1. He’s the World’s Strongest Man.
Might as well start here. The Dragon dethroned the Mountain. No, this wasn’t a Game of Thrones subplot. Martins “The Dragon” Licis, 6’3” and 340, who in his previous World’s Strongest Man contests had never medaled (sixth in 2016, fourth in both 2017 and ’18) bested the reigning champ Hafþór “The Mountain” Björnsson (third) and Poland’s Mateusz Kieliszkowski (second) to win the 2019 WSM by a convincing margin. “I prepared for this by lifting weights, eating food, and sleeping a lot,” Licis quipped with a sly shrug just after his victory. Then he added, “And watching cartoons.” (His favorite is the Japanese anime One-Punch Man, perhaps the world’s strongest superhero.)
2. He was born in Latvia.
Mārtiņš Līcis (pronounced, in English: Mar-teens Lee-cees) immigrated with his mother, Anita, and father, Kristaps, to Massachusetts in 1994, the year he turned four. His young parents had come to pursue architecture careers, and, having grown up under communism in the former U.S.S.R., they encouraged their child to chase his American dreams. Tagging along with them to the gym, he started training with weights at nine.
3. Beaten up at 12, he set out to become “outrageously strong.”
In 2003, he was pummeled by three older kids while waiting for a bus. In the aftermath, his attitude changed. Going to the gym was no longer a chore. Instead, he trained religiously to become “outrageously strong so that nobody can touch me.” He wrestled in high school and competed in strongman contests while still a teen.
4. His tale took an Odd turn.
Just after turning 20, Licis and a friend drove across the country, moving to Los Angeles. As his mother wrote, “he was looking for his own tribe.” He found its leader in Norwegian-American strongman and coach Odd Haugen. Licis toiled under Haugen’s tutelage in Haugen’s garage and then his commercial gym, The Training Hall, where he still works out. Haugen, a grip-strength legend, is America’s foremost advocate for MAS wrestling, an ancient Russian strength contest in which two seated participants hold the same stick and try to pull it out of their opponent’s hands or pull their opponent over the wooden divider. Licis, who adopted the nickname “The Dragon” because of the fire burning inside him to be the best, won the 2016 MAS Wrestling World Championships five months before his first World’s Strongest Man.
5. “Oranges are pretty awesome.”
The top strongmen are a gregarious bunch, and Licis is especially so. A two-person film crew follows him on his many adventures. As a result, his YouTube channel is filled with videos that showcase not just his training and eating, but also his mischievous humor and affable antics. In one, he skateboards as his workout warmup, and in more than one he muses about his orange-centric diet (to manipulate insulin before his contest carb-up). “When you get a dry orange, it’s that next level of purgatory,” he deadpans, slowing chewing a dry orange slice. “You know, it’s a silly thing to complain about. Oranges are pretty awesome.” Still chewing. “But not this one. This one sucks.” Never change, Martins.
(Opening photo: Paula R. Lively)