Boxing has a handful of familiar career arcs, patterns that fighters’ careers tend to follow that can often reliably inform matchmaking. A common one is the former world champion fading, slowly working their way down the card from champion, to challenger trying to regain their title, to fringe contender hoping to score and upset and earn one more shot, to a trial run for prospects looking to score a victory over a recognizable name and earn experience on their route towards the top. That arc unfortunately descends even further than that, but at the time Charles Martin was inserted as an opponent for Jared Anderson on twelve days’ notice, it was safely assumed that he was firmly in the last of the aforementioned categories.
Martin has, cruelly, become a go-to answer when fans debate who the weakest heavyweight title holder has been. Through no fault of his own, Martin picked up an IBF title in 2016 when Vyacheslav Glazkov suffered a knee injury in the third round of their bout.
In his very next fight, he ran into a surging superstar named Anthony Joshua, and would never take part in a world title fight again. For the past seven years, Martin has spent most of his time tucked away on Premier Boxing Champions undercards beating mainly a selection of journeyman, while suffering losses to Luis Ortiz and Adam Kownacki in more visible bouts.
Given his recent results, the lack of notice for the bout and the overall perception of Martin, Anderson was a -1100 favorite in some places, with a knockout victory installed at around +550. The climate within the boxing community seemed to be that Anderson would stop Martin early, giving him the ideal homecoming bout in Toledo, a sensational stoppage over his most notable opponent to date. A highlight reel clip to help affirm his marketing as the United States’ next great heavyweight title hope.
Instead, Anderson got something much more valuable from Martin. An honest-to-God test, a threat from bell to bell, a legitimate learning experience.
The Martin that arrived in Ohio was unrecognizable both in body composition and mentality as comparted to versions of him in the past. Despite the tardy scheduling, Martin disrobed at the weigh-in to reveal new lean muscle mass and more defined facial features. He would say that he effectively stayed in camp for ten months—in particular for a bout against the 4-0 Gurgen Hovhannisyan , adhering to a strict diet all the while. When he spoke, he did so in the tone of an enlightened veteran, not the haunting, somewhat chaotic trash talker that we’d heard in the past.
"I've matured so I'm in a different space at the moment. It can be hard. It can be hard at times. Life throws everyone different blows. It just matters how you take them," Martin told John Dennen of Sky Sports. "It was a lot of pressure when I became world champion, pulling me all different directions. I had really no time for me. It's hectic. It's just all about how people deal with pressure."
It was that exact query he posed of Anderson. In the third round, Anderson scored a knockdown on a right hook, and the bout looked like it would follow the presumed path. The next round, Anderson came out as a southpaw looking to close the show, but
Martin calmly circled the ring cooled the momentum entirely. But in the next round, while battling swelling around his left eye, he returned the favor, rocking Anderson with a snappy left hand.
Anderson had been hit with big shots in the past, particularly from Jerry Forrest, but had never been visibly affected by anything he’d absorbed. In that moment, he simultaneously experienced a level of power he’d have to deal with if he wanted to become world champion, but also saw how a former champion reacted to having been in the exact same scenario.
Anderson was forced to swim in waters he’d never been in before, extending into the seventh round for the first time in his career. Martin remained a nuisance throughout the contest—even though Anderson was winning most, if not all of the rounds, Martin’s long left hand was an ever-present concern. In fact, the final memorable moment of the contest was a left hand from Martin in the bout’s closing moments, a conclusive reminder that Anderson had indeed received the test he’d needed.
In the wake of the victory, there will be the urge from some in the fanbase to grade Anderson based on his performance against the presumed version of Martin rather than the one that actually arrived in Toledo. The Martin that fought on Saturday night would have knocked a “fraudulent” prospect out, and most certainly would have frustrated a fighter not equipped for the mental rigors of a difficult fight.
“I wanted to go the distance. It was my first time. I just wanted to make sure that I could go the distance and especially be able to withstand power the whole 10 rounds. He had power until the last round, and I was happy to get the rounds in,” Anderson told ESPN following the bout. “I think I took his best shots very well. I don’t think there was a time in the fight where I looked unsteady or where I couldn’t hold my own. Did feel like he got me with a good shot and stunned me? No. But do I feel like he got me with a good shot and made me aware? Yes, so I had to readjust and get back to the game plan."
For Martin, the night won’t represent a career revival, so to speak, so much as it displays the value he still presents in and around this level of the division. Provided it’s what he wants to, Martin can be considered not just a “good test,” but a threat to fighters at Anderson’s level and below, and a candidate to take part in an entertaining brawl against other aging contenders like himself. It’s clear that Martin isn’t satisfied with how he handled his career previously, and that perhaps he found his love of the sport a little later than he would have wanted to in an ideal world.
"This is a whole different Charles Martin that nobody has ever seen. The world has never seen this Charles Martin," Martin told Sky Sports. "Until I retire, until I hang these gloves up, I've fully dedicated myself to the sport."
If that hadn’t been true, the fight would have gone exactly the way many expected it would, and might have ended in the fourth round.
“I took the fight on [twelve] days’ notice,” noted Martin. “I did the best I could. He’s a real champion, I’m proud of him.”