A Deal with the Devil

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Content Warning: This essay contains strong language about, and detailed descriptions of, violent activity, domestic abuse, drug use, and suicide.

The first three times that the knife cut into me, it was so sharp that I didn’t even realize I’d been stabbed.

I actually thought that I’d just been punched under the arm. Three quick punches — like bam-bam-bam — that was all it felt like. No huge deal.

But that fourth stab….

When the knife cut into my breast?

That was when I knew I was in trouble.

Not because of the pain. I don’t even remember there being any pain.

Because of the blood.

I’d bled a lot over the years in the boxing ring, and I’d caused a lot of other people to bleed. But this? This was different.

It was like a fountain of blood squirting out from my chest. It almost seemed fake because there was so much. I’d never seen anything like it.

So just seeing that, and watching the blood flow out of me so fast and splatter all over the carpet in the bedroom, that was when I became convinced that I was about to die. That this was how it would all end.

And part of me, in that moment — as sad and heartbreaking as it is to admit — part of me might actually have been … relieved.

When the knife cut into my breast? That was when I knew I was in trouble. Christy Martin

This was in November 2010, right before Thanksgiving. Down in Apopka, Florida, where I was living with my husband and boxing trainer, Jim Martin. For the previous 20 minutes, Jim had been in the other room calling my friends and family to tell them that I was a lesbian.

And a drug addict.

And that I’d left him for a woman.

I could actually hear him talking to my loved ones about texting them pictures of me doing drugs or having sex.

“You’ll see what I mean,” he said. “You’ll see who she really is.”

And all the while, call after call, Jim, he was in there sharpening a knife. I could hear that sliding sound of steel on stone, just over and over again — whoooooosh, whoooooosh, whooooosh.

Then at one point everything went silent. A few seconds later, he calmly strolled into the bedroom, where I had been talking on the phone to the woman I’d left our home to be with a few days earlier. He looked me in the eye, pulled out that knife, and just basically started cutting me up.

Al Bello/Allsport
Al Bello/Allsport

When something like that happens to you, I guess your mind and body go into panic mode, and you do whatever you can in order to stay alive — or at least that was what happened with me. I started kicking and flailing, anything I could do to try to escape. But as I’m kicking him, Jim, he cuts my calf muscle almost completely from my leg. Just like one clean cut.

Now there’s even more blood.

But, you know, I’m a fighter, right? And as much as there may have been a part of me that wouldn’t have minded dying on that afternoon because of how bad things had gotten in my life, it’s like: You can’t take the fight out of a fighter.

So some switch inside of me just flipped, and I decided, like: No, motherf***er, you are not going to kill me. Not today. I am going to live! Even if it’s just to show you that you were too weak to finish the job.

When I wrestled him to the side of the bed, though, somehow things just kept getting worse. Jim, he’s smashing my head into the corner of our dresser. And he still has the knife, so all the while he’s slicing and cutting my shoulders. Then he pulls out a gun — my gun, my pink gun — and pistol-whips me across the side of the face.

Lying there on the floor, getting pummeled and cut and beaten down in every way imaginable, everything I’d accomplished over the years just faded away. None of it mattered — all the knockouts, the big contract with Don King, climbing into the ring at Madison Square Garden with fans chanting my name, being on a card with Mike Tyson, the Sports Illustrated cover, everything. It was all reduced to nothing.

None of those achievements were going to save me, and there was nothing I could do to turn the tide. I was a goner for sure.

But then, out of nowhere, Jim, he just … stopped.

Stopped the cutting and the kicking and the bashing. All at once. Just like that.

No, motherf***er, you are not going to kill me. Not today. I am going to live! Even if it’s just to show you that you were too weak to finish the job.Christy Martin

I didn’t know what was going on, but then I saw Jim look down at his hand, which was gushing blood. While he was cutting me, and I was fighting back, his hand must have slipped, and his entire palm was sliced from end to end. So Jim saw that, stopped, and basically just walked out of the room to go take care of his cut.

As I was lying on the floor alone, left for dead by my husband, I could hear my lungs gurgling as I breathed. He’d punctured my lungs somewhere, and now they were filling up with blood.

I really am dying. This is really happening.

Al Bello/Allsport
Al Bello/Allsport

Every few minutes, Jim would walk back in and look at me, I guess just checking to see if I’d died yet. And every time he came in, I’d basically beg him not to kill me and to take me to the hospital.

He never said a thing. Never responded. Each time, he’d just walk out of the room.

But after a few more minutes of me not dying, I guess he realized that there was no way he could let me live, because I’d go to the police and it’d be over for him. So he came back in one last time, stood at my feet, and pointed my pink 9-mm at me.

He’s just looking at me. Staring me down. Standing perfectly still, with the gun in his hand.

“You don’t have the balls to shoot me!!!!!!!!”

I remember screaming that at him. I don’t know if I believed it or not, but it actually felt pretty great to say. And then….

He shot me.

Point blank in the chest.

He came back in one last time, stood at my feet, and pointed my pink 9-mm at me. Christy Martin

I’m pretty sure I passed out at that point, and Jim probably thought I was dead. I mean, who wouldn’t? After all of that?

But I wasn’t dead. I am not, it turns out, easy to kill. So I kept on breathing, and I just prayed. I prayed so hard in that moment. I remember saying, in my head, Please, God, let me get out of here somehow! And right then, instantaneously, I heard the shower being turned on.

That was God’s answer to my prayer. I really, truly believe that.

But I had to move fast. And the problem was that every time I would try to sit up, blood would squirt out from a bunch of places, and it would scare me. So for a few seconds it was like I couldn’t get started. But somehow, some way, I managed to get to my feet and book it out the front door, stumbling and doing my best to keep my hands covering the worst gashes to slow down the bleeding.

I ran out into the front street, just an absolute mess. Like just imagine what people who saw me must have thought.

And the first guy who drove up to me … he just kept on going.

Really, I can’t even blame him.

But the next car — Rick Cole happened to be driving that SUV, and that guy, a total stranger, I call him my angel.

Rick, he let me in and called 911 right away.

Luckily the hospital wasn’t too far from where I lived. But the whole time we were driving I remember I was scared as hell. I was just … all over the place. It was like, “Please, sir … please, please, please don’t let me die. Please don’t let me die. And, man, I’m really, really sorry for bleeding all over your back seat.”

I’d met Jim Martin 20 years earlier, in 1989, at his boxing gym in Bristol, Tennessee.

I’d driven down from my hometown in southern West Virginia with my mom and my tiny Pomeranian, Casey. I’d never been in a real boxing gym before. It was hostile territory. So that’s why I took my mom.

The dog? Yeah, who knows?

Anyway, I was 21 at the time, and after knocking out some lady in a Toughman competition back home, I had gotten word from this local promoter that a big-time trainer named Jim Martin was willing to mentor me and shape me into a boxer. It sounded fun. Like: Why not?

But when we pulled up, and I walked into his gym, I mean … just picture it. It’s like some bad bar joke or something: A girl, her mom, and her little fancy dog walk into a boxing gym….

All the guys in there were staring at me like I was an alien, and you could tell right away that Jim wasn’t all that crazy about a woman being in his gym.

It didn’t help that Casey was yapping her damn head off.

Right from the start Casey hated Jim. Haaaaated him. That dog, he was only six pounds, but he knew how to get his point across. (He actually used to pee in Jim’s hat. Like Jim would take off his hat and Casey would find it, and then proceed to pee in it.)

Dogs know, man. It’s true what they say. Dogs really can tell if someone is good or bad.

It’s like some bad bar joke or something: A girl, her mom, and her little fancy dog walk into a boxing gym….Christy Martin

Sadly, Casey couldn’t help me in that ring. When I climbed in there that day, it was immediately clear to everyone just how green I was.

I had no real boxing skills. There was no method or thought to what I was doing. I was basically just trying to swing my arms as hard as I possibly could.

You know how they always say that most great boxers are expert chess players — they’re working three steps ahead, looking to set you up, know what you’re going to do next?

Well, me?

Yeah … I am not a good chess player.

That’s just not me. And it really wasn’t me on that first day. I’m a straight up banger. I’d always rather just draw a line in the sand, and then totally go at it. So if it’s a game of chess, it’s going to be a long day for me. But if it’s something where I get to wind up and punch you in the face, you might end up in the hospital.

That was my whole vibe back then.

And Jim, he basically ripped me a new one that first day. He picked up on every flaw. Every single one. And he let me know that what I was doing on my own, without his guidance, wasn’t good enough.

Courtesy of Netflix
Courtesy of Netflix

At first, Jim was incredible.

He was a former light heavyweight boxer who’d been training fighters for 25 years, and he gave me an amazing introduction to the basic skills of the sport — developing a good jab, proper footwork, putting together combinations, all that stuff. The technical side … he was all over it.

But from very early on, there was also this element of control that was just all-encompassing. I’ll never forget him saying to me….

“Christy, if you ever leave me, I’m going to kill you.”

At first, I just laughed it off like it was a joke. But that guy, he just kept saying it. Over and over again.

“You know if you leave, I’m going to kill you, right?”

Before long, I was living with him and a few other guys from his gym. It wasn’t a glamorous life — sleeping on couches in a s***ty house with sweaty boxers coming in and out all day and night — but I didn’t care about all that. Jim had a vision for me, one that seemed like a dream. We were together 24/7/365. The two of us, we were a team. And besides him saying he might kill me one day, the other thing Jim would always tell me was something much more positive.

“Christy,” he’d say, “I’m going to make you the best woman fighter ever.”

I absolutely loved hearing that. And I believed him, too.

I was convinced he would get me there and was ready to do whatever it took to make it to the top. I worked my ass off.

I did whatever he said, and never thought twice about it. When you’re winning fights, and making money, that’s just kind of what you do.

Courtesy of Netflix
Courtesy of Netflix

And from the very start, with Jim in my corner, I was winning fights.

Not just winning fights. I was destroying people. Just plowing through my opponents. So, for me, winning fights and Jim Martin, those two things went hand in hand. I saw them as two halves of the same whole.

In my mind, Jim was boxing. And boxing had become my everything.

So, you know, at some point, in 1992, for reasons I can’t even fully remember or understand, we decided to head down to Kmart, pick out some rings, and get married. The only way I can really explain it is that when I took the leap and married Jim, in my mind, it was like I was actually marrying boxing.

It wasn’t about love or passion or romance. There wasn’t any of that. My love was boxing. Jim was 25 years older than me. And I was gay. And Jim knew it. None of it made any sense. But we got married anyway.

Jim was 25 years older than me. And I was gay. And Jim knew it.Christy Martin

By ’93, the knockouts were really piling up, and Jim and I linked up with Don King. That was when things really took off. King had me fighting pretty much every two weeks. He was showcasing me, and all of a sudden my name was all over the place. I’m on Showtime. HBO. Then, in 1996, I’m fighting Deirdre Gogarty on pay-per-view, and putting on a real show — a much better overall fight than Tyson destroying Bruno a little later that night. I’m impressing hard-core boxing people. The Today show’s calling my hotel room that night. Leno’s people are calling. Sports Illustrated had been setting up photo shoots for a little story. Then I kept winning, and all of a sudden it was like: You’re gonna be the cover! Like, I was on a freakin’ episode of Rosanne! I mean, come on.

It all got pretty big.

But, at the same time, it was like I was brainwashed while all that stuff was going down.

Jim would always let me know that all of it — all of my success — was because of him.

And that it could all go away in an instant.

During that time, it was almost like I was his own little robot or something. I did what he said, and said what he told me to. When it came to the media, Jim programmed me to say different things and be controversial. He had me saying things I never in a million years would’ve said, things I regret to this day — nasty stuff, cheap shots, homophobic s***.

Then, behind closed doors, when we were home, it was a living hell.

Jim had total control over everything I did. I would go to Walmart or the grocery store, and I would turn around and he would be standing there in the aisle with a sly little grin on his face. Or I would go to get my haircut, or to get my nails done, and he would show up. He’d come pull a chair right up beside me.

I didn’t have any friends. He always had to know who I was talking to, what I was talking about, where I was at all times.

Everything was all about control.

Courtesy of Netflix
Courtesy of Netflix

At one point in the late ’90s, Jim started bringing cocaine home, and then, after I was hooked, he would use it to get me to do all sorts of things that only an addict would ever agree to do. Weird sexual things. At one point, I found cameras all over the place and realized that he was videotaping everything that I was doing in the house. He was able to see every move I made.

Sometimes, at the gym, he would volunteer to spar with me, and it was very … weird. I always had reservations about hitting him — he was much older, I was hesitant to go 100%. But Jim? He didn’t pull any punches.

He’d actually knock me out when we sparred. Like out cold.

Out out.

Each time, he’d pretend that it was just a sparring session gone wrong. But he was a pro. He knew what he was doing. It was him showing me that he was dominant, and that no matter how good I thought I was, or how tough I thought I was, he could always knock me out.

It was like, Whoops! What happened there? I must have slipped with that right.

At home, though, there was no need to hide anything. One time, late in our marriage, after I told him I was going to leave him, he hit me so hard that he put my teeth through my lip.

Like all the way through.

I found cameras all over the place and realized that he was videotaping everything that I was doing in the house. Christy Martin

That incident is actually when I became convinced that Jim was going to end up killing me at some point.

I remember really thinking everything through, like how things would work if it all went down and he actually went through with it. I even left a few little spots of blood in our bathroom from one of the times he hit me, and I told a close friend: When I disappear, I want you to tell the world about what has been going on. Then lead the police to the bathroom, and here’s exactly where the blood will be. They’ll be able to get my DNA and at least know that something wrong was happening here.

By that point, I had truly resigned myself to death. Jim was either going to kill me, or I was going to do the job myself. There were many nights when I held my 9-mm (that same pink 9-mm he used against me) in my mouth and thought about taking my own life.

The whole truth was that I was already dead at that time. So maybe it didn’t matter one way or the other.

I’d clearly made a deal with the devil.

I had been in the hospital for seven days or so before the police finally found Jim.

He was basically on the loose for a week after he stabbed and shot me. The cops couldn’t find him, and they said they weren’t sure who he was in contact with who might come to the hospital and try to finish the job. At the time, I just remember how scary that was for me — not knowing where he was, or what he might be plotting. As I was lying there trying to recover from my wounds, the hospital actually moved me to a locked-down location for security reasons. Friends and family were showing up to visit me and give me support, but they were being turned away because I was in total isolation.

So when the police came into my room one morning and told me they’d finally arrested my husband, of course I was relieved. But you want to know something? To be honest, at first, I also felt … guilty.

I felt sad for him, or like I was to blame for everything.

Can you imagine?

The human brain works in mysterious ways.

My scars ran so deep that I actually felt empathy for my abuser.

It only lasted a few minutes, though.

After that, it was all about proving him wrong. I wanted to prove to the world, to Jim, and, more than anything to myself that I could survive. That I could win. And that I could live without him.

Chuck Solomon/Sports Illustrated via Getty Images
Chuck Solomon/Sports Illustrated via Getty Images

From there, I had to fight. Had to. It was the only way.

So in June 2011, seven months after being shot and stabbed and left for dead, I climbed back into the ring, bullet still in my back.

I flew out to L.A. and fought Dakota Stone. But like that wasn’t really who I was fighting, you know what I mean? It was like: I’m gonna show you, Jim Martin, that I can do this without you. Dakota Stone? She was really just a side note in that fight.

Seven months after being shot and stabbed and left for dead, I climbed back into the ring, bullet still in my back. Christy Martin

Anyway, in the fourth round, I knocked her down for the first time in her career. But I broke my hand in the process. And then in the last round, after I’d soldiered through the rest of the fight with a broken hand, right at the very end, I’m ahead and dominating, and I’m about to win, and … I threw a right hand that landed and made me wince a little bit.

Bad move.

With 50 seconds to go for my 50th win, the doctor at ringside stopped the fight.

It was almost like everything flat-out backfired on me. Like: That couldn’t have gone any worse.

Then I went to the hospital and … it got worse.

Mark J. Terrill/AP Photo
Mark J. Terrill/AP Photo

My hand was broken in nine places.

It was broken so many times that the doctors, they couldn’t even tell what was what — like one bone was over here, another was way over there, my pinky was just straight up shattered. They said surgery was necessary, but the good news was that it would only take two hours.

And then, when I came out of surgery seven hours later, it was like I couldn’t fully wake up. Like the anesthesia was still doing its thing. I couldn’t talk, my vision was all messed up, and, it’s weird to even say but like my face, it was all crooked.

The chief neurologist came to my bedside, took one look at me and sent me to the ICU. I remember her looking at me, and then turning to the nurses and saying.

“She’s suffered a stroke.”

The doctors told me not to fight. I didn’t listen.Christy Martin

A few months later, though, I was back in the ring.

The doctors told me not to fight. I didn’t listen. I didn’t care what they said.

I needed to show Jim I could win without him. Again. And this time like really do it.

I wanted to be sure, so I picked an opponent, Mia St. John, who I knew that I could beat on even my worst day. I’d cruise to an easy win, have 50 career victories, and go out on top.

It all made so much sense. All would be right with the world.

The only problem was that I hadn’t taken into account Jim’s trial, which had finished up just a few months before the fight. I didn’t plan for what that would be like. And what it would take out of me. It made me not want to train or prepare or do really anything.

Courtesy of Netflix
Courtesy of Netflix

That trial, for me, was all about making sure Jim got what he deserved for what he’d done to me. And, I’m not going to lie, I wanted to make the entire process as painful as I possibly could for him.

Like, for instance, Jim hated Gloria Allred. Every time he saw her on T.V. over the years he’d be cussing her out.

So, of course, I hired Gloria. She reached out and asked me about it, and it was like: Yeah, Jim can’t stand you. Let’s do it!

I just kept imagining walking up to the courthouse with Gloria Allred, and Jim seeing that and just totally fuming. I loved everything about that.

But when it got down to it, during the meat of the trial, when I was testifying, that’s when it got tough for me because I obviously needed to go through everything that had happened, and everything just came flooding back.

At one point, I remember the prosecutor handed me a sealed paper bag and a pair of scissors so that I could cut it open. Inside were the clothes I had on when Jim attacked me. And, my God those clothes, they were just absolutely covered in blood.

When I saw the shirt, my heart dropped. I actually couldn’t believe it, that all that blood was actually mine.

Then, he brought out a box. Inside was the gun. And I gotta say….

I’m a pretty tough person or whatever, a fighter, a hard-ass, but when I opened that box and saw that gun again, all covered in blood? Like, this is the actual gun that he shot me with.

My entire insides were churning. It was almost too much.

But at the same time, I wasn’t about to let Jim see me cry. It was like: I can’t let him see that he hurt me. His whole M.O. for 20 years was to hurt me, to beat me down, and keep me under his thumb, and it was like: Now it’s time for me to stand on my own. It’s time for me to show him that I’m strong….

Even though I was losing it on the inside, and I wasn’t strong at all, I faked it as best as I could.

And when I testified, like when I actually spoke, the whole time I looked straight into Jim’s eyes. That was my whole thing. It was my mission. And Jim, of course, he’d try to look away from me. But I just wasn’t having it.

“Look at me,” I’d tell him. “Look at me when I’m speaking.”

I wanted him to have to feel something, you know what I mean?

John Gurzinski/AFP via Getty Images
John Gurzinski/AFP via Getty Images

All along, throughout the whole process, I never worried in the least about how things would turn out. I was always just like: I know what happened, and it’s the truth, and so clearly he’s going to jail for a long time. I never even gave it a second thought.

But then, at the very end, when we got the call that the jury verdict was in, for some reason my whole mindset turned.

I had always assumed that it’d kind of be like the end of a fight when you’re waiting on the decision — when you know you won, and you’re waiting for them to announce it to the crowd and make everything official. You’re O.K. You feel good. Relaxed.

But it wasn’t like that at all.

All of a sudden I started to get very anxious. It was almost like I was panicking. It was like: Oh my God, maybe those jurors didn't believe me. Maybe, those jurors think I was lying. Maybe there’s one person in that group who somehow thinks Jim didn’t do anything wrong.

Maybe they’re gonna let him go!

I was a nervous wreck for about five or 10 minutes.

But, before I knew it, the judge read the verdict, and all that worry washed away, and then ... that son of a bitch went off to jail.

He got 25 years for what he did to me.

If he makes it through his sentence alive, he’ll be 92 when he gets out.

And he’s such an asshole that I’m almost positive that he will live that long, and get out and then….

He’ll be in a wheelchair or a walker or whatever coming and trying to kill me again.

I lost that fight to Mia.

I just flat out lost it. I didn’t train, and was f***ed up from the trial, and just ... I basically just blew it. And that was the end of the road. It’s embarrassing to me, in all honesty. It’s the lowest point in my entire time in boxing.

But there’s this one moment in the last professional fight of my career that I always come back to.

It’s something that happened pretty quick, right near the end, and even if you were watching that fight, you may not have completely noticed it.

There were only about 10 seconds left, and I did something that I’d never done in my entire life.

I gave up.

I basically just put my hands down and let her wail on me and gave up.

Even if you were watching that fight, you may not have completely noticed it. Christy Martin

But, at the same time, I did more than that. Or, at least, there was more to it.

Mia, of course, she capitalized on it and got in six or seven clean shots right to my chin. It was really something. And it was precisely what I wanted, because what happened next was exactly what I knew was going to happen.

I didn’t flinch for a second.

She didn’t knock me down.

I didn’t even take a step back.

I just stood there and took it and ... survived.

And what that was, in my head it was like it was me saying: Look, you may have beat me, and you may win, but you cannot and will not hurt me. This is who I am! This is my life! Like….

I’ve been hit with a lot of big shots in my life, and it may not always have been pretty, but I’m still here. You can’t hurt me. No one can.

I can take your best punch.

Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images
Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

Before the decision was even announced, I grabbed the microphone and retired.

I was done. I was tired of fighting. Point blank.

I had no business losing that fight, so I knew that it was never again going to be like it had been. Something had changed within me. That much was certain.

And, to be honest with you, when I think back to that time, there’s a part of me that wonders if I lost those last two fights because Jim still had a hold over me. If, for some crazy reason, I had subconsciously decided that I wasn’t going to let myself win without him. Or, even worse, that I couldn’t win without him.

He had told me for so long that I couldn’t do anything without him.

He brainwashed me into thinking I was nothing, that my success actually had nothing to do with me at all. That it was all about him.

And maybe at that point, who knows, maybe I still bought into all that bulls***.

But, I’m happy to say, those days are over now.

I was tired of fighting. Point blank.Christy Martin

It’s been nine years since that fight, and I’m happier than I’ve ever been.

That’s not to say that everything’s perfect. I’m still struggling to fully buy into myself and maintain the confidence that I need to do everything I’d like to accomplish going forward. It’s still a daily battle. A fight. But I’m getting there. You know what I mean?

I’ve built up my own boxing promotion company, Christy Martin Promotions, and I am on my way to someday being able to compete with the big boys in the industry. And, aside from that, in terms of life more generally, I’m finally just ... happy. I don’t worry about having to live up to someone else’s expectations. There’s just so much less stress bearing down on me. Less anxiety.

I cut my hair — after more than 20 years of being told that I couldn’t. I feel good physically. Better than I have in a long time. And I have a beautiful and caring spouse, Lisa Holewyne, who has enabled me to realize what a real, true, loving partnership looks and feels like.

Even the scars from the stabbing and the shooting have mostly faded away. The ones running down my thigh, you can hardly see those now. And the place where the gunshot went through my breast, it’s barely even noticeable. Even this one spot on my face where he’d cut me and there was a small scar, that went away over time.

There are still some spots here and there where you can tell something happened, but, for the most part, those wounds have healed.

Now, of course, what lies beneath….

That’s a bit more complicated.

I still sometimes gasp or flinch or have flashbacks when I see someone picking up a knife, or when I hear the sound of someone sharpening a knife. Stuff like that, it’s triggering for me. But I’ll survive. I’m too tough to let things like that damage me any longer.

At the end of the day, I’m a fighter in every sense of the word.