NYPD sergeant Jean Martin is too much of a perfectionist to do anything half-baked. When she steps into the ring at Madison Square Garden on Thursday, April 7, there will be a lot more on the line than another New York City Golden Gloves title. Should Martin, who everyday travels 90 minutes one way from her home in Brooklyn, New York, to the Academy of Boxing Gym in Huntington, Long Island, beat the highly touted Geneve Brossard of Gleason’s Gym in the 154 pound open bout, she will have attained a measure of immortality by being a six-time New York City Golden Gloves champion.
“I only started boxing at the age of 27, so I’ve come a long way in a short time,” said the 34-year-old Martin, who is a patrol supervisor in Transit District 20 in Queens. “When I began, I was working long hours as an undercover narcotics officer. I was stressed out and my weight had ballooned to 185 pounds. Being only five-foot-three, you can imagine what I looked like. I was walking on the street one day when I saw a flyer that said, ‘Lose Weight, Learn Self Defense, Get Stamina, No Gimmicks.’ I was up for anything to make me feel better, physically and mentally. I began boxing, dropped 50 pounds in 10 weeks, and have never looked back.”
After training just one month, Martin went to a Golden Gloves show as a spectator, and remembers thinking how the women “all fought like girls.” Beginning in 1998, she won three consecutive titles at 139 pounds, and then took two years off when the pressures of her police job precluded her from training properly. She returned to competition in 2003-04, and in both years won the 145 pound title.
Along the way Martin has accumulated an overall record of 36-4, with all of her losses coming in national tournaments, three in the finals. Martin, a longtime member of the PBA boxing team, would love to fight professionally, but much to her chagrin, NYPD rules no longer allow it.
“The biggest compliment I get is that I don’t fight like a girl, and that I have a great pro style,” said Martin, who also possesses a megawatt smile. “I’m a very good body puncher, and very few women can take shots to the body.”
Sitting with Martin, it is hard to imagine that she is such a renowned amateur fighter. Although she has an air of quiet confidence about her, she seems much too demure and businesslike to be a participant in what is inarguably the world’s toughest sport. She seems more like a favorite elementary school teacher or even a successful businesswoman than a cop—and a boxer.
Although she looks extremely fit, you’d never imagine she also won two consecutive (for her age group) NYPD Fittest of the Finest tournaments, where active police officers of all ranks compete in a two mile race, obstacle course, bench press, and ladder crawl.
“You’re not the first person to tell me that,” she said. “If I meet someone new, being a cop and a boxer can be a double negative. If we start dating, it’s the last thing I mention, even though both things mean so much to me. It scares a lot of people away.”
Although Martin has only been boxing for a relatively short time, she has already seen an immense difference in the level of competition. In the nineties, female boxing was still coming into its own and most of the novice women were in their mid to late twenties. Now, says Martin, she is seeing 17-year-old girls at the nationals who already have five or six years of experience.
“I’d like to say the movie “Million Dollar Baby” is going to help the sport, but unfortunately it will probably hurt it,” said Martin. “There will be a spike in women using boxing for fitness, but not at the competitive level. I realize the odds of what happened to Hilary Swank’s character are slim but it sends a bad message, especially to parents who might not let their daughters train. The dangers of boxing, just like the dangers of police work, are always at the forefront of my mind. But I feel so confident about my ability to do both, so I don’t worry about either. Thankfully, in my 12 years on the job I’ve never had to rumble with anybody.
Martin loves the support of her colleagues, and says hearing them scream “That’s my sergeant” from the stands is like music to her ears. Boxing, she insists, not only gave her an identity, it gave her a measure of self-respect that she did not always know was attainable. While boxing has meant more to her than anything in her life, she often gets annoyed about how misunderstood the sport is.
“Laila Ali is the face of women’s boxing right now, just like Christy Martin was a few years back,” she explained. “Even though Laila weighs at least 20 pounds more than me, I always get asked when I’m going to fight her. I have a friend, Jamie McGrath, who is going to turn pro at the Huntington Town House on May 12. She weighs 114 pounds, and people ask her the same thing. It’s absurd.”
Right now, Martin, who goes by the nickname of Chuckles because of her incessant laughter and radiant smile, only has Brossard on her mind. All she knows about her is that she is 28, an artist and public school teacher, and a southpaw with power in both hands. The way she sees it, there’s not much more she has to know. She is so full of subtle confidence, she has no doubt she’ll be more than chuckling when that sixth Golden Gloves pendant is placed around her neck on Thursday night.
“Walking down the street and knowing you’re a Golden Gloves champion – that you can defend yourself if you have to – really gives you a good feeling,” said Martin. “Not to say I can’t be beat. Anyone can be beat. If Mike Tyson, Sugar Ray Leonard and Roy Jones can be beat, Jean Martin can be beat. But the confidence comes from knowing that you give your best at whatever you do. And one thing I can say with great pride is that throughout my boxing career, I have never given anything but my best.”