to be with Wellito and his stepdaughter Shaylee. The couple are expecting their first child together this September.
The Martinez-Green fight is for the inaugural Maine State MMA Lightweight title.
Martinez was asked if fighting for a regional promotion can help advance his career.
“It can and MMA’s really growing here in Maine and it’s really a unique opportunity to be able to train near home and not have to travel for a fight and I enjoy it,” Martinez said. “As for what I get from it, I’ve got to stay busy.”
Martinez has been training at the Team Irish facility in Westbrook, with weekend jaunts to the Team Irish location in Bangor. Team Irish is owned by Maine’s most well-known MMA fighter, Marcus Davis.
“Team Irish has been a blessing,” Martinez said.
Davis, 39, of Bangor, is taking his 21-9 record and lengthy UFC resume against up-and-coming Darius Heyliger out of the Ithaca, N.Y., Bombsquad team in the 170-pound main event.
Davis said at Thursday’s weigh-in that he expects a battle from Heyliger, who had to do a little extra running on Thursday to make the weight with a 1-pound allowance.
After Saturday’s fight, Davis said he will prepare for the Bellatore 155-pound tournament, starting in September.
Heyliger knows he is going against a veteran, tough fighter who will have the full support of a crowd expected to be close to 3,000.
“I’m pretty sure I’m public enemy number one, but I expect that,” Heyliger said. “It is a great opportunity but it’s also another fight and I like to do what I’ve trained to do.”
In addition to the nine professional fights, the show starts at 4 p.m. with 22 amateur bouts.
Andrew Tripp, 20, of Waterboro, was one of the amateurs inside the Ramada Inn restaurant, in a room full of men anxiously waiting for an opportunity to eat after the weigh-in.
Tripp is 4-0 as an amateur and one of 16 Team Irish representatives on the card. He’ll take on Steven Prue (1-0) of Gainesville, Fla., in the 10th bout.
A two-time state champion wrestler at Massabesic, Tripp said he remembers sitting in his basement watching UFC highlights of Davis.
“Not in my wildest dreams could I have imagined being on the same card as him,” Tripp said.
Tripp said he wants to take MMA fighting “as far as I can and as far as my body will let me,” but the 6-footer is not rushing to break into the professional ranks.
The Maine Combat Sports Authority requires fighters to have three amateur fights before taking a pro bout.
“With three fights are you really good enough to be a pro?” Tripp said.
“I think about the hundreds of wrestling matches I had, at junior varsity and junior high that led up to being a state champion. I’m not foolish enough to think that after three or four fights I’m ready to go pro. That’s like me having a death wish.”
Nate Libby, the head coach and president of the Team Irish facility in Westbrook, said Tripp is smart to take it slowly, particularly at such a young age.
“He’s not doing this just so he can have a couple fights so he can tell his friends he’s a ‘fighter.’ He’s got a great work ethic and tons of potential,” Libby said.
Steve Craig can be reached at 791-6413 or at: