If you were riveted by the Netflix documentary Untold: Deal with the Devil, find out Christy Martin’s whole story in this fascinating autobiography.
Boxing legend Christy Martin was a trailblazer in the ring and continues to be an inspiration to female fighters across the globe. She is without a doubt the most important woman in the history of female combat sports. But behind the scenes Martin was in a losing battle, unable to express her true sexual identity and struggling to survive sexual and domestic abuse at the hands of her husband.
In Fighting for Survival: My Journey through Boxing Fame, Abuse, Murder, and Resurrection, Christy Martin recounts her harrowing yet inspiring story. Growing up in a small town in West Virginia, Martin felt forced to keep her sexual orientation hidden to please her family and the sports world, eventually agreeing to a sham marriage with coach Jim Martin. While she rose to prominence in the world of boxing, Martin was secretly contending with substance abuse, domestic violence, and an attempted murder by her husband, who left her to die on their bedroom floor.
Fighting for Survival reveals how Martin battled back to life from her near-death experience, how she overcame abuse, violence, addiction, and 40 years of living in the closet, and how she turned her pain into victory and debasement into triumph. Her story is one of hope and self-belief, an inspiration for anyone struggling to break the chain of abuse or who fears to be open about their sexual orientation. It is more than the story of a boxing champion; it is the story of a survivor.
Christy Martin is the most successful female fighter in boxing history and widely regarded as the woman who legitimized women’s participation in boxing and other combat sports. Discovered by legendary promoter Don King, Martin went undefeated for nearly a decade, won the WBC world junior welterweight championship, and became the first female fighter to box on national television, premium cable (SHOWTIME), and pay-per-view. In 2020 she became the first woman enshrined by the International Boxing Hall of Fame. The induction ceremony will be held in 2022. Martin is currently CEO of Christy Martin Promotions, a boxing promotional company. She runs a charitable foundation, Christy’s Champs, that helps domestic violence survivors and their children, and is a frequent speaker around the country on domestic violence issues. Today she is happily married to a former opponent, Lisa Holewyne. Originally from Mullens, WV, Martin now splits her time between central Florida and Austin, TX.
Ron Borges has covered the NFL since 1974. He is a member of the 48-person Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee and the nine-person senior selection committee. He has been a finalist for inclusion in the writer’s wing of the Pro Football Hall of Fame seven times. Borges has regularly covered boxing, the NFL, golf, major league baseball, the NHL, and five Olympic Games for the Boston Herald, Boston Globe, Oakland Tribune, and other publications. For two years he was hired as a consultant to work on ESPN’s “Sports Century’’ project, which was the forerunner of its 30 for 30 documentary series. Borges has been named Massachusetts Sportswriter of the Year five times. His work has been included in Best American Sports Stories anthology 11 times and he has been named one of America’s top 10 sports columnists by the Associated Press Sports Editors numerous times in its annual competition, including three of the past four years. He will be inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 2022. Borges resides in Littleton, MA.
Chapter 1: Dead on the floor
Chapter 2: Coal Miner’s Daughter
Chapter 3: The thing we carry, the things we hide
Chapter 4: How’d I get myself into a Toughman contest?
Chapter 5: “Want to box, girl?”
Chapter 6: Meeting my mentor…and my menace
Chapter 7: What kind of proposal was that?
Chapter 8: Enter Don King
Chapter 9: The fight that legitimized me and women’s boxing
Chapter 10: Bright lights, big city
Chapter 11: Big fights, ear bites
Chapter 12: Chasing a million dollar payday…and not getting it
Chapter 13: On Boxing: It’s not about violence. It’s about self-control
Chapter 14: All done with Don King but not with fighting, inside the ring and out
Chapter 15: Down for the count and ashamed of how I got there
Chapter 16: No place to run, no place to hide
Chapter 17: Sex, drugs and videotapes
Chapter 18: A champion again, but not for long
Chapter 19: Comeback to nowhere
Chapter 20: One life ends and so does another
Chapter 21: Necessary endings, new beginnings
About the authors
Look up ‘fighter’ in Webster's Dictionary and it may describe pugilism but after you read the story of Christy Martin in her autobiography Fighting For Survival throw away any dictionary that dares to describe what a fighter is or where they come from. Read this book and thank Ron Borges for telling Christy's story like only a great boxing writer could. It's a moving tale about how one person could find a way to take on life's version of Murderers' Row, with the Devil as her cornerman, and triumph over them all. She doesn't belong only in boxing's Hall of Fame. Christy Martin belongs in the Human Being's Hall of Fame.
The book is called Fighting for Survival. But you can’t tell a book by its cover or its title — at least not this one. Sportswriters throw around the word “courage” as though it came with the franchise like a set or shoulder pads or a batting helmet. In 70 years in this business, I have known hundreds of athletes and have written their personal stories. But only a rare few of them had the kind of courage that Hemingway defined as “grace under pressure.” And now there is Christy Martin. During her boxing days, she was the prototype of an athlete, driven to be the best, combining gifted skills with the kind of courage that never took a night off. Martin was, and still is, a fighter. Nobody has written an autobiography as candid, honest and heart-wrenching as hers. And nobody ever had to fight harder outside the ring for survival. For me, the life story she authored with Ron Borges would be the best sports book of the year or even the decade, except that it isn’t a sports story at all. It goes far beyond that. She fights on with the power of words and history. She talks against abuse in churches and prisons and battered wives shelters and anywhere else where people will listen. This is one hell of a book.
Fighters tend to be fashioned from abuse: economic, emotional, physical. Even by prevailing pugilistic standards, though, what Christy Martin withstood seems exceptionally cruel and heartbreaking. So, yes, Fighting for Survival is a brutal but nuanced story of an authentic trailblazer, expertly told by Ron Borges. But to call it a memoir of abuse is to sell it way short. This is the story of a woman coming to terms with herself, an account of the unlikeliest victories, in the ring, and of the soul.
The shame and stigma that plague all victimizing conditions (domestic violence, addiction, etc.) and serve to further isolate those who are hurt by them are combatted here by such a candid view of the inner and contextual circumstances of one remarkable survivor. Fighting for Survival is a story that needs to be heard by anyone who's felt pain, shame, hurt, or despair. It's for anyone who's looked at someone's life and judged; who thought they could possibly know what's inside a person or happening to them behind closed doors. This book is for anyone who's ever felt that they were down for the count; who felt ashamed for taking a knee; who stared up at the world like a fighter on the canvas watching the ref about to count them out. You've got a little fight left in you. It's not over, and you can get back up.
Many book titles are metaphorical, not literal. The title of Fighting For Survival by Hall of Fame boxer Christy Martin is both. She fought to preserve her professional life inside and outside the ring and astonishingly she fought for her actual life on one terrifying night. Both of those narratives are told in a compelling fashion. This book chronicles the exciting boxing part of her saga very well, but it transcends boxing to take us on a dramatic and often harrowing personal journey.
Fighting for Survival reads like a long confessional. It grips the reader from the very first page, and covers so many big themes—fame, celebrity, drugs, crime, the business of sports, incredible triumphs, heartbreaking losses and inconceivable loss, poverty, inequality, sexuality—that add up to make Christy Martin one of boxing's all-time intriguing characters. Readers who think they know Martin's story will soon realize they don't know half of it.
Christy Martin shreds all of the stereotypes of people who experience domestic violence. Domestic violence is ugly and it is brutal, it is complicated and deadly and extremely hard to escape from, even if you are prized fighter. She exposes her vulnerabilities and shares how domestic violence can happen to anyone and why it is so difficult to leave. Christy is a true ambassador and is helping survivors every day by sharing her story, her vulnerabilities, so that others don’t endure what she endured. She is not just a survivor—she is a thriver and committed to sharing her story so that others can become thrivers as well. She is a champion both in the ring and outside of it. Christy is a true champion, not only in her own story but in how she is helping others. What she does for survivors is life changing and lifesaving.
Christy Martin rose above the abusers and destroyers in her life to become a pioneer, a champ, and a symbol of towering strength. Her Fighting For Survival, written with fellow Hall of Famer Ron Borges, is a fascinating account of an athlete who refused to be broken, and of a boxer whose greatest victories unfolded outside the ring. A true profile in courage, and a must read for anyone who cares about the indomitable nature of the human spirit.
In the last two decades of the nineteenth century, a garrulous bare-knuckled heavyweight named John L. Sullivan achieved an unprecedented form of American fame, and in so doing showed our culture how uniquely compelling only a prizefighter could be. Roughly a full century later, in the hands of a legendary promoter and in a moment of cultural change, Christy Martin was women’s boxing’s John L. Sullivan.
Fighting for Survival is written the way Christy fought. Straightforward and don’t hold anything back. It goes beyond being a boxing book and is as honest as any autobiography I’ve read. There’s an art to capturing another person’s voice, and Borges has it. One never gets the feeling that he’s putting words in Martin’s mouth. Rather, he’s helping her organize her thoughts and putting them on paper. There’s no need to over-sensationalize. The facts are lurid enough.
This book is about how a fighter who seemed so strong and in control in the ring could be mired in long-term domestic abuse that ended with her broke, stabbed, shot, and left for dead.… Martin’s struggle with domestic abuse, addiction, and her personal truth as a lesbian is seamlessly interwoven with her battles through the active construction site that was women’s professional boxing in the 1980s and 1990s. Simply put: the sport hadn’t been built yet. She put in blood and sweat equity to help make it happen. Fighting for Survival is unflinching in its description of how abuse crept into Christy Martin’s life. But boxing is also the greatest thing. Because boxing gives us comeback stories. Redemption stories. Survivor stories. And this book tells a good one.
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... 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…. 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.
Behind-the-scenes details of her dealings with King and the other bits and pieces relating to specific fights and fighters were fascinating to a boxing junkie and provided fleshed-out context to the appearances on pay-per-view cards that I’d never quite digested. There’s more than enough bad news to pack a dozen documentaries. The good news, though? There’s a happy ending to it all. It’s a career worth celebrating and a book worth reading.
Women’s Fight News, July issue: Christy Martin was interviewed about the book.
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