Exclusive: Punishment Martinez on ‘Making History’ at MSG, Winning the ROH TV Title, Channeling the Undertaker

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This morning, we had the opportunity to sit down with ROH World Television Champion Punishment Martinez ahead of his upcoming title defense, going down this Friday at ROH Honor for All in Nashville. The event will air live for all HonorClub subscribers, featuring a huge triple threat tag team match, Nick Aldis defending the “Ten Pounds of Gold”, Cody Rhodes, “The Villain” Marty Scurll and more.

In a candid interview (that you can check out in the player above) the champ spoke with us about growing up in Puerto Rico, his first experiences with pro wrestling, how he got into Ring of Honor, what it was like to win his first major title, ROH and NJPW making history at Madison Square Garden next April, drawing inspiration from The Undertaker and more!

GROWING UP IN PUERTO RICO, AND HIS FIRST MEMORIES OF PRO WRESTLING: 

“I was taken to Puerto Rico when I was a baby. In Puerto Rico wrestling is like a culture. I was a kid, so it wasn’t like I was a diehard fan – I didn’t really understand it – but I knew all my friends watched, so I would watch just so we could get along, and play with action figures and whatnot. There was the wrestling from the island … but even still the kids were more into the WWF stuff. I didn’t get any WCW at all, so I didn’t understand what they were. But I always picked the coolest looking action figures, and I would watch here and there.”

“It wasn’t until one day, I had to be maybe eight-years-old. There was a segment with the Undertaker and the Ultimate Warrior on TV. It was broadcasting in English and Spanish at the same time, on two different channels. I thought that was cool, and I went to show my mom, and she yelled at me to stop changing the channel because she wanted to focus on one language. I sat there all angrily, because I just wanted to play and have fun, but then it intrigued me because I [I didn’t know] whether the Ultimate Warrior was going to die or not. That segment hooked me. I had to watch it every week, to see if there was going to be a segment that special that made me feel that way. And then little by little I just became obsessed with everything about professional wrestling.”

HOW HE FIRST BROKE INTO THE WRESTLING BUSINESS, AND NOT UNDERSTANDING WHAT THE INDEPENDENT SCENE WAS: 

“I didn’t know about independent wrestling. I didn’t know about wrestling schools. I didn’t know anything. Larry Sharpe owned the Monster Factor at the time. We did a little tryout and he basically said, ‘alright this is tuition, you’re coachable, trainable, and I think we can do something.’ So that was it – I signed up and I started training. I still didn’t do any indies because I didn’t know any better. I didn’t know about Ring of Honor, even at that age. To me that was backyard wrestling, because I didn’t understand independent wrestling. So it took many years for me to realize that there was a world outside the major companies.”

“After 2010 the wrestling world opened up to me beyond TV. I had been training for years, but I just never had any interest in doing anything else because I didn’t know any better. I just stayed away from anything that I should have been doing. I was overweight, probably 340 pounds. When I decided to really give it my all I lost over 100 pounds, got in shape, and Kevin Kelly came to the Monster Factory for a seminar. Danny Cage, the owner now, brought him in and after a long conversation with him and Gerald Brisco; you know, they gave me advice on how to go about things not just thinking one way. They opened my eyes to other possibilities.”

“I know a lot of wrestlers that think those things are a money grab, but I wouldn’t be in Ring of Honor right now if it wasn’t for that tryout seminar. I did one of those, I impressed, and I just stayed relevant to them. I made it to any show that I could, helped with the ring crew – just be there to help out in any capacity possible. Then I started training at the ROH Dojo, I ended up getting a dark match, and little by little I turned into a top prospect and I earned a contract.”

WHICH BIG-MAN WRESTLERS HE MODLED HIS STYLE AFTER, AND WHO HE IDOLIZED GROWING UP: 

“I know I’m above average, but I’ve never considered myself to be that type of big-man. I might be a little bit bigger than most guys, but I never wanted my style to be a big-man style. I didn’t want to be classified into one – this is you, this is who you are.”

“Obviously the number one guy for me was always Undertaker, and it wasn’t because of the moves. The moves and his in-ring ability was extra; he drew me in just on his charisma and his persona. But of course he’s an athletic big-man, and if you watch me work you can tell there’s some aspects that I’ve picked up from him. I was always big on Razor Ramon too.”

“Because I practiced martial arts when I was younger, anybody who did any type of kick, or used martial arts in their style, I was drawn to. Even X-Pac who is a smaller guy, I always liked his moves and I could do them, so that was up my ally. Same thing with Rob Van Dam and even guys like Glacier in WCW. I grew up with his character, but I loved his style because it represented what my background was about.”

“Character-wise, it was Undertaker and “The Crow” Sting, and guys like that. Whenever I describe myself, I feel like it’s unfair to put myself in one just one position. I like to think of myself as a hybrid of styles. I study and respect different styles and I try to incorporate them. Strong-style, Lucha-style, American-Style, UK-style, European-style and everything in between. With a shoot fighting background, you try to implement that in your in-ring style as well. It may sound like a cool line, but I really do feel like I’m a hybrid of styles because I worked on it. I really studied, and I worked on it.”

Photo Credit: Ring of Honor/Rich Wade

HOW HE FELT WHEN MANAGEMENT TOLD HIM HE WAS GOING TO WIN THE ROH TV CHAMPIONSHIP, AND WHAT THE MOMENT FELT LIKE WHEN HE ACTUALLY WON: 

“I try not to celebrate before it happens. I got told the news, and I kept a serious face on. Inside of course I was like, ‘oh my god, oh my god,’ but I tried to keep it together, because until the last second you never know what can change. I’ve been disappointed so many times, especially in professional wrestling, that I din’t want to take anything like it’s a given until it actually happens. My focus was just putting on a performance. It was the main event of that show, so my focus was on – let’s put on a main event quality match. That’s it.”

“When it finally happened, that moment was surreal. I couldn’t believe that – you know, this is life? You work for things and you set goals, and dreams, whatever. You can work as hard as you want, but the hardest worker in the world does not get the opportunities. That’s not real life. You’re gonna have the best chance, but sometimes it’s luck. But when you really work hard for something, and then you achieve it, that feeling is extra special. I couldn’t believe it. I actually worked for something like this, and I’ve been saying this is what I wanted, and then it happened. THat’s not normal.”

“I was extremely humbled. There was no partying for me, I just went to my hotel room. I didn’t want to celebrate in front of certain guys, just because guys are working to get in that position, and I know what it feels like when you’re not there and others are. When I got to my hotel room, by myself, I took the belt out of my bad and I just put it on my lap, and I just sat there on the edge of the bed in awe. Not just that I was just champion – it’s just a cool time to be in this business. This is a positive thing for my life, for pro wrestling, and it just felt extra special for a lot of reasons other than just being a champion in Ring of Honor.”

WHY THE RING OF HONOR ROSTER IS SPECIAL: 

“There’s so many eyes on pro wrestling now. It’s just so easy and accessible. There’s different avenues, and different ways to become a star and make a living in this business. The Attitude Era – they knew it was special, but they didn’t know how special it was. We know we’re in an extremely special time. We know we’re creating history right now, and it gives us extra motivation. We want to be a part of history, so if this is history right now, let’s make it the most epic history ever. That’s everybody’s mindset in Ring of Honor, which is awesome. Everybody is trying to do the right thing for the business. This is not a team sport. We do have to look out for ourselves, but there’s also that other side where we care about the entire industry. Not just our opponent, not just our company – we care about professional wrestling as a whole, and we want to make it as great as possible. I think everybody right now is working really hard for that. That’s where Ring of Honor is at right now, and I really do think that’s why it’s growing so much. Because of the effort that everybody, from the front office to the ring crew, puts in.”

Photo Credit: Ring of Honor/Punishment Martinez

ON ROH & NJPW RUNNING THEIR BIGGEST SHOW EVER AT MADISON SQUARE GARDEN IN 2019, AND WHAT THAT MOMENT IS GOING TO BE LIKE AS A NEW YORKER: 

“I was born in New York City, and in the mid-90s I went to every single event at Madison Square Garden that WWF held because my dad would take me to every single one. The Garden to me is huge. I’m a New Yorker and I haven’t been to a single Knicks game, but I’ve been to – I can’t even count how many WWF events. Performing at the Hammerstein was the ultimate moment for me, as far as New York, just because Madison Square Garden – it’s not that it was something I thought we weren’t capable of, I just thought it wasn’t a possibility. So that was a dream I didn’t even know I had, when it came to Ring of Honor.”

“As soon as it became a possibility… This is it. This is probably going to be the biggest moment of my life, to get to perform at Madison Square Garden for Ring of Honor. It’s extra special because of the building, and the city that it’s in, for me personally. All the guys know how huge this is. This is what I’m talking about history-changing moments that are gonna last forever. You wanna be something in this business? You can be a champion, you can headline shows, but at the end of the day the main thing is to leave your name etched in history. If you’re on that show, that’s what you’re doing. This is going to last forever. It’s an incredible feeling. The fans should be very excited to be a part of history.”

ON THE INSPIRATION BEHIND HIS CHARACTER, AND THE EVOLUTION OF HIS ELABORATE, CULT-LIKE ENTRANCES IN RING OF HONOR: 

“Now I have a little bit more freedom to come up with creative idea for myself, and I love that stuff. I love that aspect of what we do, because what we do is so much more than just doing moves inside the ring. Whether you think of it as entertainment, or a show that’s for families – whatever you want to see it as, I feel like everything about it combined is what I love about [wrestling]. I know it gets compared to sports and movies, but it’s like nothing else in the world. That’s why professional wrestling is so special, and I love every aspect. A big part of that is the theatrical spectacle that we can put on. And as much as I can I’ll take full advantage of that. I feel like certain guys don’t, but it’s not in them to do it. It’s not like they’re not creative, it’s just not in them to do something like that, so why force something that’s fake? With me, it’s in me. It’s real. I enjoy every entrance that I do.”

“When I fell in love with wrestling, it had nothing to do with any move The Undertaker did. He put someone in a coffin. That’s what got me hooked. So if that’s what got me hooked, I feel like I could do the same in my own way, with my own twist and my own flavor. So being different in Ring of Honor is basically that. ROH is known for in-ring ability. We know when you watch ROH you’re going to see amazing wrestling. That’s guaranteed. But what about everything else? Now that the company is growing, we have more time and there’s more budget for things. Now guys can be full-fledged performers in every aspect. We enjoy it, and it actually brings out better performances in the ring because of it.”

PUNISHMENT’S PICK TO WIN THE 2018 G1 CLIMAX: 

“You always gotta go with the world champ. There’s a reason he’s the world champ, so it’s easy to say Kenny Omega. He’s the world champion, and that means he’s the best. Somebody I’m very familiar with – Jay White – is turning heads right now. If I have to pick one guy other than the world champion, right now it’d be Jay White. I think he’s better than a lot of people give him credit for, and he’s ready for that spot. He’s my sleeper pick to win the entire thing. Either way, I think he’s gonna come out of this tournament a way bigger star than he came in.”

Punishment Martinez returns to action this Friday night at ROH Honor For All, where he defends the ROH World Television Championship against Scorpio Sky! The event will air live for all HonorClub subscribers. The superstars of Ring of Honor will also be returning to Center Stage in Atlanta this Saturday evening for another round of television tapings. For more information, go to rohwrestling.com.

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