Whatever you do, don't call Rad Martínez a charity case.
The mixed martial arts (MMA) fighter, whose life has been marred by repeated personal tragedies, is battling the notion that his touching story is dwarfing and masking his record – he is 9-2, but lost his last match in disappointing fashion.
“I don’t blame those people for saying [that I’m a charity case]," Martínez said. "All I can say is come watch a fight. I’m going to do my darndest to prove myself that it’s not a charity case, that I am good enough to be here.”
Who could blame a fight fan, however, for focusing on Martínez's captivating story instead of his fight record? His life has been an uphill battle, dotted with the occasional small triumph but, far too often, stained by a personal tragedy.
When he was 12 years old, Rad's father, Richard, was in a car accident that left him with severe brain damage. His mother had died some years earlier.
Rad Martínez and his brother, Levi, who is currently his manager, were placed in their grandparents' custody. In addition to the boys, the grandparents assumed the responsibility of providing 24-hour care for their son, Richard.
Rad Martínez, a native of Utah, eventually went to Clarion University in Pennsylvania. A year after he graduated and returned home, Martínez's grandmother was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.
She later succumbed to the disease – but not before she was sure that someone would care for Richard.
“I said, 'Grandma, I’m here,'” a tearful Martínez said during an ESPN "Outside The Lines" story on the fighter. "I’m going to take care of him.”
And that's exactly what Martínez has been doing for the last five years, caring for his disabled father.
Fast-forward to the summer of 2011, when the ESPN piece aired and got the attention of Bjorn Rebney, CEO of Bellator Fighting Championships. The MMA company later signed the fighter, with the hopes of snagging sponsorships, money and freeing him up a bit for training.
“If he gets a chance to train consistently… there’s potential for greatness,” said Bjorn Rebney, Bellator CEO. “He’s got to make it happen, he’s got to make it happen now.”
Martínez understands that Bellator is gambling on him.
“They are taking a chance,” he said. “I’m young in this sport. I’m still growing and still getting better…. It means a lot that they rolled the dice.”
Martínez sometimes thinks of the what ifs. What if, for example, he hadn't been dealt all the personal challenges? He's careful, though, about not resenting his father for his career shortcomings.
“I don’t want to blame my responsibilities here but I can’t lie if I didn’t have these responsibilities…," he said. "I think I would be better in areas.
“I know what it takes… the full commitment," he added. "I’m really not able to do that [in this situation]."
Whatever his struggles in the past, one thing is certain: at the age of 32, Rad doesn’t have much time to reach his potential.
“It’s put up or shut up because I started late,” he said.
For Rebney, there are no regrets about signing Martínez.
“You look at this and say to yourself, man, how do you not make a move like that and not give this kid an opportunity to live his dream?” he said.
Victor García is an associate producer for Fox News Channel and a regular contributor to FoxNewsLatino.com.