It’s late November in a secluded neighborhood. Darkness enshrouds a ranch-style house set among thick palm trees that further obscure the home. The roaring wind muffles all sound. A trained fighter named Christy Martin sits on the edge of her bed, preparing to go out jogging. Then she looks up.
Swish! The razor-sharp, 9-inch-long blade of a hunting knife plunges into her upper body. Then comes a second stab. And a third. For Martin, it’s pain, disbelief, tissue damage and blood-soaked clothes.
The attacker’s next slash hits her left breast. Now it’s personal. Martin leans back and instinctively kicks at him, but that just gives him another target. He seizes the opportunity and slashes her lower leg.
They wrestle to the ground, and he continues his assault, leaving multiple lacerations on her head. He pulls from his pocket a pink 9 mm — the handgun Martin had kept under her mattress. She tries to disarm him, but she’s too weak. He retaliates by pistol-whipping her. Badly beaten, she’s still defiant. She screams, “You cannot kill me.”
The assailant shoots, and the bullet stops inches from her heart. One lung is punctured, and it fills with blood. For some reason, Martin fixes her eyes on an air-conditioning vent, then starts to pray. The man watches her for 30 minutes. Believing that she’s dead, he leaves the room. But she’s not. When she hears the shower running, it’s her cue to escape. She staggers out of the house.
No doubt this reads like a fight scene in a script from a thriller, but it isn’t. It’s the true story of Christy Martin, now Christy Salters, and her encounter with her former husband and boxing coach Jim Martin. The attack took place in Apopka, Florida, on November 23, 2010 — after he reportedly spent 20 years threatening to kill her if she ever left him.
Photos Courtesy of Netflix
Certainly the events Salters had to endure that night were horrific. In a way, testifying in court must have been cathartic. The significance of that act probably runs deeper than you and I can imagine, but after prolonged bouts of self-reflection, it helped her go from being a victim to being a champion for battered women and for WorldPride, an organization that fights for LGBTQ rights.
I admit that I can’t imagine what Salters went through, but after watching the documentary Untold: Deal With the Devil, which is available on Netflix, I have a better idea. I know that it took great courage for her to step forward and share her gut-wrenching and eye-opening story with the world. After I thank her for taking time to speak with me, she says, “Thank you for taking the time to let me talk about my story. I feel it’s important to keep sharing my story, make more people aware of domestic violence and that it’s not just about physical abuse. There are so many aspects of domestic violence that sometimes it’s happening to you and you don’t realize it.”
That’s when she brings up the martial arts connection: “Boxing has saved my life many times. It gave me something to focus on when I was young, as I got older and as my career grew. It gave me something to believe in. Times when I felt like giving up, I wouldn’t because I was in boxing. After being shot and left for dead, the first place I wanted to go to was a boxing ring.”
Salters is far from a minor player in pugilism. She’s been called the woman who legitimized women’s boxing as a sport. The former women’s lightweight and welterweight champion of the world, she was the first female inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame. “I’ve just always wanted to be a fighter and for people to walk away from my fights saying, ‘That was a good fight,’ and not ‘That was a good women’s fight.’ I wasn’t planning to legitimize boxing; it was an accident. I was just being me.”
Untold, directed by Laura Brownson, details Salters’ meteoric rise as a boxer and her struggles to hide her sexual orientation from friends and family members — she’s known she was a lesbian since she was 8. It also depicts how her ex-husband, who knew about this yet still demanded that before her fights, she trash her opponents’ sexuality even when the statements were untrue. The documentary reveals how he controlled her physically, mentally and emotionally. Interviewees include Mike Tyson, Laila Ali, Salters’ family and — from prison — convicted murderer Jim Martin.
Brownson reveals that as Salters’ fame grew, her ex tightened his grip on her. He controlled how she spent her money and whom she spoke with. He read her texts and emails, got her hooked on drugs, and installed surveillance cameras around the house to film her in compromising situations, threatening to circulate the videos if she tried to pull away.
Salters had a boxing record of 49-7-3 with 31 knockouts when she entered the hospital. Seven months after being left for dead — with the bullet still lodged near her heart — she stepped back in the ring and fought Dakota Stone in an effort to win back her welterweight title and score her 50th victory. In the final round of that rematch, Salters broke her hand in nine places, causing a stoppage.
Photos Courtesy of Netflix
During the surgery to repair her hand, she suffered another setback: a stroke. That meant that in her next fight — a court battle — she would have to overcome the deleterious effects of the stroke to testify. On April 24, 2012, she did just that. Three days later, Martin was found guilty of attempted second-degree murder and then sentenced to 25 years.
Still driven to get that 50th win, four months later Salters went 10 rounds with Mia St. John and lost. Considering the health risks associated with those two fights, I ask why she continued to box.
“I wanted to show Jim I could win without him,” Salters says. “It was sad because as an inspired athlete, I wanted my 50th mark years before retiring. Two times, I went into the ring, and it backfired on me twice. Against Stone, I was winning on all cards and the doctor stopped it 50 seconds away from my 50th win because my hand was broken. I told the doctor, ‘I’m winning on all cards and she’s not hitting me!’ I thought, I’ve been shot, stabbed, left for dead, and you want to stop the fight because of a broken hand? It made no sense to me.“
After the stroke, I kept that a secret and didn’t tell the commissioner — thus I was able to fight Mia. After losing to Mia, I realized the stroke had taken a greater toll on my body than I thought. I retired.
“Then it occurred to me [that] getting up off the floor and getting out of the house that night was bigger than any win I had in boxing. It was a win in life. What I hope audiences can get out of the film is they can see my life and not make the same mistakes I’ve made. I also feel it’s important that parents and family members of gay children be more accepting of their children. This is who they are. Don’t shun or turn your back on them. It’s important to help them through life and not to make life more difficult.”
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