Christy Martin Shows the Way.... Again
23.08.05 - By Bernie McCoy: Trace the present day history of the sport of Women's boxing to its beginning and Christy Martin is the prominent name in the conversation. It was Martin who provided the nascent sport with it's first national recognition, culminating on the front cover of Sports Illustrated. It is not an overstatement that every fighter currently participating in the sport watched and learned from Christy Martin. Let's hope they still do.
Article posted on 23.08.2005
Martin's highly anticipated fight with Lucia Rijker on July 30 was canceled due to Rijker's Achilles tendon injury. The match had much to recommend it aside from the fact that boxing fans had been anticipating Martin and Rijker climbing into the same ring for more than a decade. Both fighters are among the most skilled boxers in the sport and both have compiled overwhelming records against some of the best competition in the most competitive weight division in Women's boxing. But, best of all, for the fans and for the sport, this was a fight that no one, the "experts", the fans, not even the two fighters, was certain who was going to win. And, therein, lies the essence of one of the big problems facing the sport of Women's boxing, today; there are simply too many match-ups, or more properly, mismatch-ups, in which the winner is known, to most fans, before the first round bell rings.
Sound simplistic? How often, one might ask, is it apparent, before the bout, which fighter is going to win? The answer is: all too often. Did anyone, with a modicum of boxing knowledge, have any doubt who was going to win the last five Laila Ali "fights"? Neither did I! In fact, go back to Ali's first title win, in August, ' 02. It was a two round KO over Suzy Taylor for the IBA Super Middleweight title. Coming into the fight Taylor had lost her last four fights. Did anyone, with any boxing "smarts", think Taylor had a chance in that fight. In fact, over Ali's career, only in the Kendra Lenhart bout, and then only for a brief period in one middle round, has Laila Ali ever been in what could be construed as any kind of boxing "trouble." A good portion of that was due to boxing skill, but too much was due to lackluster opposition. That simply does not make for compelling boxing.
On June 12, Mia St. John won the IFBA lightweight title over Liz Drew, a 9-7 fighter, winning 25 of the 30 rounds on the cumulative scorecards. This weekend, in China, St. John won the vacant IBA continental lightweight title with a ten round decision over Donna Biggers, winning 24 of 30 scored rounds. Biggers' main claim to fame, up to this point, was three first round knockouts over one Nicole Perkins ,in a four month period in 2004. The lone saving grace of the Biggers bout was that it was conducted half a world away. Neither the St. John/Drew bout nor the St. John/Biggers bout, realistically, deserved the label of championship fight. In reality, there has been little doubt as to who would win the vast majority of Mia St. John's, mostly uncountable and, largely, un-watch able four round bouts throughout her career. To her credit, St. John has, at times, ventured into the "quality opponent" area, fighting Jenifer Alcorn, Christy Martin and Jessica Rakoczy (twice). The irony of these bouts is that St. John's sojourn up the competitive ladder resulted in four bouts that were, mainly, also mismatches, with St. John coming out on the short end of each decision. Now that she has two titles, it is hoped that St. John will seek out quality opposition for her title defenses. That's what champions do.
Let me be clear. Laila Ali and Mia St. John both have boxing skills which have improved over the years that each fighter has been in the ring. Both fighters have every right to fight whatever type of opposition they choose. Both have opted to primarily fight opponents who are considerably beneath their skill level. At the same time, Ali and St. John have achieved name recognition far in excess of almost every other fighter in the sport. Thus, as a result, two of the best know fighters in the sport of Women's boxing have largely participated in bouts that, while certainly not pre-determined, have, for the most part, lacked an excess of competitive integrity. That, simply, is not good for the sport.
What about Christy Martin? Were all her fights against strong, competitive opponents? Certainly not. When Martin was first starting out in professional boxing, some fifteen years ago, the level of competition was not nearly as deep as it is today. Did she duck some fighters? Sumya Anani tried mightily but failed to get a return bout with Martin after a stunning upset in 1998. That the return bout never happened was unfortunate not only for the sport, but for both fighters who had staged a terrific and very close ten round bout. The second bout would probably have been just as good. Anani deserved a return bout six years ago and, in truth, deserves a bout today. That said, for every Anani, there was an Acuna, a Laracuente, a Collins, a Somers, a Holewyne, a Girgrah. Christy Martin fought and beat the best fighters in a division, which, then as now, was the most competitive and compelling in the sport. She didn't avoid any one, unless and until, you get to the name Lucia Rijker.
I've written, in the past, that if the Martin camp had wanted a Rijker fight six or seven years ago, given Christy Martin's prominence in the sport at the time, the fight happens. I believed that then and I still believe it. What I also believe is that Christy Martin is a smart fighter and, maybe, an even smarter businesswoman. She once said she wasn't "Don King smart", but she's not completely shut out of that conversation, either. I think Martin had figured out that a "Martin/Rijker" bout, like any good investment, would appreciate with time. Did she anticipate Clint Eastwood and Hillary Swank and the Academy Award. Of course not, nobody did. But, somehow, Martin figured out that the "right" time for "Martin/Rijker" was not five or six years ago and that, somehow, somewhere, there was a big "futures market" for the bout. She was right.
Will the Martin/Rijker bout be rescheduled? Who knows? There has been rumor, since the cancellation, of a slow advance sale for the bout. Add the fact that any rehab of an injury is always uncertain and let's also presume that Bob Arum and the Hollywood hoopla could, in "showbiz fashion, go on to the next project. After being so close, if the "Martin/Rijker" is gone for good, that's a big hit for the sport, the fans and the fighters.
However, Christy Martin continues to do what she has always done. She climbs into the ring and not with walkover opposition. Rather, on September 16 in Albuquerque, Christy Martin steps in with Holly Holm, a very good boxer from New Mexico, with an 11-1 record and, for good measure, Martin goes to New Mexico for the fight. It's not Martin/Rijker, but it's also surely not Ali/Taylor or St. John/Drew. Christy Martin loses out on the biggest fight of her career, the biggest payday in the sport of Women's boxing and she comes right back with a fight that is better for the sport of Women's boxing than the majority of the mismatches passing for legitimate fights in the sport today.
That's what some of today's best known fighters can learn from the best know fighter, ever. You fight who's out there. You fight everyone who's out there. You take some easy bouts, but you take a bunch of tough ones too. The sport of boxing is simple, it's "one on one", but it's not easy. Too many fighters, today, in the sport of Women's boxing, are trying to make it both simple and easy. It doesn't help the fighters and it certainly doesn't help the sport. Christy Martin led the way in the sport fifteen years ago and she's still leading the way on September 16 in Albuquerque, N. M. Fans of the sport should take notice. More than a few of the fighters in the sport should, likewise, take notice and learn.
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