Outside the Ring: Christy Martin

By Jill Diamond on December 25, 2016
Outside the Ring: Christy Martin
“I had the desire to show people that I could fight, if it was socially accepted or not.” (SI)

“In the ring, I wanted to be explosive and entertaining for the fans. Out of the ring I am finally finding who the real me is…”

Sports and Philanthropy: A series of articles dedicated to those who’ve given their all and still give more. Each article will feature a different community champion; no belts, no medals, no ratings… just good people passing it on.

Christy Martin, an athlete who has faced as much as a woman as a boxer. Starting at time when there were few opponents worthy of her skills, she burst through, like a comet in a midnight sky—a media darling, a household name, a woman blessed and damned by the pressures celebrity demands. Pushed beyond emotional limits by those who tried to control her, she pushed back, and won the biggest fights of her life, her authenticity and dignity intact. She redefined what it was like to be a female in a man’s sport. She did this with flying fists and tenacity, fighting every battle as it were her last. And when it was finally over, she didn’t turn away from her sport, but reached forward, and used her platform to help others.

Talent not gender should be the determining criteria. And yet, Christy was a woman left to shadow box with the future. If they do get on TV this year, if they earn enough from their sport to live decently, if they once again appear on the cover of magazines and cereal boxes, it will be too late for Christy Martin the boxer, but not Christy Martin the fighter. A Pioneer. An Icon. A World Champion. The first lady of boxing who opened doors she can no longer walk through.  But every young woman who gets into the ring will know they got their start from her. I just hope they have her courage.

You started at a time when few women boxed. What lit the fire?

I began boxing before it was acceptable for women to compete in physical contact sports. I feel I had the desire to show people that I could fight, if it was socially accepted or not. I have always been a rebel, doing things that others thought I couldn’t do successfully. After scoring my first KO victory in a Tough Man contest I was hooked on the adrenal rush that I had from such an exciting finish and the crowd’s reaction. 

Tell me about your early career.

When my career started, I had never been in a boxing gym, for my first six or seven professional fights I had still never been in a boxing gym. I was a basketball player and naively thought that if I was in shape to play basketball, I was in shape to box. Of course, quickly I realized that was not correct. For my first pro fight, I was contacted by a promoter in Bristol, TN to come fight his girl not knowing how the business of boxing works. I didn’t know that I was being called to lose. I thought it would be a fair fight, it wasn’t, I knocked Angela Buchanan down and beat her every round and still got a draw. I had taken the fight thinking, I will do this one time so I can tell my grandchildren that I had a professional fight. After not winning or losing, I decided I would participate in a rematch the next month. I knocked her out and never looked back or doubted that I wanted to continue my boxing career. I never dreamed that it would take me as far as it did. I finally went to my first boxing gym in December ‘90. At that point I felt like I had to work at least twice as hard as the guys to learn and prove that I belonged.

How difficult was it to find opponents of your caliber?

It was very difficult to find opponents. If others were out there fighting they would be a different weight or too far away for a local promoter to bring in. It was very challenging to stay busy fighting.

First woman boxer on a major magazine cover. What did that mean to you?

Being on the cover of Sports Illustrated still doesn’t seem real. People sometimes say, “I bet you are tired of signing this cover?” My answer is always, “Are you crazy? It is an honor to sign this magazine.” The story was just going to be a regional piece, then I fought on Showtime in February ‘96 and it moved to a feature story, then the PPV fight against Deirdre Gogarty, that war with the bloody nose and continued action, landed me on the cover. AWESOME.

How difficult was the pressure? How did you handle it?

The pressure was difficult, because I had more pressure at home than with boxing and the media. My personal life was horrible, but I had to keep smiling publicly to make people think I was happy. Those closest to me knew that I was not happy, but really didn’t know what to do to help me. Boxing pressure kept me motivated, working harder than anyone else and the personal anger kept the fire inside of me burning. I handled the pressure the only way I knew how and that was to push myself to my personal limits in the gym, running just staying busy. Downtime was not good for me as it is not good presently. I am still working on personal issues and demons.

You’ve dealt with and overcome so much adversity. Which fight was harder, in the ring or out of the ring?

Without question outside the ring was/is much harder than in the ring. As strange as it may sound, I was my happiest in a bloody, hard-fought war in the ring. I could be proud, when it was over, that I had accomplished something. My fight outside the ring is ongoing, I was convinced that the world was against me and no one liked me. Anytime something positive happened someone (Jim) else always took credit for it and downplayed anything that I accomplished.

Recognized by the IBHOF. What other awards and honors?

I have been so fortunate to be inducted into the Nevada Boxing HOF, International Women’s BHOF, and special induction into The Bare Knuckle BHOF. Throughout my career, I received many awards and honors, but again is/was all bittersweet until the NVBHOF called and I could feel like I alone had done this. There was no one that could say yeah but I talked to someone and they are doing this as a favor to me or because of what I did for your career.

Given the power, what would you change about women’s boxing?

I feel for women’s boxing to be successful, we must have major promoters willing to give women boxers an opportunity to be seen. At the same time, as with any fighter, the fighters have to be ready to display good skills and excite the crowd leave them walking away talking about the women fighting on the show. 

Are you optimistic about the future of the sport?

Women’s boxing was given a huge shot in the arm when included in the Olympics. This has produced very talented fighters; the future is in their hands and they must perform at a level of an Olympic Champion against quality opponents to revive the interest in women’s boxing.

What would you change about boxing itself in general?

I wish fighters/promoters would go back to the mindset of fighters in the ‘70s, when fighters fought each other and one loss didn’t define your career. Fighters wouldn’t jump weight classes just to avoid a fight, they would squeeze into the weight TO make it happen.

A memorable fight? One that got away?

The fight that didn’t happen that I wanted more than anything was with Lucia Rijker. The most memorable fight was with Gogarty, because after that fight my life changed forever. I truly feel that fight made it acceptable for women to fight and people wanted to watch.

Who inspired you? Who are your role models?

My dad inspired me and showed me the importance of hard work. 

Who’s been there for you through it all?

The person that was there to help me was Big Jeff Bailey, who unfortunately passed away a couple years ago. He would talk to me before fights and help me stay focused training. He strongly would say don’t listen to Jim, he is an asshole and wants you to think that he is the reason for your success. You are the reason for your success, he would tell me. Sherry has been strong for me in the healing process since being shot and stabbed.

You didn’t choose to stop boxing. Talk about the transition.

I truly think I should have retired when the Rijker fight was cancelled. I was in the greatest condition that I had ever been and when that fight didn’t happen it took a part of my desire from boxing. I stopped boxing after having a stroke in June 2010 following the Stone fight. During surgery to repair my hand I had a stroke, I was unable to walk, talk, see properly, feed myself and my desire to live was tested. I couldn’t believe that after surviving being shot and stabbed just six months earlier that I was in this position. I tried to fight even after the stroke, but that was the biggest mistake of my career. I am to this day questioning why and how could this happen to me. I really wanted to continue fighting before the stroke and had hoped to reinvigorate my career once again. The transition is very difficult. I don’t honestly know what I want to do or when to do it. I decided to try promoting, that was the only way I could still be involved in boxing. Boxing is like a drug; once you are hooked you are an addict for life.

You said nothing prepared you for the work involved in being a promoter. Please explain.

A promoter’s job and financial risk is very scary and more work than I could have dreamed. I took on the challenge of being a promoter without a team and learned quickly that you need a team of people to help you. I plan on doing my next show in Charlotte, NC in April and hope that this time around I will have a trustworthy team working with me. I was pleased with my first promotion, but it was too much work for one person. I made matches, found the venue, scheduled the weigh-in and was in constant communication with the boxing commission. Most importantly I wrote the checks, everyone got paid and donations were made for Safe Alliance Domestic Violence and school supplies for Vance High School in Mecklenberg County.

Tell me about the goals of Pink Promotions? Who’s on your Team?

Still working to put the Pink Promotions Team together, but I have great support from Doug Brafford who owns Ultimate Gym here in Charlotte

Talk a bit about your work with children/gathering school supplies for needy kids.

I was so honored and happy to deliver school supplies. Being a substitute teacher, I see how many students come to class without paper and pencil. Teachers have to spend their own money to provide these essential supplies or the students will not be able to do their assignments. The supplies were not only appreciated by students, but by the teachers as well. Quinton Rankin and Adam Espo helped deliver the school supplies and they were able to get a firsthand glimpse of how many students are without required supplies.

You are very involved in Anti-Domestic Violence Campaigns. Why is this important?

Domestic Violence awareness is important to me because I AM A SURVIVOR. It is important to me to make people aware that DV is not only physical, but mental and emotional too. I also feel that we have so many athletes getting in trouble due to DV situation, this is just a small group of people that I feel I can bring awareness to and explain the importance of self-control and no matter how hard it is important to just walk away. In many cases survivors became offenders due to anger held in for so long. This was me. I could not control my own anger and lashed out physically at Sherry. I have worked on understanding why I felt the need to be physical to someone that had tried to help me through the toughest time of my life. I am living now in the positive light with positive thoughts and feeling. I have new goals such as being a successful boxing promoter and I am learning to move forward without fear.

Do you have a message for women out there?

Respect yourself. It doesn’t get better. There is always someone out there that is willing to help you. Do not lose control of yourself, your feelings, your thoughts.

Advice the young athletes?

Stay true to yourself, embrace being a role model and most importantly keep a small inner-circle of people that you can trust. It is very important to have people around you that will tell you when you are screwing up.

Tell me something about yourself people may not realize.

I am very shy and UNDER confident lol.

You were Christy Martin the boxer. You are Christy Martin the promoter. Who will Christy Martin be next?

I have signed an agreement for a feature film based on my life, so hopefully the film is successful and I can use that as a tool to open doors for speaking engagements both for domestic violence and motivational purposes.

How would you like to be remembered?

I would like to be remembered as a fighter both in and out of the ring. In the ring, I wanted to be explosive and entertaining for the fans. Out of the ring I am finally finding who the real me is. So determined is how I want to be remembered. Determined to both be successful personally, but also help others find their own success.

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Outside the Ring: Christy Martin

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  1. Darrell 06:58pm, 12/31/2016

    Good read. Loved watching Christy fight back in the day. Full of heart and all attack! Not aware of her personal life, sounds pretty hard core, but wish her the best.

    Happy New Year all, and get the site compatible for mobile devices!

  2. L.L. Cool John 11:57am, 12/26/2016

    Very well written and informative piece. I haven’t heard the name Christy Martin for years.
    Thanks for the one-on-one update, Jill.

  3. The Thresher 05:50pm, 12/25/2016

    Audile won more medals than any soldier in history. Merry Christmas to you as well, Moon-man.

  4. Moon-man 05:46pm, 12/25/2016

    I only know of the movie because my dad was a Korean War vet and he claims to have been used with other troops as extras in that movie. MERRY CHRISTMAS, my friend!!!!

  5. The Thresher 05:11pm, 12/25/2016

    I know. I thought about Audie when I made that suggestion, but how many still remember who he was? You have to be pretty long in the tooth to remember him. Swank was pretty good and Lucia was ‘is suitably evil looking IMO.

    Christy’s fight with Gogarty was one for the ages and stole the show from a Tyson fight on the same venue. Incredible back and forth action with plenty of blood to boot.

  6. Moon-man 04:57pm, 12/25/2016

    Thresher…That title might be too similar to an Audie Murphy movie done back in the day. Speakin’ of movies, maybe Christy needs to hit up Eastwood for some bucks. Me thinks that Eastwood might have been influenced by Martin. The character in, “Million Dollar Baby,” sure makes you think of Martin. Too bad that Eastwood didn’t get Martin to play the lead character alongside Rijker.

  7. The Thresher 08:46am, 12/25/2016

    This just might have been your best yet. I found out some things about Christy that I never knew, especially shocking was the thing about the stroke. She must have tremendous fortitude and a great determination and will.  I admire her. She has gone through Hell and back, and that would be a good title for a movie. “Through Hell and Back.”  That’s one I would look forward to. She is very humble and accessible and is nice to meet in person.


    Great stuff Jill. Keep ‘m coming.

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