Christy Martin still hasn't seen Million Dollar Baby, but she knows all about Lucia Rijker, who plays the fighter who battles Hilary Swank in the movie's climactic bout. For years after Martin landed on the cover of SI in 1996, Rijker told anyone who'd listen that while Martin--who was managed by Don King--might be the most visible women's boxer around, she, Rijker, was the best. But Martin never fought the former kickboxing champ. At a press conference before Martin's bout with Belinda Laracuente in 2000, Rijker showed up and accused Martin of ducking her. A melee ensued, and Martin suffered a broken bone in her hand, while Rijker was cut under the eye.
Five years later, with women's boxing--and Rijker especially--buoyed by the success of Baby, the two will finally meet in the ring. Martin, 36, and Rijker, 37, will fight on July 30 in Las Vegas for the biggest prize in women's boxing history: $1 million. (The loser gets $250,000.) The fight will be Martin's first in two years. In 2003 she was noticeably overmatched against Laila Ali and was KO'd in the fourth round. Saying she was "very discouraged with myself and with boxing in general," the West Virginia coal miner's daughter hung up her pink trunks and returned to Orlando, where she manages super middleweight Rowland Bryant. (Bryant, who is trained by Martin's husband, Jim, is 11--0 with six first-round knockouts.) But last summer, while in her hometown of Mullens, W.Va., fans encouraged her to end what she calls her "self-imposed hiatus."
Martin (45-3-2, 31 KOs) will go into the bout as the underdog. Rijker is undefeated in 17 fights, with 14 knockouts, and she'll be trained by Hall of Famer Emanuel Steward, who calls Rijker "the best one-on-one competitive female athlete ever in the history of any sport." Says Martin, "After you've been on top, people want to see you fail. I'm not going to give them that privilege. I have as much determination as I did in '96 to show people I'm still here, and still legitimate." --Aimee Berg
JEFF CHRISTENSEN/REUTERS/CORBIS (RIJKER)
Heading into her matchup with Rijker (right), Martin (pink trunks) hasn't fought since taking a beating from Ali in 2003.
CHRISTY JERNIGAN/THE MISSISSIPPI PRESS/AP (MARTIN)
[See caption above]
BRIAN SMITH (SI COVER)