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Her husband tried to kill her. Now Christy Martin is standing up for abuse survivors

She was the most famous female boxer in the world. Years later, she's opening up about domestic violence — and getting back into boxing.

Dressed in shiny loafers, a pale pink dress shirt and tailored jeans, Christy Salters was all business as she pushed her way through the crowd at a warehouse turned event space in Charlotte, North Carolina, speaking into a headset and pausing occasionally to indulge fans wanting a selfie.

It's not the look she's known for.

Most people know Salters as Christy Martin, the former world boxing champion who's often and rightly credited for putting women's boxing on the map and paving the way for other female fighters. Nicknamed "The Coal Miner's Daughter," she's all but immortalized in striking photos that show her standing in the ring, gloved fists raised into the air, blood dripping from her nose and a wide, victorious smile stretching across her face.

In some of the photos, her ex-husband and former trainer Jim Martin is holding her, literally lifting her up for the world to see.

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Salters and Martin celebrate after Salters defeated challenger Melinda Robinson in 1996 at the MGM Grand Garden in Las Vegas.AFP/Getty Images

"He would tell people that he was going to make me the best woman fighter ever, and make him lots of money," Salters told TODAY during a recent interview.

Today Jim Martin is behind bars, serving 25 years in prison for trying to kill her. During a 2012 trial, he was convicted of second-degree attempted murder for stabbing and shooting his then-wife at their Florida home.

And Salters? For starters, she's Salters again.

Christy Martin portrait
Salters with her ex-husband and former trainer, Jim Martin. Martin is now in prison for her attempted murder.The Ring Magazine/Getty Images

"The name thing is touchy because Jim would always tell me, 'I don't care what happens, you can divorce me, you can leave, whatever. You'll always be Christy Martin,'" she said. "And I would tell him, 'No, I'm going to go back to Christy Salters.'"

"But the very truth is, he was right: Christy is who people know. Christy Martin is the boxer that made the name. But I made the name. He didn't. I made the name."

Last year, Salters turned 50, and she's still making the most of that name.

She recently started promoting boxing events, calling her company Christy Martin Promotions. She also remarried in 2017, this time to a woman, Lisa Holewyne, who's also a former professional boxer. Friends joke that they're the only world boxing champs to be married to each other.

At CenterStage, the venue in Charlotte, Salters was whipping back and forth from the ring to the dressing rooms to the entrance to the bar. It was fight night, and she'd been prepping for months.

Salters had 11 fights on the lineup, including a women's matchup. As people started trickling in, a trainer yelled from the back that he needed a pregnancy test — the North Carolina Boxing Authority requires female fighters take a pregnancy test on the day of the fight.

"It's coming!" Salters shouted, rushing off in another direction. She was in charge of everything.

"I'm a startup, so I set up the chairs, help them set up the ring, set the fight," she explained. "There's no part of (promoting an event) I don't in some way have my hand on. I'm still very involved in every little aspect."

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Salters pumps up the crowd during her Feb. 23 event in Charlotte, North Carolina.TODAY

In a way, this is her return to boxing. While she's no longer fighting, Salters has thrown herself into planning and promoting boxing events, eager to be involved in the sport in any way she can.

"The truth is, (boxing) is all I've done my entire life," Salters said. "I've taught school the last couple of years, but really boxing is where my love is. All I want to do is give somebody else the opportunity to have some of those cool experiences I had."

She lists them off: fighting at Madison Square Garden in New York City, Caesar's Palace and the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, fighting on the undercard of Mike Tyson, interviews with Jay Leno and Katie Couric, landing the cover of Sports Illustrated after beating Deirdre Gogarty in a now-iconic fight that was televised on Showtime.

During the attack in 2010, Martin shot Salters in the chest with a 9 mm handgun, the bullet missing her heart by less than three inches. She spent ten days in the hospital and was released in the middle of the night to avoid the press. The next day, Salters went straight to the gym, although her fighting career was all but finished at that point.

"The boxing gym was where I felt safe, so that's where I went back to," she said.

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Salters appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated in 1996.SI Cover / Sports Illustrated/Getty Images

"I've been all around the world on somebody else's dime because of boxing," she added.

It's not a future she would have imagined for herself. Salters grew up in the small town of Itmann, West Virginia, and went to college about an hour away, at Concord University. She studied education, figuring she'd become a teacher. And while she does occasionally substitute teach in Charlotte, boxing was her passion from the start.

During college, she started competing in amateur boxing competitions, mostly just for fun, to bide the time until her real life started. But she was winning, and when a promoter from Tennessee called and asked her to compete in a professional fight, Salters accepted.

That fight was a draw, but it launched Salters' professional career and introduced her to Martin, who became her trainer. Salters knew she was a lesbian and had had girlfriends before, but she felt pressure from her family to be with a man. Over time, Martin started to seem like the answer.

"I was very young, and I felt lonely and that I needed someone," she said. "Bottom line is I needed someone."

Salters said Martin knew how conflicted she felt about her sexuality, and used that to his advantage.

"He told me that if I wanted to stay in contact with my family ... that I was basically going to have to marry him," she said.

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Many people remember Christy Martin as the woman who got people to pay attention to women's boxing. Now she goes by her maiden name, Salters, and wants to raise awareness of domestic violence and support for victims.Getty Images

They married in March 1992, when Salters was 23 years old and Martin twice her age. Fans know what happened next: the years-long winning streaks, the talk shows, those picture-perfect snapshots of Salters in the ring, her signature-pink gloves raised in triumph.

But in private, Martin was abusive and controlling, a portrait Salters painted during testimony at his trial. Holewyne, then just a friend through the boxing circuit who assumed Salters was straight, remembers the strangeness of their relationship.

"I thought some of his mannerisms were peculiar," Holewyne said, recalling the time Martin popped in at the nail salon when she and Salters were getting a manicure, and another time he stood outside a hot tub while the women were soaking, not getting in, but also not leaving them alone.

"Looking back, there were a million red flags as to what was going on," Holewyne said.

Above the boxing ring at Salters' event in Charlotte, a huge banner hung, advertising a hotline for domestic violence victims. Closer to the door, two groups had set up booths: Esther House and Turning Point, both domestic violence organizations that provide shelter to abuse victims.

"I always say God left me here for a reason, and I think my reason is to share my story, to talk about domestic violence," Salters said. "It's not just about bruises. It's control. It's the emotional, it's the mental."

Christy Salters takes a walk in Charlotte, North Carolina, with wife Lisa Holewyne.
Christy Salters takes a walk in Charlotte, North Carolina, with wife Lisa Holewyne.TODAY

She also works closely with Everytown for Gun Safety, a nonprofit that advocates for reforms to combat gun violence. Salters is a gun owner. "I grew up in West Virginia," she said by way of explanation. The pink pistol Martin shot her with was her own. It's still in evidence, but she has other guns, something she said occasionally causes tension with her wife.

While they don't agree on everything, Holewyne is still Salters' biggest supporter — and her right hand at events. After fight night, they were both exhausted for days. Salters couldn’t stop replaying what had happened — how packed the venue was, whether the fights were any good. She wasn’t sure about the women, and a couple times mused out loud about how she probably could have taken them.

“I miss boxing myself so much,” she said. “I wake up almost every day thinking I’m going to make a comeback.”

She won’t, of course. In 2011, Salters had a stroke and her doctor said she couldn’t fight anymore. Plus, she joked, Holewyne would never let her get back in the ring.

But it’s a fun thought: the return of “The Coal Miner’s Daughter,” after all these years.

She and Holewyne actually fought once, in 2001, years before they were married, when Salters and Martin were still together. It was a short-notice fight and Holewyne had an injured knee, but she couldn’t resist.

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Salters and Holewyne fought in 2001 at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casinoin Las Vegas, Nevada. Salters won.Getty Images

“It’s hard to believe now because, you know, I’d never want to hurt that beautiful face,” Holewyne said, leaning into her wife and smiling.

Salters won. But now, it’s water under the bridge, just another good story they can both laugh about.

“I may not have been the girl that beat Christy Martin,” Holewyne said. “But I’m the girl that got Christy Martin, that’s for sure.”

Salters smiled, clearly pleased with the affection but maybe also slightly uncomfortable. She looked up at her wife.

“She won the big fight,” she said, and laughed.