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RAWLINS, Wyo. — He has flung himself beyond those points that many reach only in conversation.

He has studied the geometry of combat, exulted in the metallic taste of blood.

He was nothing but trouble and so he struck out alone, and fought for the chance to return a champion.

Five years later, Samuel Martinez is back in town.

As a teen, he heard himself called angry, hard, mean and bad with the rules. He was released from sports teams for his temper. He arrived shirtless for the high school prom. Martinez' reputation traveled Rawlins until it completed the circle and landed at the feet of Bert Herrera, his cousin.

It was not the first time Herrera had heard the term, "troubled youth," around Carbon County. In fact, he used to be one.

So in 2000, Herrera founded the Gladiators Boxing Club to give his relatives a chance to box and get local youths off the streets.

"When we first started (we) tried to get some of those kids that were having problems," Herrera, an ex-boxer himself, said.

Hitting bags, hitting mitts, exorcising old aggression and anger left the 14-year-old Martinez invigorated.

He could imagine the future.

After he graduated Martinez enlisted with the military, hoping to someday join the All-Marine Corps boxing team. It is one of the country's best.

"I did all my basic training and I finally got the chance to tryout for the team. Once I (did), they liked me," Martinez said.

Because they liked him, and because nothing in the military arrives without first a command, Martinez received orders to report to the team.

"Like a 90-day order trial," he explained. "You just tryout for 90 days and if you do good they keep extending your orders."

The order was extended for the next three and a half years.

In that period, Martinez won enough bouts and scored enough points to finish inside the nation's top five, and in 2007, boxed for a spot on the Olympic team.

He has traveled to the borders of India and Eastern Europe, represented the military branches as the two-time Armed Forces Champion and collected a bronze medal at the World Military Games, held once every four years.

Now 24-years-old, having fulfilled his contract of service and boxed in more than 80 amateur bouts, Martinez finds himself back in Rawlins and back with Herrera, readying for his biggest fight yet.

The difference between amateur boxing and professional boxing, as described by Herrera, is this: amateurs don't fight.

They travel to compete in bouts at boxing shows. The crowd isn't allowed to smoke.

Pros fight matches, and Martinez is training for his first.

The Gladiator Boxing Club is located inside the gym of St. Joseph's Church. It has been there since its inception eleven years ago. It's 10 o'clock on a Wednesday, and outside is parked a truck with plates that read, "K.O." It belongs to Herrera, who paces the floor as Martinez stretches, shadowboxes, and prepares for another workout.

The two are here to ready Martinez for his professional debut on Nov. 12 in Denver.

Like his cousin, Martinez has a full-time job at the Sinclair Oil Refinery. When he works days, he trains at night. When working nights, he arrives at Gladiator's in the morning. There is little time for anything else but hunting.

"You can't live in Wyoming and not hunt," Herrera explains.

"This is my life, this is everything that I do. I'm dedicated to it. I'm determined and I'm disciplined," Martinez continued, "Those are the rules I go by in boxing: the three D's."

And then there is, as there must be, the resident anger.

Martinez having returned to his hometown and the gym where his career began must learn to rekindle the old emotions that brought him to Gladiator's in the first place.

"The military changed him. He's a totally different person," Herrera said.

"But the goals are still the same. We have to be able to bring the anger out into the ring. Right now he's more passive that what he was before. He has to be able to turn it on in the ring and then turn it off as soon as he gets out."

So far as Martinez is concerned, blood can still boil.

"In the ring I'm different. In the ring, you're in it for business and you've got to take it serious," he said.

"You can't play boxing. You play football. You've got to be ready, you've got to be prepared, hands up, moving around and if you see it hit.

"You want to hurt the guy. Get in there, hurt him, get it over with."

The dangers of boxing are never so high as when a fighter begins to think.

"Boxing is different. You can't go in there (the ring) thinking of your family, winning the bout or being the champion," he said. "You cannot go in there thinking, worrying about anything because the minute you think that you're going to get hurt, you will get hurt."

Despite the obvious hazards of violence-as-sport, Herrera said the intoxication of victory overwhelms any scent of danger.

"Once you feel that, you want to do it again. Once you become a champion, you want that feeling again," he said. "You do whatever it takes to get back to that feeling."

"A lot of people don't get a chance to feel what it's like, but the minute you do, you want it back."

His life regimented, his mind clear, the hellion that once was Martinez has evolved into the role of unlikely mentor. If all goes as planned, his feelings of physical triumph and remembrance of adolescent angst will be used to inspire the next generation of Carbon County boxers.

"I'm still a big part of the Gladiator Boxing Team," Martinez said. "This is where I started from."

In the coming weeks, Herrera and Martinez will mentor, coach and prepare area youths for the upcoming season. Of young recruits, the two ask for a willingness to work hard.

"Boxing is more like a love for the sport. The training, the discipline it takes to come in here everyday and work hard, diet, lose weight, not eat, and the glory after a victory," Martinez said.

But the parade of new technologies and media has wound its way through this town, too, and left its indelible mark: in the decade since Martinez was a young Rawlinsite, scampering around, finding trouble, the changes that have taken root here have rendered the landscape nearly unrecognizable.

"Kids are so different now. It's changed," he said.

"It seems like what I call the X-Box generation," added Herrera. "All they want to do is push a button."

Confronting that reality has forced Herrera to recalibrate and redefine the way a Gladiator trains.

"We've got a lot of great kids, but you have to push them. Our game plan this year is totally different. We have to push them," Herrera added. "We have to be more disciplined."

Herrera and Martinez, while preparing for the Nov. 12 fight, will work to condition new and returning Gladiators for the season, and when they're ready, pay for them to enter bouts.

"We try to leave the money a non-issue. We are a team, the Gladiators," Herrera said.

"What little kids see from Sammy is that they can go somewhere. We've got to be able to box anybody in the country. Our kids push themselves so they can see that they can go somewhere."

"Not only can they push themselves, but they can actually be a champion."

 

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