For years, he was just "The Kid," the teenager always in the gym, soaking up the experience and knowledge from working with people who already were where he wanted to be.
He was the kid moving around in the cage with former UFC middleweight champion Chris Weidman, the of-voting-age young adult learning in classes taught by current UFC bantamweight champion Aljamain Sterling, the other guy in the photos of Al Iaquinta training for a fight.
But now 25-year-old Justin Montalvo is the man on the fight card, the one the name listed first in the caption of training photos.
"It just seems like all the stars are just aligning. I just have to go and grab it now," the West Hempstead-raised Montalvo said. "The road, I could see it clearly. I've built it myself, this whole road. I just have to go take it, that’s all I have to do. So that's pretty cool knowing that I've created this image in my head and now it's actually fulfilling and I'm seeing it play out. It's just like, damn, it's like right here. Just take it."
Where that road leads "Kidd Marvelous" Montalvo, no one knows yet. Not with only two pro fights so far (both victories) on top of a rather extensive amateur portfolio in mixed martial arts, kickboxing and boxing. But the next destination is Friday night at Bellator 264 when he faces Kendly St. Louis (3-4) in a lightweight bout at Mohegan Sun Arena in Connecticut. The prelim bout will stream on Bellator and Showtime’s YouTube channels and on Pluto TV.
>> THURSDAY A.M. UPDATE: Montalvo's fight was removed from the card when his opponent came in six pounds over the 156-pound limit for lightweight and the commission scrapped the bout.
"When I was a kid, I would just think, you know, I’m gonna be in the UFC one day, keep it simple. I'm gonna be a champ," Montalvo said.
Montalvo, who trains at Longo and Weidman MMA in Garden City and Serra BJJ in Huntington, credited his father, Nestor, will helping "mold my mental state." Montalvo said he was one of those "I know what I’m doing" kind of kids when he first started years ago. But, one day after being on the less-victorious side of a fight, his father sat him down to talk. Perhaps more importantly, Montalvo was ready to listen.
"I took a tough loss as an amateur," he said. "We figured out why. And we fixed it, together. And now I feel like me and him, we have a recipe. And it's showing, three in a row. So I just have to stick to this recipe and make sure I do it."
Montalvo’s ingredients include his ability to put together combinations, his wealth of experience as an amateur in multiple disciplines and a ramped-up Brazilian jiu-jitsu game under Matt Serra.
Trainer Ray Longo compared Montalvo’s style to that of UFC veteran and fan favorite Nate Diaz: lanky with good striking and buttoned-up jiu-jitsu.
"He could put together six seven punches at a clip and he knows how to keep the range," Longo said. "He's got a lot of experience, man, I'm telling you, that's a big deal. It's going to help him."