Christy Martin Biography
Chronology, Awards And Accomplishments, Further Information
Christy Martin, named the best woman boxer in the world by the World Boxing Council in 1996, has, in the words of Bob Raissman, writing in the Daily News of New York, "put women's boxing on the map." Represented by the famous promoter Don King, Martin has worked to bring the sport of woman's boxing from the status of a fringe or novelty sport into wider acceptance, as legitimate as men's boxing. She made her mark fighting on the undercards of Mike Tyson fights, and at the close of 2002, was still one of he top woman boxers at the age of 33.
Christy Martin was born Christy Salters in 1969. She grew up in the small town of Bluefield, West Virginia, the daughter of a coal miner. Her younger brother, Randy, eventually became a coal miner as well. Both of Martin's grandfathers, too, were coal miners, and both died of black lung disease, an illness caused by inhaled particles of coal. In high school Martin was one of the best basketball players on her school team. After winning a basketball scholarship, Martin attended Concord College in Athens, West Virginia.
It was while she was a freshman at Concord in 1987 that Martin boxed for the first time. Friends encouraged her to box in an amateur contest, and she surprised herself by winning the match and taking home the $1,000 prize. Boxing excited Martin as no other sport she had played. Facing off against an opponent was an adrenaline rush, and so was the money. She fought in the same amateur contest the next two years running, winning the top prize of $1,000 each time.
Martin graduated from Concord with a degree in education. She worked as a substitute teacher in Mercer
County in West Virginia for a time, but found the work less than satisfying. What Martin really wanted to do was box. After fighting in the occasional match for purses typically around $300, she decided to take her boxing to a new level in 1991 and begin formal training. Then 22 years old, Martin met trainer Jim Martin, an ex-fighter himself.
Reluctant at first to allow a woman to train in his gym, Jim Martin warmed to Martin after seeing what she could do in the ring. "I say it was love at first sight, after Jim got over being upset about me being in his gym," Martin later recalled to Evelyn Nieves in the New York Times. Martin and her new trainer fell in love and got married. They moved to Orlando, Florida, where they established a new gym, and Martin trained hard for professional bouts.
In 1993, Martin landed a contract with top fight promoter Don King, becoming the first female boxer on King's client roster, which included some of the best male fighters in the world. In February 1996, Martin fought in her first nationally televised match on the Showtime network, and the following month achieved acclaim in her second televised match, against Deirdre Gogart, which she won in six rounds. That second fight was more popular among fans than the Mike Tyson fight broadcast soon after as the main event.
It was after the Gogart fight that critics began to take Martin seriously. The fight was seen by more than a million viewers, and it, more than any fight before it, helped to move women's boxing from fringe status to widespread acceptance. It also landed Martin on the cover of Sports Illustrated and got her a spot on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno. By the end of 1996, Martin had earned the biggest purse ever awarded to a woman boxer, $75,000 for stopping Bethany Payne in a fight that lasted only two rounds.
In 1998, Martin's seven-year winning streak came to an end when she lost a bout with Sumya Amani by decision. Her defeat was devastating to Martin, and she stopped fighting for seven months. But Jim Martin talked her back into the ring. In 2000, she climbed back to the top of the women's boxing world by knocking out Sabrina Hall.
Both Don King, and Martin herself have acknowledged that their main goal is to make as much money as possible, and that elevating the sport of women's boxing is only a side effect. As Martin admitted to the Denver Post, "I know I have legitimized Christy Martin, that's as far as I can go. I can't put all the women on my shoulders and try to legitimize the whole sport."
Martin's fight to make the sport of women's boxing as lucrative as men's boxing has faced an uphill battle. Because woman's boxing still has yet to achieve the draw of the men's version of the sport, competent woman boxers have been in short supply. Many of the women enter the ring from other sports, often at ages at which male boxers typically retire. "Women's boxing as a whole, I don't see it moving (forward)," Martin acknowledged to Jeff Schultz in the Atlanta Journal and Constitution. "I'm moving. But, really, I don't see it moving with me. People think that's being arrogant and cocky. But that's the way I feel."
Martin was still going strong at the close of 2002, and still at the top of the world of women's boxing. As she told Bob Raissman of New York's Daily News in mid-2001, "Let's just say I'm closer to the middle of my career than I am to the beginning. As long as I'm feeling good and fulfill my expectations I will keep on fighting."
Sketch by Michael Belfiore
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