Commentary

The lessons in Christy Martin's return

She will fight for more than just herself when she puts on the gloves again in March

Originally Published: January 18, 2011
By Jemele Hill | ESPN.com

Many athletes struggle to embrace social responsibility. Not every athlete is qualified to be the face of a cause. Certainly, not every athlete wants to be.

Christy Martin always has considered herself a reluctant role model. In Martin's mind, a role model is a parent or a teacher, someone who willingly accepts the heroic challenge of shaping people's lives.

[+] EnlargeChristy Martin
Chris Graythen/Getty ImagesOne of Christy Martin's few losses, this one to Laila Ali in 2003.

Martin just wanted to fight.

But as much as she wanted to be just a boxer -- albeit the most famous female boxer ever -- she has come to see that she's in a position to be considerably more.

In November, the 42-year-old fighter was nearly killed in an alleged domestic violence incident with her husband.

Just two months later, Martin is back, and ready to box again. She's scheduled to fight Dakota Stone on March 12 in Las Vegas. And when she enters the ring this time, Martin won't be just a boxer. She'll be a survivor, too.

She was stabbed multiple times and shot in the alleged altercation with her husband, James Martin, in their Apopka, Fla., home. Martin was hospitalized for seven days. Doctors removed a bullet from her back just two weeks ago.

"It's important to me to show myself as well as other survivors, you just have to get up," Martin says. "You have to get up off the floor and take control of your life."

She says the best way she can do that is by resuming her boxing career, even though she admits some of the people closest to her initially were against the idea.

[+] EnlargeMartin
AP Photo/Lennox McLendonChristy Martin was already a three-time world champ when she beat Deirdre Gogarty in 1996. That's her husband and trainer, Jim Martin, lifting her.

Martin (49-5-3, 31 KOs) didn't listen. And now she's scheduled to fight Stone in a six-round rematch at the MGM Grand. Martin's bout is on the undercard for the Miguel Cotto-Ricardo Mayorga junior middleweight title battle.

"It's more emotional and mental than physical," says Martin, who hasn't fought since her 10-round majority victory over Stone 18 months ago. "God blessed me. That's why I'm alive. There's a bigger plan for me than just getting back to boxing. Through boxing, I'll be able to help other people in tough life situations."

Domestic violence involving male athletes seems to happen with such regularity that many of us don't even pause when we see a headline anymore. Some of us haven't thought about the horrors of domestic violence since the O.J. Simpson trial.

In this case, a celebrated female athlete -- a boxer nonetheless -- endured something almost unimaginable. Authorities say James Martin, who trained Christy in the 1990s as she rose to boxing prominence, assaulted his wife for an hour and left her to die. According to prosecutors, he pistol-whipped her, slammed her head into the bedroom furniture and then shot her.

Her husband, who is in jail, has been charged with attempted first-degree murder and aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. His lawyer claimed in a court appearance last month that her client acted out of self-defense.

Martin won't comment about the attack or why it happened, since the case has yet to go to trial. But once she's able to speak freely about her situation, can you imagine the power of her testimony? Think of what it might mean to women who have been abused, and those men who have abused women.

[+] EnlargeChristy Martin
AP Photo/Jeff ZelevanskyMartin, right, fought Kathy Collins in the Women's Pound for Pound Championship at Madison Square Garden in 2001.

Martin was once primarily motivated to return to boxing so she could earn her 50th victory. Now she understands there's something far more meaningful that can be achieved.

"The 50 wins have slid a little bit to the wayside," she says. "Just showing myself and the world that with God's blessing and a strong will, you can get up and regain the will in your life. That's what I see more important than the 50th win."

If Martin chooses to become a champion against domestic violence, this next stage of her life could potentially be more rewarding than anything she does in the ring.

I don't say that to minimize Martin's vast achievements as a fighter, which in 1996 put her on the cover of Sports Illustrated.

But even though she was once a reluctant role model, now she can be a genuine one. And that's even better.

Jemele Hill can be reached at jemeleespn@gmail.com.

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