By Jake Donovan

Kiko Martinez is well aware of the public perception that he’s in way over his head for this weekend’s challenge versus featherweight titlist Leo Santa Cruz. It’s not the first time he’s heard such claims, in fact making a career out of fights he wasn’t meant to win.

Still, the former 122 lb. titlist from Spain knows it will take the best performance of his 12-year career in order to emerge victorious in Saturday’s Showtime-televised headliner against one of the very best fighters in the world today.

“I’m very hungry and know that the odds are against me,” Martinez (35-6, 26KOs) noted during a recent media conference call discussing the event. “I believe I have the power to cause him a lot of problems. I know he hasn’t lost in 10 years, but that will change on Saturday.”

Martinez has bounced back and forth between super bantamweight and featherweight, but with all of the big fights in his career having taken place at the lower weight.

It was there where he pulled off his first major upset, knocking out Bernard Dunne in the 1st round of their Aug. ’07 clash of unbeaten prospects. Dunne came in the far more polished of the two and also was also fighting at home in Ireland, but Martinez jumped on him from the opening bell, flooring him 30 seconds into the bout and then again at the 1:00 mark before a barrage of power punches forced a mercy stoppage.

From there, his career has endured good times and bad. It’s been mostly the latter in falling short versus Rendall Munroe (twice), Takalani Ndlovu and Carl Frampton – all of which have taken place in his opponens’ respective home countries - before finally entering his first career title fight in Aug. ’13. He seized the moment, implementing his aggressive style in a stunning 6th round knockout of Jhonatan Romero to life the 122 lb. title in his stateside debut.

His reign lasted just over a year, posting impressive wins over former champs Jeffrey Mathebula and Hozumi Hasegawa before conceding the crown to Frampton in their Sept. ’14 rematch, once again in Belfast. Less than a year later came a low point in his career, suffering a 2nd round knockout at the hands of Scott Quigg in Manchester, England.

The win by Quigg set up a long-awaited 122 lb. title unification showdown with Frampton, which takes place in Manchester just hours before Santa Cruz-Martinez. Both fights are airing on Showtime in the United States - Quigg-Frampton will air live on SHO Extreme during the afternoon before replaying in package with live evening coverage of Santa Cruz-Martinez.

Expectations are for Santa Cruz to prevail and then face the winner of the aforementioned unification bout some time later this year. Martinez is taking it upon himself to upset such plans, as no other fight matters to him other than the one immediately ahead.

“It’s a dangerous fight I know I can win,” Martinez believes. “I know people are doubting me, but I’m going to change public perception. I’m gonna walk away as world champion.”

Jake Donovan is the managing editor of Twitter: @JakeNDaBox