Katie Taylor and Amanda Serrano recently made history as the first women to headline a fight card at Madison Square Garden. They put on an exhibition of courage, skill, and passion that made it one of the best fights I’ve ever seen. It’s no exaggeration to say that such an occasion would not have happened without trailblazers like Christy Martin who, among many other achievements, fought in the first ever women’s boxing match at the Garden.
Martin, nicknamed “The Coal Miner’s Daughter,” grew up in West Virginia, and began boxing after winning a ‘ToughMan’ amateur competition. She was eventually signed by Don King and became a regular on the undercard of Mike Tyson’s sell-out fights. After a particularly bloody fight with Ireland’s Deirdre Gogarty, she became a household name in the USA and began earning purses of over $100,000 per fight – vastly more than her contemporaries and more than many male fighters.
Behind the scenes however, Martin was struggling desperately. Facing rejection by her family for being gay, she had married her trainer, Jim Martin, who was abusive and manipulative. The book recounts countless examples of Martin’s constant emotional, and occasionally physical, abuse. As her career ended, she became addicted to cocaine as her husband found another way to control her. Christy would remain unable to bring herself to leave Jim Martin until he tried to kill her – a crime for which he is currently in prison and which provided her with the necessary catalyst to seek help.
As well as recounting her remarkable career, Fighting for Survival is Christy Martin’s chance to seize control of her own life narrative. She uses the book to explain the choices she made, many of which seem inexplicable when not placed firmly in the context of her abusive relationship. While the detail can be at times overwhelming, it is clearly important to Martin to be unequivocal in highlighting how Martin treated her. The book is also Christy’s attempt to provide a beacon of hope for other sufferers of abuse and those who may be struggling with their sexuality. Throughout the book she offers advice and compassion for those who might be struggling.
Fighting for Survival is a brutally honest book which can be difficult to read at times. I found the boxing story at it’s core completely fascinating and a YouTube binge of Martin’s fights is highly recommended. Martin also constantly found herself on the edge of a big headline, Forrest Gump style, as she was on the fight card on some boxing’s strangest nights – when Tyson bit Hollyfield’s ear, when Tommy Morrison tested positive for Aids and the night Tupac Shakur was shot after a Tyson fight amongst others. She also encountered many of the great and the good of boxing along the way.
Much like Martin’s fighting style, Fighting for Survival is powerful and holds nothing back. She writes as she fought – by laying all her cards on the table and scoring a knockout success.
Fighting for Survival will be published on June 22nd by Rowman and Littlefield.