How Boxer Christy Martin Had To Fight To Save Her Own Life

Christy Martin was a breakout star in women’s boxing, but the greatest fight of her life was the fight to save herself.

January 13, 2022
A photo of boxer Christy Martin, a woman with blond hair and bangs. Martin is wearing a collared shirt.

Boxer Christy Martin talks during a news conference in Los Angeles on Monday, Aug 15, 2011.

Photo by: AP


Christy Martin’s statistics are impressive. As a 21-year-old from a coal-mining town in West Virginia, she began boxing professionally in 1989. By the time she retired from professional boxing in 2012, she had 49 wins under her belt (31 by knockout) and had been inducted into six different halls of fame.

Christy had only been training for a year when she met her coach, James Martin, at a boxing gym. She was 22; he was already 47. According to ESPN, Jim didn’t believe that a woman should be in the boxing ring, but he thought her talent was undeniable.

They were married two years later. Christy told ESPN that the marriage was transactional. She believed she needed Jim if she was going to make it in the boxing world.

Her success in the ring grew, and she shattered pay-per-view records. The 1990s was the heyday of women’s boxing as major boxing organizations like USA Boxing, Golden Gloves, and Amateur International Boxing Association lifted their bans on female competitors. In the ring, Christy used the moniker “Coal Miner’s Daughter,” a reference to her father’s job in the coal mines and her West Virginia roots. She fought in high-profile bouts in Las Vegas and around the country. Her $150,000 fight fees took her a long way from her working-class roots.

Christy was on the cover of Sports Illustrated and appeared on late-night talk shows and early morning news shows. Behind the scenes, however, she was living through financial, physical, and emotional abuse at the hands of her husband.

Boxer Christy Martin, a white woman with blonde hair, is in a boxing ring and looks toward her corner with her right fist clenched in victory and her left arm raised over her head. Martin has on a white tank top and is drenched with sweat.

In this March 3, 2001, file photo, Christy Martin looks toward her corner following her unanimous 10-round decision over Jeanne "Boom Boom" Martinez, in Las Vegas. Martin was elected to the International Boxing Hall of Fame, Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2019. This was the first year that women were on the ballot.

Photo by: AP


Jim had convinced Christy, who is a lesbian, that if anybody knew about her sexuality, she would never work in boxing again. She told Sports Illustrated that he isolated her from her friends and family, convincing her she had no support apart from him. The physical violence escalated.

“I’d never been knocked out except by Jim,” she recounted for Sports Illustrated.

By 2007, Christy was using cocaine supplied by Jim to cope, according to ESPN. At times, she felt suicidal. Still, she continued to box. In 2010, Martin reconnected with a high school girlfriend and confided in her about Jim’s abuse. Christy finally made plans to leave.

According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, the most dangerous time for a domestic violence victim is when she or he is preparing to leave their abuser. It was true for the champion boxer as well. On November 23, 2010, Jim attacked Christy, stabbed her three times in the torso, seriously cut her leg, and then shot her in the chest with her own pink pistol.

Despite her life-threatening injuries, Christy kept fighting. When Jim, who reportedly believed she was dead, got into the shower, Christy summoned the strength to stand up and run outside where a passing motorist drove her to the hospital. Jim was arrested a week later and claimed he acted in self-defense.

Two years later, Jim was convicted of attempted second-degree murder and aggravated battery with a deadly weapon. He was sentenced to 35 years in prison and is currently housed in a medium-security facility in Florida.

Today, Christy is married to Lisa Holewyne, another boxer, and they live in North Carolina. Christy has worked as a substitute teacher and runs her own company—Christy Martin Promotions, where she organizes boxing matches. She also runs Christy’s Champs, an organization that seeks to help victims of family violence.

If you or someone you know is dealing with domestic violence or abuse from a romantic partner, you can visit the National Domestic Violence Hotline website, call 1.800.799.SAFE or text START to 88788 for help. Advocates are available 24/7 to help callers talk through their situation and connect them with local resources. There is no charge to reach out to the National Domestic Violence Hotline.

To watch more on this story, stream "The Puppet Master" episode on Season 5 of Stalked: Someone's Watching on discovery+.

Next Up

5 Disgraced Football Players Accused Of Killing People

Inside the crimes connected to professional, college and high school football players.