To legions of fans, Christy Salters Martin will always be a boxing champ whose record-smashing career helped legitimize women’s participation in the sport in the eyes of the wider world. But professional accolades aside, the West Virginia native spent many of her early years fearing the hard-knock conflict that awaited her outside the ring.
Directed by Laura Brownson, “Untold: Deal with the Devil” takes an in-depth look at Martin’s rise to fame in the mid-1990s as a pioneering female professional boxer who won 49 fights and graced the cover of Sports Illustrated. The documentary, part of Netflix’s five-episode “Untold” series, pairs archival footage with present-day interviews. It gives Martin a chance to reflect on the years of abuse she endured at the hands of her now ex-husband and trainer, Jim Martin, as well as her eventual acceptance of herself as a lesbian.
“Throughout my life, the only place I felt safe was in the boxing ring,” Martin, now 53, explains in “Deal with the Devil,” which aired last week. “Boxing was my survival. It was preparing me for how I was going to escape my own destiny.”
Brownson said she was introduced to Martin via Maclain and Chapman Way, the creative duo behind Netflix’s “Wild Wild Country” who are also producers of the “Untold” series.
And though the director knew little about the physical intricacies of boxing, she was eager to “dig deeper than the headlines” and showcase Martin’s “incredible bravery.”
“I was surprised to come away with a newfound appreciation for the incredible athleticism, strategy, skill and hard work involved in top-level boxing,” Brownson told HuffPost. “I also was thrilled to discover that despite Christy’s traumatic experience at the end of her first marriage, she has now found true love and genuine partnership. And who doesn’t like a sports story turned love story?”
The documentary also details the violent attack on Martin that nearly ended her life. In 2010, Jim Martin stabbed and shot her after learning she was planning to end the marriage and had started seeing another woman. He was convicted of attempted second-degree murder with a firearm, and is currently serving a 25-year prison sentence.
Since then, Christy Martin has become an outspoken advocate for domestic abuse survivors. She’s found personal happiness, too, and in 2017 married Lisa Holewyne, a onetime boxing rival.
Watch Christy Salters Martin and Lisa Holewyne share a tender moment in a clip from “Untold: Deal with the Devil” below.
If Brownson has her way, “Untold: Deal with the Devil” will inspire viewers, especially those in challenging situations, to “dig deep, be brave, and never give up till they get what they need.”
“For me, sports is a perfect metaphor for life, filled with frequent setbacks, difficult losses and ideally enough wins as well,” she said. “By shedding brighter light on these epic sports heroes and events, hopefully, we can demystify their experiences in such a way as to humanize them and make their lives relatable to everyone.”
New episodes of “Untold” air Tuesdays on Netflix.
Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) for the National Domestic Violence Hotline.