Christy Martin had already taken care of business the night of June 28, 1997, at the MGM Grand Garden in Las Vegas, stopping Andrea DeShong in seven rounds.
The female boxing pioneer had become the opening act for Mike Tyson, capturing the attention of the media and the public with her dramatic win over Deidre Gogarty on the pay-per-view undercard of the second Tyson-Frank Bruno fight on March 16, 1996.
The performance overshadowed Tyson’s third-round knockout of Bruno and landed Martin on the cover of Sports Illustrated.
“After the fight I went back up to my hotel room and had all these calls from the Leno Show, Good Morning America,” Martin said. “I thought someone was playing a joke on me. Someone from Showtime told me that my fight was the only one anyone was talking about.
I knew about Christy Martin. I saw her land what seemed to be the hardest punch I had ever witnessed in a first-round knockout of Erica Schmidlin on the Tyson-Buster Mathis undercard.
With Schmidlin against the ropes, Martin landed a shot that I thought was going to literally take Schmidlin’s head off.
Martin became part of Tyson’s extended cast, with their promoter, Don King, directing the show. King even bought Martin a BMW after the Gogarty fight, which Martin said she still drives today.
The Tyson and Christy show, for all intents and purposes, closed on June 28, 1997 — 25 years ago this week, when Tyson was disqualified for biting off chunks of Evander Holyfield’s ear. Tyson would never recover from the fallout, though he continued to fight.
The crowd at the MGM Grand Garden was juiced up for the Tyson rematch with Holyfield. Eight months earlier, Holyfield, a 25-1underdog, had stopped Tyson in 11 rounds.
Martin got the buzz going early with her Round 7 knockout of DeShong.
Then Martin took her seat — a lousy seat, it turned out — up in the audience to watch the main event.
“I am sitting up in the rafters,” she said. “The fans around me were asking me, “’Christy Martin, what are you doing up here?’ I told them ‘These are the tickets my promoter Don King gave me.’”
They were so far away that Martin couldn’t figure out what happened when she saw Holyfield jump up and down and dance away from Tyson. The arena turned into chaos as Tyson was disqualified for biting Holyfield’s ear — twice.
It was so crazy that Martin called her parents and asked what happened.
“This is what I think I saw, but what just happened,” she asked. “They told me Tyson bit Evander’s ear.”
There was fighting in the crowd, and a riot closed down the casino on what should have been its most profitable night in history. Martin went back down to the dressing room to get her gear. She encountered her promoter, King, sitting by himself after watching his meal ticket chomp his career into pieces.
“There was Don King, sitting on a metal folding chair, in the hallway, right in front of my dressing room, all alone,” Martin said. “I thought, ‘Are you kidding me, I have to walk by this man to get to my dressing room to get my bag. What do I say to him?’ I don’t know. I don ’t even know if I said anything.”
These were heady times for the coal miner’s daughter from West Virginia — the good times, even on nights as bizarre as June 28, 1997.
The bad times? Really bad. Horrific.
I happened to speak to Martin about the 25th anniversary of the Holyfield-Tyson bite fight because she had an insider’s view — even from far away. But the opportunity to talk to her came as a result of the compelling book she has authored with Hall of Fame boxing writer Ron Borges called “Fighting for Survival: My Journey through Boxing Fame, Abuse, Murder and Resurrection (Rowan & Littlefield).”
Martin lived a life of horror under the control of her manager and husband, Jim Martin, a life that nearly ended when he shot and stabbed her and left her for dead on Nov. 23, 2010. The first chapter of her book? “Dead on the Floor:”
“I could hear my husband sharpening a knife in the front room. Because he was my longtime abuser, I knew he wasn’t doing it to carve up a turkey. He was doing it to carve up his wife.”
Martin would survive — running out of their Orlando house and into the street, where she stopped a truck driver who took her to the hospital — and has survived so much more.
“I had been sexual abused at the age of six but kept it a dark secret for 40 years,” the book says. “I was domestically abused for two decades but kept that a secret, too. All the time, I’d also been hiding from the world the fact that I was a lesbian locked in a sham marriage.”
In 2012, Jim Martin was convicted of attempted second-degree murder and is serving 25 years in prison at the Graceville Correctional Facility in Graceville, Florida.
Today, Christy Martin, 54, is married to one of her former opponents, Lisa Holewyne (she scored a unanimous decision over Holewyne in 2001). She is doing some boxing training and promotion and working with a nonprofit organization she started, Christy’s Champs, helping to provide computers for youths in local gyms. She has rebuilt her life and tries every day to live with the scars of that life that at one time put her on the cover of Sports Illustrated and also nearly put her in a grave.
“The physical stuff is the easy part,” she said. “The mental stuff — here we are, coming up on 12 years later — and it’s still there. I asked a counselor, ‘When am I going to get over this?’ The answer was I am never going to get over it. As time goes by, you find different places to put it. The emotions, the treatment he dished out for 20 years. But I’m doing better.”
You can hear Thom Loverro on The Kevin Sheehan Show podcast.