You Have to Hate Losing: My interview with a Grappling Phenom

This post may contain affiliate links to products or services which, if you purchase, may result in my earning commissions at no additional cost to you.

My alarm goes off at 5:17 every morning.  On some mornings I try and roll out of bed, put on my running shoes and head out the door.  Most mornings, however, I don’t.  But on this morning I am excited to get up and I can hardly wait to get in my car and head to this interview in Santa Fe.

Forty miles to the north, and almost an hour earlier, Jess Martinez is already up and out the door – headed to Superior Fitness in Santa Fe for his morning workout; where he meets me for our interview.  By 5am every morning he’s hitting the weights and maybe doing some cardio.  At 5:30 pm he has wrestling practice until later in the evening and during the week he has to carve out time to train at the Santa Fe Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Academy (SFBJJ) in both Jiu Jitsu and Muay Thai.  He has to rush in the mornings (with workouts and everyday chores like most teenagers: feeding the pet, taking out the trash, cleaning the bedroom, etc.) because he needs to be at St. Michaels High School in time for school to start.

Jess Martinez isn’t a teacher at St. Michaels, he isn’t the wrestling coach and he’s not a full-time trainer at SFBJJ – he’s only 17 and Jess Martinez is a grappling phenom.

Jess started Jiu Jitsu when he was in the 4th grade.  His father, “Big Fred” Martinez, owns Superior Fitness and was training Alberto Crane at the time.  They both saw that they enjoyed Jiu Jitsu and grappling was something that Jess was drawn to.  By the 5th grade Jess started wrestling and was already looking to the future to seriously compete in all grappling events.  Before Jess was even a senior in High School he had already amassed an incredible collection of medals, trophies, belts, and titles.  Including:

  • 3-time state wrestling champion (2009 @ 130 lbs, 2010 @ 145 lbs, and 2011 @ 152 lbs)
  • High School All-American (2010 NHSCA National Wrestling Championship @ 140 lbs),
  • 2010 World BJJ Champion (Middle Weight Champion, No Gi Middle Weight Champion, and No Gi Absolute Champion),
  • 2009 USBJJF American National Championships Juvenile (2009 No Gi American National Champion and 2009 American Absolute National Champion)
  • 2-time Rocky Mountain National Champion (wrestling)
  • 14-time North American Grapplers Association (NAGA) Champion in BJJ & No Gi
  • 9-time Greater Southwest Nationals Champion (wrestling)
  • 14-time Grapplers Quest Champion (BJJ)



Jiu Jitsu isn’t like most other martial arts where you just have to demonstrate some forms or perform a routine to advance through the lower ranks.  In fact, according to most people, advancing in rank in BJJ is a literal war at times and each belt is earned.  By the time Jess was 15 years old he had already EARNED his blue belt – which isn’t normally given to anyone under 16.  This qualified him to enter some of the toughest tournaments in the country which he was winning handily against kids his age – which caused some organizations to request that he wrestle “as an adult” and against adults.

Fred began signing Jess into the “Absolute” categories at the competitions.  This means that Jess would wrestle anyone at any weight – forcing this 150 lb teenager to face off, and dominate, a 260 pound 17-year-old as his first opponent at last year’s World BJJ Championships (this is also the event where Jess won his World IBJJF No Gi Absolute title which he intends to defend this year).

When asked about facing an opponent of that size-disparity Jess coolly proclaims that you just have to “beat them with speed and intense pressure – never letting up”.  Jess seems to counter all stereotypes of kids his age and epitomizes the effort and focus required to reach the upper levels in this sport.  Almost every athlete that I’ve interviewed since starting KNUXX has been just like Jess – relaxed, respectful, disciplined and incredibly driven.  When asked what drives him, Jess said “you have to hate losing more than you love winning”.  He likes shooting for the medal at the end of the tournament but his immediate goal when facing an opponent is to “not lose”.

When asked about his future, Jess showed the most energy and excitement of the entire interview.  He’s really excited to finish high school (where he’s made the honor roll) and go to college.  He already has offers from several Ivy League schools to join their wrestling programs – he has his favorites but didn’t want to put it in print.  And most importantly he’s going to keep training in Muay Thai (which is his new love) to improve his standup so he can go the MMA route – but only after he has a Bachelors degree or higher (according to the deal he has with his father).  Jess has accomplished more in his 17 years than most kids his age will accomplish in twice that amount of time.  And he does it with the demeanor of a seasoned professional – one we should all watch for when he does turn pro.

Jess wanted to thank the following: his trainers, Quinn Mulhern (BJJ) and Angelo Sanchez (Muay Thai), Master Tom Pless from SFBJJ, Barrata & Tussa from Gracie Barra Academies in Albuquerque, Superior Fitness, Fred (his dad), KNUXX (yeah for us), and the most important women in his life – his Mom (BeNita Martinez) and Grandmother (Betty Jefferson) from Cleveland, OH.  Thanks Jess!