A CARD-CARRYING MALE CHAUVINIST, boxing trainer Jim Martin has no problem admitting that he was less than thrilled five years ago when his boss asked him to train a woman boxer named Christy Salters. So he came up with a plan designed to nip this experiment in the bud: “I had it rigged up to have one of my lightweights break a couple of her ribs,” says Martin, 52.
But when Christy walked into his Bristol, Tenn., gym, it was Martin who was floored. “I was expecting her to be wearing combat boots and looking butchy,” he says. Instead she was dressed in a nice blouse, wearing lipstick and carrying her pet Pomeranian. Martin reluctantly took up the challenge and discovered to his astonishment that “she worked harder than my men. I said, ‘Wow! I could make some money off this woman.’ ”
He has indeed—not a lot yet, but there could be a bundle coming. Christy Salters Martin—the couple married in 1992—is a new sensation in professional boxing. Don King signed her to a four-year deal, making her the first female boxer to work with a top promoter. And she can fight. Ask anyone who saw the 5’4″, 135-lb. Martin slug her way to a decision over Deirdre Gogarty on the undercard of the Mike Tyson-Frank Bruno dustup in March. (Martin, who got $15,000 for the Gogarty bout, will get another big payday July 13 on Tyson’s next card.) Or ask sparring partner Jimmy Maloney, a Top 20 140-pounder. “She’s awesome,” says Maloney. “She could beat half the lightweights out there. She’s definitely king of the women.”
Martin, 28, is happy to be king—as long as no one expects her to lead a crusade. “I’m not a pioneer for women’s boxing,” says Martin, who lives and trains in Orlando. “I’m not trying to make this statement that women should be on every card.”
Indeed, says husband Jim, “she tells everybody up front she’s in the game for herself, not for all women.” The truth is, he says, “there’s not another woman boxer out there like Christy.”
Martin learned about the rude and elemental in Itmann, W.Va., where her father, John, and brother Randy, 23, are coal miners (as were her two grandfathers, both of whom died of black lung disease), Despite the sweaty day job, her father and her mother, Joyce, a homemaker, saw to it that Christy wanted for little. Her father introduced her to sports: “He always had me shooting baskets. I would cheat on my piano lessons so I could go outside and dribble.”
Martin studied physical education at Concord College in Athens, W.Va., where she was a star on the basketball team. She also entered a Toughwoman Contest—a boxing tournament for rank amateurs—on a dare. “It was crazy, but the crowd got behind me,” says Martin, who won local competitions in 1987-89. “Plus, it was a quick thousand bucks,” for each win.
In 1989, Martin fought a couple of times for a Bristol, Tenn., promoter named Larry Carrier, who was so impressed, he later invited her to work with him full-time. In 1991 he assigned her to his son’s trainer—Jim Martin.
Jim, a divorced father of three, says it took a few months for him to realize his interest in Christy’s form went beyond how she threw her jab. “I never thought I’d be kissing one of my fighters,” he says. “But after one fight I was so proud of her, I just gave her a hug and a kiss on the cheek.” Christy, naturally, was way ahead of him. “I told my girlfriend,” she says, “if he didn’t kiss me that night, I was going to lay one on him!”
Jim says he was scared to pursue the relationship because of the nearly 25-year age difference. But Christy could not have cared less. “Before a fight,” she says, “you’re nervous, so you’ve got to go to the bathroom a lot. Before this one fight I said, ‘Jim, I need my shirt tucked into my shorts.’ I had gloves on, I couldn’t do it myself—so who do you think did it?” Christy says she saw stars, and no one had even hit her.
In 1991 the couple moved to Orlando, where Jim opened a gymnasium and started a pest-control business. In the ring, says Christy, he calls all the shots. Otherwise, she says, “we’re copilots.” Adds Jim: “In four years of marriage, we’ve never been apart more than 24 hours.” Which is not to say that things are uniformly co-pacetic. “We argue all the time about Mickey Mouse things,” says Christy. Her biggest complaint? “Jim is not a romantic person. I had to teach him how to kiss.”
Jim is romantic to this extent: He concedes that it’s getting harder for him to watch his wife get smacked around—not that she ever takes much of a beating. To date she has knocked out 25 opponents on the way to a 35-2-2 record. “But I couldn’t be married to Christy,” says Jim, “and stop her from doing what she really wants to do.”
Jim says constant sexism in boxing—snide remarks, condescending smiles—sometimes made Christy think about quitting, but that financial incentives helped keep her going. “Don King told me he’d make me a wealthy woman,” says Martin. “I have total belief he will.” The truth is, he just might. Martin’s purses are not only getting bigger, but there is a Playboy profile possibly in the works, a book on the drawing board and a movie in the air—”a love story,” says Jim, “like Rocky.”
Martin says she expects to stay in the game as long as she’s “excited about it.” Eventually she wants to have kids. “I’ve had Jim promise me a boy,” she says. And if it’s a girl? “Well,” she says, “we’ll just have to make it the best little girl around. But I’d discourage her from sports. Women athletes have such a difficult stereotype to overcome. It’s a tough world for a woman, no matter what you do.”
MEG GRANT in Orlando