“You can’t limit yourself, or else you will limit your progress.” Known as the Dominican Dominator in the muscle-clad stage of bodybuilding, Victor Martinez is the second IFBB professional bodybuilder from the Dominican Republic to find fame after the legendary Tony Domenench of Puerto Plato launched his professional career in 1995. Following in Domenench’s footsteps, Martinez made his bodybuilding debut in 1997 when he won the National Physique Committee’s (NPC) New York Metro Championships as a light heavyweight.
Spending the next four years entering one NPC tournament after another, Martinez upgraded to professional bodybuilder status in 2001 when he entered his first IFBB competition at the 2001 IFBB Night of Champions. Finishing in eighth place, he was determined to do better and went on to compete in his second professional competition at the 2002 Arnold Classic where he finished in 13th place. The same year, he secured a ninth-place win at the Ironman Pro Invitational and, by 2003, was more than ready to make his mark in the industry when he won his first professional contest at the IFBB Night of Champions. By then, he knew he was ready to try his hand at the highly coveted Mr. Olympia title.
Martinez entered the 2004 IFBB Mr. Olympia contest and finished in ninth place but enjoyed a brief resurgence in his popularity when he won the 2004 IFBB GNC Show of Strength Pro Championship. Still wanting to secure the ever-popular Mr. Olympia title, Martinez spent the next decade competing in the Mr. Olympia and the Arnold Classic contests with growing success. In fact, after a great showing in 2005, the eight-time Mr. Olympia winner Ronnie Coleman predicted that Martinez would one day succeed him in the tournament. With many believing that it would finally happen in 2007, it was a huge upset when Jay Cutler took home the title with Martinez finishing in second place. However, Martinez’ victory was sweet enough that he secured a sponsorship deal with Maximum Human Performance and Muscular Development magazine, which boosted his popularity and name recognition in the industry.
Amid the upset of losing the Mr. Olympia title, tragedy struck in 2008 when Martinez ruptured his left patellar tendon while warming up with lunges. The injury was so severe that it required surgery, which made it impossible to train and left him unable to compete in both the 2008 Mr. Olympia and the 2008 Arnold Classic. Spending the next year in recovery, he eventually made his way back to the gym and hired his friend, strength and conditioning coach Jakob Panotas, to whip him back into shape. Over the next nine months, Martinez saw his strength skyrocket as his competitive physique returned bigger and better than before.
Making a major comeback at the 2009 Arnold Classic where he finished in second place behind Brooklyn bodybuilder Kai Greene, things were undeniably looking up for Martinez when tragedy struck again in July when his sister, Eridania Rodriguez, disappeared. Last seen working in her office at a skyscraper in New York City, her body was found four days later in the ventilation shaft on the same floor. Another employee, handyman Joseph Pabon, was eventually convicted of her murder on April 2, 2012, but not before the trial took a drastic toll on Martinez’ emotional well-being.
With his personal life falling apart at the seams as he desperately clung to his dwindling fame as a bodybuilder, Martinez was arrested on October 9, 2011 for an expired permanent resident card, which was a huge red flag as he returned from Madrid, Spain after winning the Arnold Europe contest. With a criminal record for selling steroids in 2004, Martinez was taken to a New Jersey detention center where he was immediately scheduled for deportation. Later denied bail, he remained in the Hudson County Correctional Facility for six months until April 2012 when the court granted his release and allowed him to stay in the United States permanently just days after his sister’s murderer was convicted in New York.
Taking the rest of 2012 off from competing, Martinez returned to the stage in 2013 where he finished second in the New York Pro Championship, first in the Toronto Pro Super Show, 11th in the Mr. Olympia contest and fifth in the Arnold Classic Madrid. By 2014, he spent less time competing and more time training with an eighth-place finish at the Mr. Olympia and a fourth-place finish at the Arnold Classic. With only one entry in 2015 that saw him earn ninth place at the Mr. Olympia contest, things were obviously slowing down for Martinez as he laid low until he surprised everyone and returned to the spotlight in 2016 with a first-place win at the IFBB Baltimore Pro.
Now 43 years old, the Dominican’s future in bodybuilding is unknown as his competitive interests have become more and more sporadic over the years. Once showing interests outside of bodybuilding as the co-owner and franchise spokesperson of the Muscle Maker Grill in Edgewater, New Jersey, it’s hard to argue that a series of tragedies and bad decisions have left Martinez on the outskirts of stardom as his stint in jail caused him to lose the entire restaurant franchise as well as his credibility in the bodybuilding industry. Whatever the case, Martinez will go down in history as one of two legendary bodybuilders from the Dominican Republic who has been lucky enough to see the Mr. Olympia title within reach. Perhaps his success is a tribute to overcoming tragedy as he lives his life by a simple mantra: “It’s not easy, but it’s worth it. Now repeat that every day.” It certainly applies to more than just bodybuilding, don’t you agree?