Shortly before his death, someone asked Albert Einstein what weapons would be used in World War III. The old man thought for a moment and then said he didn't know, but World War IV would be fought with sticks and stones. Christy Martin and Lucia Rijker won't be bringing sticks and stones into the Staples Center ring on July 9, but the type of primal combat that the old professor had in mind for WW IV will surely be present.
At this point in time, these two women fighters are, arguably, the best known in the sport. They have combined for 61 wins over their careers, nearly seventy five percent of those wins coming by knockout. Each fighter has been campaigning for this fight for almost a decade, and at various times it appeared as if this “clash of the titans” was about to happen. Each time, however, with both women, figuratively, in sight of the ring ropes, the fight collapsed. It took a movie, Clint Eastwood's “Million Dollar Baby,” a big-time promoter, Top Rank's Bob Arum, and, most importantly, the realization on the part of both Martin and Rijker that the time to step into the ring with each other was “now or never.” A million dollar purse didn't hurt the chances of this fight finally happening, the biggest bout in the History of Women's Boxing finally happening, but given how long the fans of the sport have been anticipating this fight, a million dollars seems a bargain.
I spoke with Christy Martin following her return from Las Vegas where she signed a contract for the July 9 bout. Her overall demeanor seemed to be one of relief that this fight was finally on a “bomb ru.n” (Rijker signed a contract the same weekend.) Martin said “It's the right fight at the right time. The movie, obviously, was a big part of it all coming together. 'Million Dollar Baby' opened up the sport to people who had only heard of it on an incidental basis. They probably knew that women boxed, but didn't know much about the sport. Lucia's involvement in the film brought her into the mainstream media in the same way my appearance on the cover of Sports Illustrated did in 1996. Then Top Rank got involved and the money happened and the contracts got signed. It was a ‘perfect storm’ situation.”
Oh yeah, the money. It's a million dollars. Each fighter is guaranteed $250 M and, in a unique aspect, the winner receives a $500 M bonus, making the winner's share, $750 M. Martin also pointed out that if the PPV telecast is a hit, both fighters “will come in on the back end to collect from the PPV sales.” It's like a two-woman “Survivor” reality show, but without any prima donna posing for the camera, without contrived exotic locations, without any silly “voting off the island.” This is just two very good women fighters coming out of opposite corners of the Staples Center on July 9. The bout is scheduled for twelve rounds and like every great boxing match, where everyone has an opinion about who will win, these twelve rounds will be all about one fighter imposing their will on the other. “The twelve rounds was Top Rank's idea,” Martin pointed out. “All their major bouts in the past have been that distance and this fight is no different. It's the biggest fight in women's boxing, bigger than my fight with Ali, bigger than Laila Ali and Jacqui Frazier. There's simply never been anything close.”
There's little doubt, listening to Martin, which end of the purse she's thinking about: “I feel confident, not overconfident, just confident, mentally and physically. In the real world, given the publicity Lucia received from the movie, I think a lot of people will look at me as the underdog. The fight being in Los Angeles probably means that all of Hollywood will turn out rooting for Lucia. That's not a role I'm used to, but, hey, it's going to be decided inside the ring, not by public opinion. Neither one of us has been particularly active, lately” (Martins' last fight, with Ali, was over eighteen months ago and Rijker last fought eleven months ago, winning, in Holland, over Sunshine Fettkether) “but that may be a bit of a positive. We've both had a chance to heal from the ring wars we've each been through. Lucia did the movie and I've been busy training fighters in Florida with my husband Jim. I've been working out in the gym on a part-time basis for about six months and I recently started an everyday routine, including sparring. I'm sure Lucia has also been familiar with the inside of a gym. I'm planning a tune-up fight in Mississippi on April 30 and then I may go to Las Vegas to train for July 9.”
What about after July 9? Is this it for the one time face of women's boxing? “Well, as I've said before,” Martin responded, “I would really like another shot at Laila (Ali). I still haven't gotten over that one. And there are certainly other good fighters out there at my weight. But at this point my concentration is on Lucia and Los Angeles and July 9. It's one step at a time. After that, we'll see.”
Speaking of Lucia and Los Angeles, a “back-story” to this bout is the talk of a longstanding feud between Martin and Rijker. When I asked about that feud, Martin replied quickly, “You know, time has a way of healing a lot of that nonsense. But, in truth, in those days, I had a lot of fighters chasing around after me. There was Andrea DeShong, Kathy Collins, Mia St. John – and I dealt with them in the ring. Lucia was also there. It seemed like every time I turned around she was at ringside or in the audience of a TV show I was on and, of course, there was that fuss in the gym before the Laracuente fight. Feuds make great copy, but there's a fairly simple way to settle it. The difference between Lucia and the others is that we never got it settled in the ring. That'll change on July 9.”
Christy Martin is relieved that the fight with Lucia Rijker is finally a go. She also sounds confident about the result. I got the impression that while the money is fine, the incentive for this bout for Martin goes beyond a big payday. “A lot of people counted me out (after the Ali bout). I hope they hold that thought and continue saying that I'm done, that I haven't been active enough, that I've lost my punch, whatever. That’s just the thing that gets me up an out on the road at five o'clock in the morning. That's what will be with me in my corner on July 9.”
It won't be World War IV on July 9 in Los Angeles. There won't be sticks and stones, just two icons of the sweet science finally coming together after all these years of anticipation. It took a popular Hollywood movie to make this fight a reality. On that Saturday night in the Staples Center, Christy Martin and Lucia Rijker won’t need a script. They've played these roles before, and this one should be worth a million.