2019 may have been the year of the pig, but in the strongman-sphere, it was more appropriately the year of “The Dragon.”
Martins Licis became a rising star within a niche when he won the 2019 Arnold Strongman Santa Monica contest. He qualified for the Arnold Strongman Classic, one of the sport’s most prestigious outings, and landed in seventh. It was an admirable showing. And then, that same year, “The Dragon” descended upon Santa Monica for the World’s Strongest Man and beat a Teflon-strong line-up — including Brian Shaw, Tom and Luke Stoltman, Hafthor Bjornsson, Mateusz Kieliszkowski — to claim first place. The name Martin Licis became known worldwide.
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Then, a series of injuries, including a biking accident, sidelined Licis for a couple of years. He stayed busy filming with famous rappers like Action Bronson and starring in Geico® commercials, but his internal competitive flame never dimmed. He trained fervently in his California-based gym and eventually returned to competition in 2022.
And in vintage Licis fashion, he scorched the competition.
First, Licis won the 2021 Rogue Invitational Strongman contest, beating out the 2021 and 2020 World’s Strongest Men, Tom Stoltman and Oleksii Novikov. He pocketed $133,351 and then, months later, he was in Columbus, OH to compete in the 2022 Arnold Strongman Classic. Licis won and is now eyeing a second WSM title. If he wins the contest — set to take place May 24-29 — he’ll be the fourth ever athlete to win both an ASC and WSM title in the same calendar year. (The other three are Hafthor Bjornsson, Brian Shaw, and Zydrunas Savickas.)
Amid a triumphant comeback, Licis found the time to catch up with BarBend, and it turns out that he has more than winning on his mind. He’s been thinking about his legacy, his fellow competitors, and the Ukrainian people, as they continue to fight back against the Russian invasion that begin on Feb. 24.
Editor’s Note: The following interview has been lightly edited for readability.
BarBend: What are you up to today?
Martins Licis: Romark [Weiss, Licis’ business partner] and I are actually in San Diego, CA, and we picked up new electric bikes. We’re filming a YouTube video of us riding back from San Diego to L.A. You’re in the beginning stages of this journey with us.
BarBend: Now that you’ve had time to recover and reflect on your victory at the ASC, what are your thoughts about the contest?
ML: It was a dream come true because ever since I started my professional career in strongman, I wanted to win WSM and the ASC. I always felt having both titles represented completion. The Arnold Strongman Classic was the missing piece for me, and now I have it. Arnold [Schwarzenegger] had been a role model for me, and winning his biggest contest would make the five-year-old me jump with excitement right now.
ML: Seeing JF get hurt was awful. He’s such a monster, and I’ve looked up to him. His squat was incredible. As the weight got heavier, it seemed like it was easier for him. I think he had a 1,000-pound squat in him, and he was going to be a real contender.
That’s an injury that can really take someone out of the sport completely. It’s heartbreaking. I really hope he does come back and thank you to everyone with ASF for helping him get his surgery so quickly and taking care of him.
BarBend: Another competitor you’re close to is 2020 World’s Strongest Man Oleksii Novikov, who is currently fighting in Ukraine. You also have other ties to that part of the world, correct?
ML: I’m so scared about what is happening in Ukraine. I’m scared for Novikov, and I do have Ukrainian blood in me. My grandfather grew up there; we took many family vacations there, and I have a lot of friends in Ukraine. Hearing Novikov’s speech was heart-wrenching. I look up to him as well, and we don’t know what tomorrow’s going to bring. I would’ve felt awful if I won the contest and didn’t do anything to support him.
So I made a $10,000 donation myself as well. I gave it to Novikov so he could spend it on whatever supplies they needed. Hopefully, it makes a difference for them.
Editor’s Note: The Arnold Sports Festival awarded Novikov, who placed second in the contest, the same prize money as Licis ($80,000) so he can buy supplies for the Ukrainian military.
BarBend: You’re in a unique situation because you’ve won both the 2021 Rogue Invitational and the 2022 ASC. Furthermore, you haven’t competed at World’s Strongest Man since 2019 because of injuries. So, you haven’t been defeated at that contest since you won that title. Do you feel all of this gives you a mental advantage over the field?
ML: I’ll say it’s definitely going to be an interesting show. I want to win badly. As to how it will go, I never take anything for granted. I always assume the guys that show up will be stronger than ever. So, I train and prepare as if I’m going up against another level of monsters. I leave no stone unturned.
BarBend: You were dealing with a back injury leading up to the ASC. How is your health overall as you go into WSM prep?
ML: I’m feeling beat up but strong. I always take about a month after a contest to lift light. Going into April, I’ll be training much heavier and switching gears to more intense training. So, I’ll be ready for WSM, but after that, I look forward to going back to Colombia and getting more stem cell treatments.
BarBend: You were dealing with several injuries at once two years ago. Then, you started those treatments you just mentioned. How much credit do you give those as to how you train and feel now?
ML: I don’t think I would be back without them. My knees were so shot, that it felt like there was glass in my knees when squatting 500 pounds. After the stem cell treatment, I would say my pain has been reduced by 70%. They’ve been a major difference because I was able to come back and do what I’m doing now.
BarBend: How will your WSM prep differ from your ASC training?
ML: There will be a lot more conditioning for sure. I will focus on aerobic capacity and foot speed; I’ll throw in more ladder drills, and agility work. I will train some things for distance, and I’ll even throw sprints in there.
Of course, there will be more events at WSM as well. So, I have to be careful how I dictate my training. It’s almost impossible to train for all the events in such a short amount of time. That’s why I’ll set up my training so one event can carry over to others.
I might do stone carries because it will help me get better at stones and medleys. Instead of doing log clean and press, I might do log press from a rack, and stone cleans. Then, I’m getting better at both at the same time. The stone clean will translate over to a log clean. I’ll consolidate other lifts and events so they are working together, and I can get better at more than one event.
BarBend: You’re still young when it comes to the sport, but you’ve won several titles already in your career. Do you ever think about your legacy when you prepare for the next contest?
ML: Absolutely! I definitely want to make a name for myself — more so because I think it will put me in a better position to make a difference. If I get more eyes on me, I can do more for the sport. I can grow more competitions. I can grow my gym, and, eventually, I want to do more humanitarian things down the line.
That’s my ultimate goal — to leverage this success to give back. If I could choose one or the other, I’d rather be remembered more for what I gave back than for being the best.
Featured Image: @martinslicis on Instagram