LAS VEGAS – In Christy Martin's world everything was pink.
Except the blood. On a March night 15 years ago in a boxing ring on the Las Vegas Strip it was bright red and it was everywhere, gushing from a freshly broken nose and forming a mosaic of stains on Martin's pink trunks.
The people who had paid thousands to sit at ringside were there to watch Mike Tyson win the heavyweight title against Frank Bruno, not two women fight. But as the blood flowed the cheers started raining down as the unlikely warriors bathed in red traded punches for six rounds before Martin won a unanimous decision.
Tyson would knock Bruno out in the third round that night to win the title for what would be the last time. But those at the MGM Grand arena and watching at home on pay-per-view couldn't stop talking about the woman in pink who brawled, bled and fought like a man.
A few weeks later she would be on the cover of Sports Illustrated staring defiantly with her gloves on her hips under the heading "The Lady is a Champ." Promoter Don King penciled her in for Tyson's next undercard, and the next after that.
"I'll open the show and Mike will close it," she boasted.
On fight weeks, fans would mob Martin in the hotel lobby, asking for pictures and autographs. Always at her side were her trainer/husband, Jim Martin, and a 300-pound Elvis wannabe who doubled as her bodyguard.
Comedian Roseanne Barr celebrated with her in the ring. Jay Leno chatted her up on late night TV.
"No one could believe this woman in pink could keep fighting through all that blood," Martin said. "They thought I'd just lay down and quit."
What they didn't know was that the Coalminer's Daughter would never quit.
Not when she was bloodied in the ring. Not when she was stabbed, shot and left for dead on her bedroom floor.
The bullet, doctors told her, missed her heart by four inches. Her lung collapsed twice, and doctors had to work to stitch a calf that had been sliced nearly to the bone.
There was only one thing on Martin's mind, though — getting back in the ring.
"As soon as I came to, I told my family that I was going to fight again," she said.
It seemed preposterous. Martin's career had been in decline for some time and she was 42, an age where reflexes tend to dull for fighters and their skills start to recede.
And while boxing loves a good story, there aren't many fighters who return to the ring just weeks after being stabbed and shot.
A basketball player in college, Martin discovered boxing by accident in a tough-woman contest in Beckley, W.Va., where her friends urged her into the ring to compete for a $1,000 prize.
She won, only to find out the purse had been cut to $500. That was OK, though, because Martin found out something else — she liked knocking other woman silly.
"That's the biggest rush there is," Martin said. "That's why fighters can't retire. It's the worst drug of all."
She was 21 and working as a substitute teacher in 1990 when a boxing promoter told her about Jim Martin, who trained fighters in Bristol, Tenn. Jim Martin was so leery of allowing a woman in his gym that he considered having someone hurt her in a sparring session so she would quit. Soon, however, he grew enamored of the drive and talent of his new charge.
They were an odd couple, the young college graduate who loved the ring and the trainer who was 25 years her senior and sported a bad combover. But their relationship grew into something else as he took charge of her career, and not long afterward they married.
At first they were inseparable, sitting together at press conferences, and training together for fights. But in time the marriage soured, though Jim Martin still trained his wife and they lived in the same house.
Last November she told him she was leaving and wanted a divorce. She was involved with another woman.
Enraged at the thought, Jim Martin threatened to expose the relationship to her fans. Christy Martin later told police her husband stalked her for several days and, at one point, she told her girlfriend, Sherry Jo Lusk, she thought her husband was going to shoot her.
In the early evening hours of last Nov. 23, Christy Martin was in the bedroom talking on the phone with Lusk. Her husband appeared at the door, and she motioned him to wait until she was finished.
Instead, Christy Martin said, her husband came in, holding something behind his back.
Ask promoter Bob Arum and he'll tell you the biggest problem with women's boxing is that men don't particularly like to see women hitting each other, and women like it even less. Though the sport has a small dedicated fan base, women in the ring are generally treated as a side show by fans and boxing promoters.
Martin was arguably the best female boxer of her era, but even her role was mostly limited to being in the supporting cast on boxing cards headlined by males.
In 2003, she and Laila Ali, daughter of Muhammad Ali, drew a crowd of more than 8,000 in Mississippi to what was billed as the biggest women's fight ever. But two years later, Arum's plan to pay $1 million to the winner of Martin's scheduled fight with Lucia Rijker fizzled when only 100 tickets were sold with a week to go before the bout.
"If a woman is at the top of the bill you'll never sell a ticket," Arum said.
Still, Martin did fine in a series of fights for King. Her base purse was $100,000, and once she made as much as $250,000. It was enough to buy herself and her husband luxury cars and a nice house in a suburb of Orlando, Fla.
She fought anyone put in front of her, but that's not saying much in a sport with a thin talent pool. In a bout on the undercard of a Tyson-Evander Holyfield fight, she knocked out a woman in the first round. Turned out the loser was a dancer who had never been in the ring before.
Once she had a fight called off at the last moment because her opponent was pregnant. Another time she was dropped from a card at a bull ring in Mexico City after officials decided to enforce a 50-year-old law that banned women from fighting each other so their reproductive organs wouldn't be harmed.
But the 5-foot-4 Martin wasn't afraid to take on a much bigger Ali, only to be stopped in the fourth round. And she won a decision over Mia St. John, who couldn't break an egg but landed on the cover of Playboy magazine.
Martin always stood out from other women fighters because she loved to trade punches. That got the crowd's attention, but the fact that her slugfests often turned bloody was what really fired them up.
That was never more evident than when Deirdre Gogarty broke Martin's nose in the second round on the Tyson-Bruno undercard and blood flowed the rest of the fight. Many in the sport consider it the birth of women's boxing, the first time fans paid attention to a woman fighter for both her skills and her guts.
"I had no idea what I had done but people kept coming up to me that night wanting pictures and autographs," Martin said. "I got back to my room and there were messages from the 'Today Show' and Jay Leno. I thought it was a joke, and I couldn't believe they were being so cruel."
The gun was pink and smeared in blood as Christy Martin stumbled into the back seat of a car driven by her neighbor, Rick Cole. At first he didn't think the gun was real, but the blood gushing from Martin's wounds told him otherwise.
Her left calf was almost sheared off by a knife. She had three other stab wounds in her upper body and her face was bloody and bruised from being smashed into a dresser.
There was a 9-millimeter bullet lodged in her chest and she was pistol-whipped.
"Please don't let me die," she pleaded to Cole.
Prosecutor Ryan Vescio told a judge at Jim Martin's bail hearing in December that Christy Martin tried to fight off her husband for as long as an hour. Vescio said that days before the attack Jim Martin told his wife:
"If I can't have you, no one else is going to."
Martin remembers her estranged husband coming into the room. Then she remembers the knife — that's what she said he had been holding behind his back. The next thing she knew, she was in the fight of her life.
The shooting came later as she lay bleeding on the cement floor of the bedroom, with the bullet entering just below her left breast. A short time later she heard the sound of running water in the adjoining bathroom.
She knew her husband was in the shower. She knew she only had one chance.
"I was going to die one way or the other and figured I may as well die trying to get away," Martin said.
The boxer stumbled to her feet and picked up her pink gun from the floor.
She managed to get outside and tried to get in her Corvette, but she had taken the wrong keys. So she made her way out into the street and flagged down the first car.
Safely inside, she handed the pink Glock to Cole. Only later would she find out it was the weapon used to shoot her.
"Imagine that," she said. "Shot with my own pink gun."
Jim Martin was missing for a week before police, acting on a tip, spotted him in the woods a few blocks from his home. Police said he was holding a bloody knife and initially refused commands to drop it before complying.
Christy Martin was in the courtroom when her 67-year-old husband made his first appearance in December. She celebrated when the judge denied bail. Jim Martin, who is charged with attempted first-degree murder and aggravated battery, pleaded not guilty, claiming self defense. Attempts to reach Martin in jail were unsuccessful, and his attorney did not return phone calls.
Christy Martin wasn't out of the hospital long before she put in a phone call to Miguel Diaz, who trains fighters promoted by Arum. The question was simple: Would Diaz train her if she was cleared to resume her career?
Diaz went to his boss, who told Martin he would send her a plane ticket to Las Vegas.
"I always had a lot of affection for Christy," Arum said. "I was very happy when she said she wanted to come back, providing Miguel would look at her and giver her the thumbs up if he thought she still had something."
Diaz gave the thumbs up after his first workout with Martin. Arum signed her for $100,000 to fight March 12 at the MGM Grand hotel, where the rematch of her 2009 fight with Dakota Stone will be the first fight on the pay-per-view card headlined by Miguel Angel Cotto and Ricardo Mayorga.
A little more than three months after being left for dead, Christy Martin will fight again.
On a recent day at the Top Rank gym across the freeway from the glittering Las Vegas Strip, Martin threw punches in the ring while her girlfriend watched from the doorway. Heavy at 168 pounds when she started training, she was now down to 156 and on target to meet the fight-night weight of 150.
Her only concession to her injuries was an elastic bandage wrapped around her left calf. She moved freely as she hit the mitts of assistant trainer Richie Sandoval, grunting as she threw her trademark left hook, then followed it with another left and then a right.
"The first week she had some pain, but now she's doing it like she never left the business," Diaz said. "What she's doing is amazing. The mental condition she is in is really something else."
Martin's boxing shoes were pink, but on this day the rest of the outfit didn't match. Bouncing around the ring throwing punches with mean intentions, she wore a shirt that read "Box Like Heaven" on the front and "Fight Like Hell" on the back.
Vicious in her prime, she claims to be even more motivated to inflict pain now.
"I feel for Dakota Stone," Martin said. "She doesn't have a brain in her head if she wants to get in the ring with me after all I've gone through. I plan to ask the referee if he can count to 10 because she will be knocked out."
Her husband/trainer is gone, but to Martin everything seems awfully familiar again. She will fight in the same ring where she fought on a card that included Thomas Hearns and Julio Cesar Chavez — the first major boxing event at the newly opened MGM Grand — and she will do it almost exactly 17 years to the day after her first fight there.
The Elvis wannabe will escort her to the ring, her trunks will be pink, and, yes, there's a chance her nose could be broken again and she will bleed all over them.
But there's no chance she will back down. Not after what she's been through.
"I know I can get up off the floor when the going gets tough," she said. "I fear no one."
The woman who has fought on some of the biggest stages in the world, opened shows for the biggest fighters of her time, says she isn't looking for sympathy. She's also not looking to be a spokesperson for women's rights, even if she did hire celebrity attorney Gloria Allred to represent her after the shooting.
"I just want people to say Christy Martin fought like a fighter, not a woman fighter," she said. "I want everyone to realize I'm just a fighter and at the end of the night I put on a good fight."
A lot of new fans will be rooting for her to do just that next month and Martin vows not to disappoint.
She's happy again.
"I don't know anyone who wouldn't want to be me," she said. "It's very amazing, but I think God has a plan for me.
"I think I am a miracle."