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Saturday, Aug 02, 2014
Sports

Ex-Jefferson athlete sets self up for bright future in MMA

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Each morning before the sun rises, Martin Vergara is on the road, doing his five-mile run through the neighborhood. By mid-morning, he’s working out with members at Punch Boxing for Fitness, where he’s the manager. After lunch, it’s another session with his coach. And at night, he heads to another gym for more rigorous training.

Three training sessions per day, without fail, Monday through Saturday.

Then there’s his off day, Sunday. That’s another five-mile run.

“I don’t go to the beach, I don’t go to parties, I don’t hang out with my friends,’’ said Vergara, 23. “Somebody will call me and say, ‘Hey, let’s go to the club.’ No. I’m not doing that. I’ve got other things in mind.’’

In a relatively short time, Vergara has made a name for himself as an amateur in the rapidly growing sport of mixed martial arts. Vergara, who was an accomplished football and baseball player at Jefferson High School, has risen to the No. 1 spot in Florida’s 185-pound weight class, and he will seek to defend that belt in tonight’s World Class Fight League card at Tampa’s DoubleTree Hotel on Cypress, across the street from his old high school. Vergara will face Adriel Fiallo, who played baseball at Jefferson one decade earlier than him, in the main event.

“I’ve known a lot of fighters in my time, but Martin’s dedication to this sport is unmatched,’’ said Steve Broman, Vergara’s strength and conditioning coach. “His hunger for being the best is just unbelievable. I just don’t see anybody outworking him — ever.’’

That’s nothing new.

From an early age, Vergara, the son of Mexican immigrants, has been all about work.

As a child, he remembers all-day sessions of helping his parents deliver Yellow Pages books door to door. He worked in the family restaurant, cleaning, cooking, serving, whatever was needed. And he quickly transferred that dedication to sports.

As a defensive tackle, he was teammates with Quentin Williams, Andre Davis and other prominent athletes on Jefferson’s football juggernaut, which went 15-0 and won the state title a season after his departure. He also played third base on Pop Cuesta’s baseball team.

But once he discovered MMA — a full-contact cage sport that utilizes striking and grappling techniques — he found his calling.

“I hate losing more than I love winning,’’ Vergara said. “As much as I loved team sports, this is different. It’s all about what you do. How you work is reflected in how you do. You can have one lucky punch, one lucky fight, but you can’t have a lucky career.’’

Vergara plans to turn pro next year. By continuing to win, he hopes to catch the attention of the Ultimate Fighting Championship circuit, the sport’s high-profile, nationally televised platform.

“What are my dreams? First of all, I like the word ‘future’ more than ‘dreams,’ because dreams are for people who are sleeping,’’ Vergara said. “I want to get up each day and do something about my future. That’s the reason I work out three times a day. I’m driven to be the best, to provide for my family, to live that great kind of life.

“But you don’t do that by dreaming about it. You do that by working for it.’’

Assessing Vergara’s future, Broman said, “the world will be his one day. I truly believe that.’’

“Like any sport, you’re looking for guys who are charismatic, exciting, hard-working, somebody who can be a good representative,’’ Broman said. “That’s Martin. ... Every fight he has taken has been with a tough opponent. He’s building a solid foundation and when he turns pro, his net worth in this sport will be off the charts. Trust me, this guy is a beast.’’

That’s fine for now.

Ultimately, Vergara wants to be known as the best.

jjohnston@tampatrib.com

(813) 259-7353 Twitter: @JJohnstonTBO

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