I’ll concede it here. I was never a Christy Martin guy.
Though she was frequently on my television during her 1990s run as the bearded lady in Don King’s promotional circus, the whole “Coal Miner’s Daughter” thing never really resonated with me as she pounded her way through prelims against what I interpreted as iffy competition.
It’s not that I’m a women’s boxing hater. Far from it, in fact.
I simply came to the female game a little later on the timeline thanks to the more sublime ring skills of a pre-UFC Holly Holm and the 24/7 persistence of Oklahoma-based workhorse Amy Green, who kept me fed with news and interviews as a public relations ace.
I chatted with Holm several times and actually shared a ring with a two-time rival of hers –
Florida-based slugger Chevelle Hallback – for a sparring session that still prompts a mild night terror or two whenever I happen to stumble across the pictures from 10 years ago.
Once the field of elite women fighters had grown a bit, I was as all-in as anybody.
And by the time Katie Taylor and Amanda Serrano rocked the house at Madison Square Garden this spring, make no mistake, I felt the sort of pride you feel when an athlete or a band you saw in the minor leagues or the empty bars finally gets over with the mainstream masses.
These days, though, I’m circling back to Martin.
I plowed through her newly-released book, Fighting For Survival: My Journey Through Boxing Fame, Abuse, Murder and Resurrection, over the weekend and found myself feeling as if I’d never given that trailblazing fighter a fair shot.
The book was written with longtime Boston-based columnist Ron Borges and the thing that struck me most about it was the style of the storytelling.
Rather than trying too hard to be profound in painting pictures of specific events, the narrative charges headlong into the fray, starting with a comprehensively compelling recount – in an opening chapter menacingly titled “Dead On The Floor” – of the attempted murder that left Martin in an emergency room with ghastly knife wounds and a bullet in her chest and ultimately landed her then-husband, Jim, in prison through at least 2035.
To suggest it drew me in right away is to suggest Hagler-Hearns had an OK first round.
And from there, it was as much a textbook as anything else.
While she was certainly recognizable to me thanks to her ring work, I realized I’d known precisely zero about Martin’s personal life before arriving at Page 1.
I had no idea she was a lesbian and had struggled with that reality amid difficult relationships with family and friends in small town West Virginia. I had no idea that she’d started boxing after competing in regional Toughman contests. And I had no idea at the apex of her fame that she was married to the guy who was working her corner.
But while I missed the boat on the fighter, I’m glad I’ve caught up on the person.
Behind-the-scenes details of her dealings with King and the other bits and pieces relating to specific fights and fighters were fascinating to a boxing junkie and provided fleshed-out context to the appearances on pay-per-view cards that I’d never quite digested.
The aforementioned Holm (who fought her) and Hallback (who didn’t) both make an appearance in the book’s back half, as Martin lays open both the career decline that coincided with Mike Tyson’s fade and the prolonged drug abuse that it prompted.
She was 45-2-2 as a pro following a unanimous decision defeat of Mia St. John at the Pontiac Silverdome in December 2002, but went just 4-5-1 across her final 10 bouts – including losses to Laila Ali (TKO 4) and Holm (UD 10) – before retiring for good following a scorecard loss to St. John in a 2012 rematch, nearly two full years after she’d been shot and left for dead.
There’s more than enough bad news to pack a dozen documentaries.
The good news, though? There’s a happy ending to it all.
These days Martin is alive and well, remarried and trying to establish herself as a boxing promoter alongside a burgeoning career advocating for survivors of domestic abuse and violence. She was part of the International Boxing Hall of Fame’s class of 2020 – alongside Bernard Hopkins, Juan Manuel Marquez and Shane Mosley – and finally reached Canastota as part of the three-tiered summertime induction that included the classes of 2021 and 2022.
It’s a career worth celebrating and a book worth reading.
Having done so, I now fully admire her run as a fighter.
And I respect her acumen as a business person.
But far more importantly as one human being to another, I’m positively thrilled she’s managed to find peace and contentment after turmoil that no one – man, woman or child – should have to endure. And more than the Hall inclusion or any belt, that’s the victory I’d be the most proud of.
* * * * * * * * * *
This week’s title-fight schedule:
No title fights scheduled.
Last week's picks: 1-0 (WIN: Niyomtrong)
2022 picks record: 22-10 (68.8 percent)
Overall picks record: 1,231-402 (75.4 percent)
NOTE: Fights previewed are only those involving a sanctioning body's full-fledged title-holder – no interim, diamond, silver, etc. Fights for WBA "world championships" are only included if no "super champion" exists in the weight class.
Lyle Fitzsimmons has covered professional boxing since 1995 and written a weekly column for Boxing Scene since 2008. He is a full voting member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter – @fitzbitz.