With the temperature tickling forty and the air choked with hot dust blown north from the Sahara, it’s a sensible order from Kiko “La Sensación” Martinez. It is tough for me to function but even Kiko, born and raised in the arid south east of the Iberian Peninsula, describes the conditions as “unbearable.”
So while most of the British Isles dream of setting sail for Spanish shores, Martinez is more than content to be heading in the opposite direction. “It’s so difficult here,” he begins, “hard to sleep at night. In Manchester I’ll feel fresher, there’ll be more oxygen. I’ll see the benefits of training in such hard conditions here.”
Martinez is Manchester bound for Saturday’s matchup with Scott Quigg in the MEN Arena. Following an amicable split with old mentor Gabi Sarmiento, he’ll arrive in England alongside the respected Spanish trainer, Antonio Gonzalez Matias.
“I felt I needed a change and the truth is it has really motivated me. I am very happy with how the preparation has gone so far. Like Gabi, Matias works me hard but it is great to take what I learnt from Gabi and now add to it with Matias. We’ll have to see what happens in the ring, but I feel very strong.”
And what of specific preparations for Scott Quigg, a younger, bigger fighter unbeaten in 32 contests?
“Quigg is a very good boxer, he’s a champion for a reason. But he is a seven or eight out of ten fighter, not a nine or ten. He’s a defensive fighter, someone who doesn’t feel as confident when he is attacking. I’m ready to show Scott Quigg that I’m stronger than him and a better boxer. I think my power and speed will surprise him.”
The fact Martinez will be sharing a ring with Quigg at all is a surprise to many. The Spaniard recently dropped down a division in a bid to become a multi-weight champion, but when a bout with the WBA champ, Juan Carlos Payano, didn’t materialise, he was left with a straight choice between Yonfrez Parejo or returning to 122lbs for Quigg.
He immediately opted for the bigger, and tougher, challenge, but it is a fight that La Sensación is extremely confident of winning. We discuss his and his English rival’s respective records and it is clear he takes a lot of comfort from having the more stellar names on his resume.
He feels Quigg fought a Munroe well past his prime, that Salinas has since been proven to be nothing, that Jamoye was a broken up bantamweight and that Otake is not even in the best in his own country. Kiko then rhymes off his own CV: Dunne in Ireland, a peak Munroe in England, Romero in the US, Hasegawa in Japan and, of course, Frampton in Belfast, twice.
Martinez did lose to a couple of those names but he is philosophical about setbacks in life in general. “Bad experiences are learning experiences,” is how he puts it. The belief being that he learnt more in two tough defeats to Frampton than Quigg will have while stopping infinitely inferior opposition inside three rounds. Either way, it is clear this is by far the biggest test of Quigg’s career.
“For me, Frampton is at a higher level than Quigg. And not just a little bit, a lot higher. Frampton is the best in the world right now – he’d beat [WBA Super Champion, Guillermo] Rigondeaux.”
The Cuban is widely regarded as one of the top pound for pound fighters on the planet so that is high praise indeed. On Carl’s behalf I try to repay the compliment by repeating the Northern Irishman’s prediction that Martinez will knock Quigg out on Saturday night. Kiko nods but he won’t be drawn into a prediction of his own.
“It’s possible.” he says. “But as you know, anything can happen in the ring. I respect my rival and the fact he will have been working as hard as me. All I know is I’ve lived like a monk for three months and I feel strong. I expect to return to Spain a world champion again.”
That final comment raises the thorny issue of the legitimacy of Quigg’s regular world title and Martinez’s opinion on the matter is a masterful mix of diplomacy and provocation.
“To truly be the champion you have to fight the best, in and out of your own country. He has a very powerful promoter [Eddie Hearn] that could bring any opponent in the world to the UK, but so far it hasn’t happened. This is the first time he’ll face a top fighter and someone who wants to win as much as he does.”
And what if Martinez does upset the odds in Manchester? Will he, rather than Quigg, go chasing after Frampton again? It is clearly a scenario Kiko has already contemplated.
“Not right away. If I win I’ll give Quigg an immediate rematch. Then there is Nonito Donaire. I hope to get a third opportunity with Frampton but we have different paths to follow right now until we meet again.”
With both men currently advised by Al Haymon, stranger things have happened.
At this point trainer Matias joins us, immediately joking about free English lessons. He’s an outgoing, affable character and Kiko relaxes noticeably in his company. They laugh about winding Quigg and los ingleses up: walking to the ring dressed as Braveheart or wearing a Liverpool top are two options on the table.
Tattoos are then compared with Kiko’s clearly the more menacing: apparently he gets a new one every time he forgets how painful the inking process is. When Frampton’s name crops up again, Matias calls him a dios in the ring and expresses a desire to watch and learn from the Jackal’s trainer, Shane McGuigan.
The tone grows more serious as, off the record, Matias lets me in on one of the big chinks in Scott Quigg’s armour that they intend to exploit. There are others, he tells me, before adding with a wink that he doesn’t know me well enough to trust with such sensitive data just yet.
Kiko is by now sitting back crunching the diminishing ice cubes between his teeth and happy for his coach to do all the talking. But the fighter, as he so often does in the ring, decides to have the final word.
“It’s going to be a big party for the people of Manchester on the 18th. Both guys want to be champion and will leave everything in the ring. I believe it’s going to be a great fight and let’s see who’s best is good enough.”
Nobody can ask for more than that.
As we say our goodbyes I show the fighter how his number is saved on my phone: Kiko Martinez Campeón del Mundo. Though true when we first met, it has ceased being accurate since that cold and brutal night on the Titanic Slipways last September. He looks almost nostalgic reading it, but when I tell him I won’t bother amending it just yet, a large smile breaks out and he warmly shakes my hand.