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Remembering Jerry Martin

Jerry Martin
‘The Bull,’ Jerry Martin was one of the very best light-heavies in a golden era

JERRY “THE BULL” MARTIN died in November at the age of 67. Though Martin did not win a major championship he was a key member of the light-heavyweight wrecking crew that provided the division with its most violent and sumptuous era.

Born on the island of Antigua in 1953, Jerry Martin would later fight out of North Philadelphia at a time when boxing was booming in the fight city. He would fight 17 times in Philly where he will always be remembered fondly. The American might be known to British fight fans for his victory over Otis Gordon in 1980; that bout, staged in Bloomsbury, headlined the first card promoted by Frank Warren.

Martin only had one amateur contest before turning professional in 1976. He would retire eight years later with a record of 25-7 (17) and earn three shots at sanctioning body titles. It was his bad luck that the opponents in those challenges were Eddie Mustafa Muhammad, Matthew Saad Muhammad and Dwight Muhammad Qawi.

But Martin was more than just a nearly man, beating fighters like Dale Grant, Jesse Burnett, Billy Douglas, and the streaking James Scott inside the walls of Rahway State Prison in 1980. Inmate Scott was unbeaten in 19 bouts and trying to persuade a belt-holder to pay him a visit when the unfancied Martin dropped him in rounds one and two en route to a points victory after 10. It was a major upset at the time.

“People thought of him [Scott] as Superman,” Martin told The Philadelphia Inquirer in 2011. “Everyone was afraid to fight him. I was, too. But the thing that helped me is that you had to go into the prison the day before for the weigh-in and that settled me down. I realised I was going there to do a job, like for any other fight.”

That set up a shot at Mustafa Muhammad and the WBA strap. Martin was competitive but ultimately outgunned as he was stopped in the 10th round inside McAfee’s Great George Playboy Club in July, 1980. The defeat galvanised Martin’s ambition and, after three comeback victories, he was matched with Matthew Saad Muhammad for the WBC belt. What followed was a terrific back-and-forth battle, the kind in which Saad thrived at the time.

Martin was rocked several times before rallying in the 10th only for Saad – in his last successful defence before losing to Qawi – to secure victory in the 11th. In his next outing, Martin would be halted in six rounds by the new WBC belt-holder. Martin, by now fading, won three of his next four but quit the ring after losing 10-rounders to Richie Kates and Prince Mama Mohammed.

Outside of the ring, Martin was known for his effervescent smile and good nature. In 2011, he was delighted to be inducted into the Pennsylvania Boxing Hall of Fame. Given the courage he exhibited in a boxing ring, it is cruel that his heart let him down outside of it; for the final decade of his life, while surviving on Social Security money, he was battling heart conditions.

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