Growing up in the hotbed of pro wrestling that was Puerto Rico in the early 1990s, Punishment Martinez was aware of the WWE. But it wasn’t until he stumbled upon one memorable televised angle that he became hooked.
“It was a segment where The Undertaker stuffed the Ultimate Warrior in a casket, and they were trying to get it open because he couldn’t breathe,” said Martinez, recalling the 1991 storyline. “That changed my perspective on wrestling. That was the moment where I became a die-hard fan. And knew, pretty much, that I wanted to do that.”
Since making his pro wrestling debut 14 years ago, Martinez has been turning heads with his 6-6 frame, brooding looks, and macabre ring entrance. He admits his style was heavily influenced by the man who trapped the Ultimate Warrior in that coffin all those years ago.
“I think the character of the Undertaker kind of guided me in life in certain ways, because I was such a big fan and I was so drawn to him,” Martinez said. “People always say to me, ‘Are you demonic or satanic or whatever?’ Absolutely not. I’m just in love with the idea of the weird, the odd, the dark . . . That started, realistically, because of the character of The Undertaker.”
And while it remains a dream of his to one day lock up with WWE’s “Dead Man,” for now Martinez says he’s focused on another dream about to come true: headlining a Ring of Honor show in his second home of New York City.
He’ll get to do that this Saturday, when ROH returns to Manhattan’s Hammerstein Ballroom Saturday night for a television taping.
“I get to go home to the Hammerstein Ballroom, in the main event. It’s surreal,” said Martinez, who will team with Jay and Mark Briscoe to take on The Young Bucks and “Hangman” Adam Page on Saturday night. “When I first signed on to Ring of Honor, these were the things that I hopes could happen.”
It will be a homecoming in more ways than one. Not only was Martinez born in Manhattan, but while struggling to make a name for himself as an independent wrestler, he worked as a bartender at the Hammerstein.
But Martinez made it a point to always ask for the night off when ROH was running a show at the Hammerstein.
“I knew the feeling I was going to have inside, watching guys do what I really wanted to do. And instead, I was doing something else,” Martinez recalls. “I didn’t want to be in the building unless I was working in the company.”
Martinez made it to ROH in 2015 and has been an integral part of the company as it’s seen its business skyrocket in recent years. He said ROH’s success is a testament to the work ethic of its performers.
“I’ve heard people tell stories about being part of a certain era and it was so big, but at the time they didn’t know it. We know,” Martinez said. “Everybody in Ring of Honor knows what’s happening and we strive to just be better every day . . . Nobody mails it in.”