Christopher Martin knows that his back is against the wall.
Dropped by his promoter Top Rank after having gone winless in his last three contests, the 25-year-old super bantamweight from Chula Vista, Calif. knows that another loss would relegate him to “opponent” or “stepping stone” status for the foreseeable future.
This is not a position where Martin (23-2-3, 6 knockouts) thought his career would be just a year ago, when he was an unbeaten upstart with a bright future, having risen from local favorite in the San Diego-area to unlikely prospect after victories over well-regarded young fighters Chris Avalos and Charles Huerta.
Now, as he prepares to face Roberto Castaneda (20-1-1, 15 KOs) of Mexicali, Mexico this Friday on the opening televised bout of Friday Night Fights on ESPN2 at the Omega Products International in Corona, California, Martin knows that his dream of making it to the big time would be dashed by anything short of a victory.
“First off I need a win, and second I need to look good,” said Martin. “I need it more than anything. I can’t even put it into words.”
Martin’s fall from grace was as unforeseen as his rise to national level prospect. Last October, in his first fight as a member of the Top Rank roster, Martin allowed himself to be outworked and outhustled by 21-loss journeyman Jose Angel Beranza, losing a split decision and his unbeaten record.
It was Martin’s first fight off the club scene and in Las Vegas, and “The S.D. Kid” found himself blinded by the bright lights.
Though there was a clause in his promotional deal that could have terminated his agreement with a defeat, Top Rank stuck with him and placed him in a crossroads battle with fellow prospect-gone-sour Teon Kennedy in January. The winner would have new life to his career, the loser would be in boxing hell.
The result was a draw. Martin would be dropped from his promotional deal, while Kennedy would go on to face WBA super bantamweight titleholder Guillermo Rigondeaux earlier this month, being dropped five times in a one-sided TKO defeat.
“They think I kinda ruined the plans when I lost,” said Martin of his split with Top Rank. “I don’t know exactly what there plans were, I just know that I messed it up when I lost. They gave me another chance with Teon Kennedy, it wasn’t a great performance. They didn’t see it in me. I’m disappointed but I’m willing to move on. I don’t want to be that journeyman guy saying, ‘I still want to be a champ.’”
The skid wasn’t over for Martin yet.
Without a promoter and seeking a big win to get his career back on track, Martin took a fight with Luis Del Valle on a ShoBox card this past April. Martin was dropped in the seventh round but survived to make it a difficult night for the undefeated Del Valle, who is arguably Dibella Entertainment’s best prospect under contract.
After having gone 0-2-1 in his last three fights, Martin is taking a fight with an unknown fighter from Mexico making his American debut whom he hasn’t seen tape of. Oh, and he took the fight on three weeks notice.
Martin isn’t going into this fight completely in the dark, however. He knows someone who knows Castaneda.
“Actually three people,” says Martin. “They all describe him the same: tough dude, comes forward, throws lot of punches and I’ve seen that before. This guy’s style is kind of tailor-made towards me.”
Though not much is known about Castaneda, the 21-year-old is coming off two consecutive knockout wins over marginal competition since losing via fifth round technical knockout in January to Felipe Orucuta, who at 22-1 represented the only step-up he had seen previously.
“I think the one guy he did fight who was decent he lost to,” said Martin. “I’m not saying I’m banking on him not being good because I’ve never seen him fight, can’t even find anything of him on YouTube. I just think the experience will play out, especially towards the later rounds.”
Martin admits that much of his aura and self-belief left with his “0″. Subsequent stints in the gym failed to produce the same results, and Martin grew stale.
“I was just like ‘f–k it,’” said Martin. “I couldn’t mentally recover from that, it just hurt me. I went back immediately to the gym, but it just wasn’t the same. It wasn’t there, the whole package. I can’t really explain it.”
If Martin seems confident now, this is something that took work. One night, while his career was doing a 180 in the wrong direction, he and his wife spoke before they both fell asleep. Her candor was the kind that can only be expected from a spouse, and is only acceptable from one as well.
“It seems like you’re not into it anymore,” she told Martin, frankly and bluntly. “I was like ‘What are you talking about?’ And she was just like, ‘Yeah, it doesn’t seem like you want it.’ I was reflecting on it, and I look back and think she was right. I was kind of losing a little bit of the edge and it made me bring it back. Once she noticed it, I noticed it. You’ll see it in the fight, I want it more.”
Though he’s had just three weeks to prepare, Martin says he has made the most of his time. He has been sparring with 7-0 (5 KOs) light welterweight Adrian Vargas, as well as Oscar Valdez, the standout Mexican amateur who will be competing in his second Olympics later this Summer.
Friday’s fight isn’t under the most ideal terms for Martin, but then again, what has been?
“I’m looking at this fight realistically, and I’m confident that I can win it,” said Martin. “It’ll put me back in contention, he’s got a good record and people can see it. I’m not going in there thinking ‘I might win.’ I’m going to win this fight.”
Photo by Craig Bennett, Fightwireimages.com
Ryan Songalia is a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America (BWAA) and contributes to GMA News. He is also a member of The Ring ratings panel. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. An archive of his work can be found at www.ryansongalia.com. Follow him on Twitter: @RyanSongalia.