Martha Salazar Gives Bittersweet Goodbye
By Felipe Leon
In all sports there are a number of unsung heroes. Athletes who day in and day out put their work in without the fanfare or the flashing lights but in their quiet way move the sport forward. Former WBC heavyweight champion Martha “The Shadow” Salazar (13-5, 3KO) of San Francisco, CA, by way of Jalisco, Mexico, is one of those fighters.
Salazar is only the third Hispanic to become a heavyweight champion in the history of the sport. After a storied 15 year career the 47-year-old boxer has announced her retirement.
“It wasn’t really my decision, it was the doctor’s decision, something came up,” Salazar stated during a recent interview on the 2-Min Round podcast on the Leave It in the Ring Network. “He gave me the ultimatum and told me there was no more boxing for me so that is what I have to do.”
“It is something else, it has a little to do with boxing but it’s something else,” Salazar stated regarding the reason why she has to cut her career short. “I fell and I hit my head and something came up with that. That is the reason why I no longer can fight.”
Salazar began boxing in her late twenties and didn’t turn pro until she was 31-years-old after trying other hand to hand combat sports like kickboxing. “I started in my late twenties so I started pretty late.”
“The reason I started boxing, actually I started doing kickboxing,” she explained regarding her initiation into the sweet science. “I got jumped by three girls and from there I decided I needed to defend myself in case that happened again so I decided to take kickboxing. After that I was training kickboxing trying to get a fight. I met a trainer who told me I should try boxing. That women’s boxing was coming up. He said I wasn’t going to make any money or anything but that I was ready to turn pro.”
While pursuing kickboxing Salazar met Blanca Gutierrez who later became her friend, manager and as she puts it, her “biggest fan.” Gutierrez is best known as an influential female boxing supporter in Northern California’s bay area where she owns a gym, holds numerous amateur and professional boxing events and runs the Beautiful Brawlers boxing program.
“We met in a kickboxing gym, I had an accident wrestling so my leg was broken, I walked into a kickboxing gym and she was there, I stated working out,” Gutierrez reminisced. “We started kickboxing together with Carina Moreno and we became friends. We always had fun; that was one main thing between all of us.”
In search of a title
Salazar turned pro in boxing without any amateur experience in the spring of 2001 with a unanimous decision over Denise Callahan over four rounds. Salazar won her next four before tasting defeat for the first time. In her Las Vegas debut in March of 2003 Salazar dropped a split decision to the much more experienced Vonda Ward on the undercard of Roy Jones Jr’s historic heavyweight title win over John Ruiz.
As it was a custom in the late 90s and early ‘00s in female boxing, many of the fighters faced each other multiple times because of lack of competition, especially in the heavier weight classes. In her 18 professional fights, Salazar faced the same opponent multiple times. She faced Carley Presente three times while facing Marsha Valley four times. Salazar ended up fighting the 6’6” Ward three times, first in early ’03 then months later in Ohio for the IBA and WIBA titles while the third and final time came in 2007 with Salazar dropping a majority decision again in Ohio for the vacant WIBA, vacant WBC and IBA titles.
“It wasn’t so much her style but it was just that she was so tall,” Salazar says of Ward who she never was able to beat. “I never fought anybody that size. As I kept fighting her I kept getting better at it but I was coming up short. She always wanted to fight in her hometown that plays a little bit of a part of it. She was a tall girl and it was hard to get to her since I am not that tall either. It was tough to get at her, I tried to go to the body and all that but that didn’t work out for me.”
“I fought the best that was out there, I fought Vonda Ward, I fought on pay-per-view,” Salazar says of her career. “I fought Vonda Ward for the WBC three times, I lost, I have been on big cards. I fought the best then nobody else wanted to fight me then I kind of retired but not really retired. There were just no other women to fight.”
That hiatus came after her Ward fight where she lost a majority decision in 2007. She didn’t step in the ring again as a professional until 2013 when she faced the then undefeated and highly touted Sonya Lamonakis in Sacramento and defeated her via a unanimous six round decision.
“She was the number one contender and I beat her so I decided to go for the WBC title again and I got it. Too bad that I have to retire. At least I defended it and I won it which was my goal. I lost it and I wanted to regain it. This is where I am at right now.”
Salazar credits Gutierrez as the catalyst for her comeback on the onset of 2013.
“There was about four fighters in the division back then and Sonya kept saying she was the best in the world, that nobody could beat her. I told Martha there is a couple of girls out there and you should come back and go for the title,” said Gutierrez. “There are enough girls so let’s go for it. We picked up number one right off the bat so we picked her, the one that talks a lot. She came out to fight and I think the problem is that she underestimated Martha. What she didn’t realize is that back in our day there were a lot of smokers (unsanctioned amateur fights). Those were better than fights, Martha had a lot of smokers. She had a lot of experience just that none of it was in the books.”
“When I came back I put in 110%, I said this is what I want and I want to beat the #1 contender that is out there,” Salazar continued about her bout against Lamonakis. “All I did was to stick to the game plan that we had. I can adjust to the fighters so whatever style she comes at that time I will adjust to it. I just beat her, I threw more punches, and she couldn’t handle those punches. It was an awesome fight; I have to give her credit. She was awesome. She was one of the best but I came up with the win. After that I guess she had an issue with everything and I told her I would give her the rematch but she didn’t take it. I don’t know why she didn’t take it. I don’t know why she doesn’t want to fight me again. Everybody wanted to see it again. She was talking so much with the issues she had with the fight we gave her the opportunity but she never responded with taking the fight. We told her we would go over there (New York where Lamonakis is from) or come back here to California and she still didn’t want to do it. I think her issue was, her problem was that she was so confident she was going to beat me because I was older; I was out of the game for a few years so I think that is what got her so confident that she was going to beat me.”
Once defeating the number one contender in Lamonakis, Salazar finally got her opportunity for the vacant WBC heavyweight title in November of 2014 against Tanzee Daniels in her hometown of San Francisco, CA. Salazar defeated her via unanimous decision. “We were always looking for the best so after I beat the number one contender, we looked to see who we could fight for the vacant title. Again nobody wanted to step up. We called Daniels and we told her it was for the world title and she took the fight. Nobody else wanted to step up.”
“What I remember about the fight is that she threw an uppercut and she barely missed me,” she remembers. “Every time I tell that story I get chills to this day I get chills when I visualize that uppercut. If she would have connected it, she probably would have knocked me out. Thank God I moved my head a little bit. Winning the WBC that was the happiest moment of my life in the sport of boxing because I always wanted the WBC belt, the green belt that everybody talks about. The males that have it, it’s what they want. It’s a big thing, it’s a big organization, I always wanted that and I finally got it. The feeling was incredible, the night was amazing, when I got it they put it around my waist and called me a world champion, it was wonderful, it was awesome.”
In her next fight nearly two years later, Salazar had a bittersweet moment. She achieved her dream of fighting in Mexico but lost her title in her first defense to the now champion Alejandra “Tigre” Jimenez back in March of last year.
“I always wanted to fight with my people, I have family over there and they actually got to see me fight,” Salazar remembers about her last fight as a professional fighter. “It was wonderful experience, I lost the title but that is sometimes what happens. Defending my title was like the icing on the cake, I already had the title, if I defended it after that, I mean after Alejandra there is nobody out there. Who is there to fight? Nobody. It was a wonderful experience, I met new people, new family members and it was an awesome day that day even though I lost the title.”
Gutierrez was also very instrumental in securing Salazar that sought after championship bout in Mexico. “That was the best time of our lives. In the beginning the press was saying we were from the USA but we would tell them no, Martha was born in Jalisco. The people loved Martha there. It was a great experience and I think Alejandra is a good person too. We had a good experience and it was good for female boxing. It was definitely for the heavyweight division.”
After the controversial loss via a majority decision, Salazar actively looked for the rematch but it never materialized.
“I guess they wanted to wait a year for her to enjoy the title so we waited,” Salazar said referring to the WBC heavyweight champion Alejandra Jimenez. “They were going to give us the rematch and they called us in December and asked us if we could do the fight in April. We told them we needed a little bit more time because I am going through all these physicals for the California Athletic Commission since I have to get extra tests done like an MRI and an MRA. They saw something in the MRI and it went downhill and we asked for a little more time to make sure of what the doctor saw. Now we saw that I have to retire.”
Gutierrez knows this too.
“No, the business has been done,” Gutierrez says regarding any unfinished goals for Salazar in boxing. “I wanted her to get the belt she really wanted which was the WBC. That was really the finish. There was no plan for the defense but when we decided it was so much fun, we said let’s do it, it is so much fun. The job was done when she won the WBC.”
Always the fighter, as described by Gutierrez as one that would fight anybody in a backyard for a steak dinner, Salazar did not agree with her manager and friend.
“Of course, I do think there is some unfinished business. This division is hard for everybody. If everybody would get together and fight each other for all those girls that are out there that say they wanted to fight but when it comes down to it they don’t fight, it is a little sad. If you guys want to fight, fight whoever is out there and fight the best. Even if it’s not the best, we have to keep this heavyweight division alive.”
(To listen to the complete interview, please visit BlogTalkRadio.com/leaveitinthering )