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Boxing: Stabbed, shot and left for dead...but now Christy fights back

After a gruesome attack, the 'first lady of the ring' amazed doctors by walking again. Tonight the miracle is complete when she laces up her gloves again

She gripped the pink Glock 9mm in both hands, gently rocked as a darkening pool of blood soaked the carpet at her feet and was unconscious when the medical team scooped her out from the car.

It was 23 November last year and the crucial "golden hour" of survival was fast running out for professional boxing's first lady of the ring, Christy Martin. Medics, doctors and surgeons prodded, cut and finally stitched and cleaned her body before placing her in the twilight halo of intensive care.

But tonight, in Los Angeles, Martin returns to the ring looking for her 50th victory in a sport that sucked her in during the glory days of women's boxing about 10 years ago and then relegated her to a sideshow attraction when the novelty of women brawling wore thin.

She fought some dreadful bums, which is often overlooked when people review her prime, but won the fans over with her relentless style. She was one of the chief supporting contests on the night Mike Tyson beat Frank Bruno to reclaim the world heavyweight title at the MGM in Las Vegas in 1996 and celebrated with Tyson after the fight. Two days later it was Martin who made the cover of Sports Illustrated in America. Tyson is said to have given Don King an earful for that.

If she beats Dakota Stone, another honest and basic slugger from the now forgotten realm of the women's fight game, it will be a timely boost for a career which had been fading from public view since her fight with Muhammad Ali's daughter Laila in 2003. Martin conceded over two stone on the night and was stopped in four painful rounds. She was, however, on her feet, bleeding and swinging in front of more than 8,000 fans, when it was called off.

Martin, who was always in pink, was known as the Coalminer's Daughter, a throwback redneck bruiser who often made $250,000 for her fights in the shadow of King's great male fighters; a price tag that often angered male world champions. At her peak, Roseanne Barr carried Martin's world-title belts into the ring, while the late-night chat shows loved her honesty and her slightly battered and bruised features.

She was not cute or packaged and she applied camouflage rouge with all the subtlety of a three-year-old let loose in her mother's make-up bag. "Don't call me a pioneer," Martin told me 15 years ago in Las Vegas. "I don't fight for women – I fight for Christy Martin." She was, there is no doubt, hardcore, and with her older husband and coach, Jim, forever at her side, his outrageous toupee as skilfully plonked as Martin's wayward mascara, she was the face of serious women's boxing and he a slightly disturbing, lurking presence. He was smitten with the girl he had turned into boxing's No 1 female attraction after discovering her entering and winning Tough Women contests in the backwaters of Florida, where wandering misfits paid a few dollars to watch women punch each other. The events, by the way, still exist in big bars on lame highways and lap-dancing clubs on slow days in America's capital of sleaze.

But then Jim arrived at their marital home on the outskirts of Orlando last November and everything changed. He was 67, Martin was 42 and their marriage was in serious trouble. Martin was on the phone in the pink bedroom, laughing and happy. On the end of the line was Sherry Jo Lusk. Martin motioned for him to wait at the door until she had finished talking to her new love. This was the night that she was going to tell Jim that the marriage was over and that she was leaving him for Lusk.

She never had the chance before the most gruesome and bloody fight of Christy Martin's life began. A few hours later, hardened police detectives sealed off what they thought would be a murder scene and shook their heads in amazement at the carnage: blood was everywhere from a struggle that is estimated to have lasted more than an hour. They had never seen so much blood at a crime scene where a victim had survived.

Martin was stabbed three times, shot just under the left breast, pistol-whipped with her own pink Glock and her face and head were repeatedly smashed into a chest of drawers. However, the blood was sprayed all over the bed and walls because during the savagery, her attacker had presumably – while placed in some type of headlock – sawed through to Martin's bone on her left calf. The bullet, which was fired from close range, missed her heart by four inches and remained stuck in her back. The fight for life in Martin had begun to fade and her assailant climbed up, leaving her for dead, and went to the shower to get rid of the blood.

The noise of the shower stirred Martin from what could have been her last slumber. She tried to stand, she grabbed the gun and stumbled towards the door as the shower rumbled on just a few feet away. She also grabbed the keys to her pink Corvette but when she fell out of her front door and hit the ground she realised that she had picked up the wrong keys. She was on the drive bleeding to death and clutching the Glock when her neighbour Rick Cole found her. "Please don't let me die," she pleaded as he lifted her into his car for the drive to the hospital. She sat in silence, both fists gripping her pink gun until the safe hands of the doctors prised the weapon from her grasp and fought to save her as her lungs collapsed twice and she bled out like a gutted animal.

Martin was kept in hospital for seven days before gradually recovering enough to be taken off the critical list. Jim vanished and the police issued a missing person's report; they were looking for a bald, 67-year-old man: the toupee charade was lost for ever in the bloody struggle. He was found seven days later living in the wild. He has been charged with attempted first-degree murder and aggravated battery. His trial is scheduled to start on 3 October and, unsurprisingly, the pair are going through a divorce.

In hospital, she told the people who cared about her that she was gay. Lusk was by her side. She also decided to lose three stone, which was easy because of the blood loss and forced rehabilitation, and to fight again, which was not so easy. She had trouble walking at the time and a fight looked and sounded like fantasy. A fight in March was called off when she injured her back. The bullet, by the way, was finally removed from near her spine.

Tonight, she is second on the bill when Julio Cesar Chavez Jnr fights Sebastian Zbik for one of the world middleweight titles at the Staples Centre in Los Angeles. "I fight for a living and that is why I'm coming back," Martin said earlier this week. "It's more than a second chance at life – it's a second chance in the boxing ring. I was the cash cow for Jim. That is the only way to describe it, and when it was over, look at what happened. If something like this can happen to me, what about those shy little women out there? I will do what I can to raise awareness.

"I need boxing, it gives me the direction I was lacking. When the boxing came to an end it was hard for me – it's hard for male fighters and it was just as difficult for me to deal with the end and that is why I'm looking forward to getting back in there.

"I will knock out Dakota Stone. I've got a lot of energy right now and it will all be taken out on her.

"I just want people to say that I fought like a fighter, not like a woman fighter," said Martin.

Last November, far away from the glitz, glamour and often seedy world of boxing, she was simply a fighter and nobody will ever dispute that.

Martin's Highlights

*Born: June 1968, Bluefield, West Virginia.

*Turned pro: 9 September 1989. After two wins, a draw and a loss in first four fights, Martin spectacularly went on an eight-year, 35-fight unbeaten run.

*Stopped inside four rounds against Muhammad Ali's daughter Laila Ali for the IBA super-middleweight title in August 2003, in what was billed as the "superfight" of women's boxing.

*In last fight, won her first title, the WBC light-middleweight, by beating Dakota Stone by majority decision in September 2009.

Record: Won: 49 (31 KO), Drawn: 3, Lost: 5 (1 KO)

Oliver Yew