By Fiona Manning
They call her “The Shadow”.
Soon too, they’ll be calling her the new heavyweight champion of the world if Martha Salazar has anything to say about it.
Heavyweight Champion - the most glamorous title in sport was until recently, a title reserved exclusively for men.
Martha “The Shadow” Salazar, 6-2, 1 KO, is one of the few women in the world who not only competes in the division, but has now fought twice for the prize.
They say that three times is the charm and Salazar hopes her third attempt at the title next year will bring her the coveted IBA Women’s Heavyweight Championship.
For Salazar has not only fought for the same title against the same opponent twice - she has, for all intents and purposes been robbed of a victory each time she has fought Vonda Ward for the championship.
Those who have witnessed Salazar’s warrior-like, head-first handling of Ward have been amazed that Ward has won both fights when Salazar seemed a clear-cut winner.
In March, their highly controversial four rounder at the Thomas and Mack Center in Las Vegas, went by split vote to Ward who collapsed in her corner.
What does Hall have that Salazar doesn’t? For one thing, she has an undefeated record (17-0) and she has the belt. The rematch was also fought in her hometown of Canton, Ohio.
“I knew I was going to have to knock her out the second time we fought,” Salazar told La Prensa San Diego today.
Last week, she did manage to knock down Ward in their rematch which went 10 grueling rounds (a first for Salazar) but again, she came up short in the eyes of the judges.
Ward not only got knocked down, but threw very few punches, only to walk off with a crowd-displeasing victory.
Though the first loss hurt Salazar and her trainer, the highly-regarded Danovis (Dee) Pooler, they were encouraged by the fact that not only the fans, but boxing experts openly feel that Salazar has been cheated.
One critic pointed out that Ward is tall, blonde and movie-star willowy. Salazar is 5’9, weighs over 230 pounds and fights like a man.
“This girl is surprising,” said Graham Houston of Britain’s Boxing Monthly. “She appears to be sort of heavy and possibly out of shape but she just beat up Vonda Ward. She is one of the most effective, aggressive fighters I have ever seen.”
Ward also seemed to benefit from the referee not giving her an eight count when Salazar knocked her down last week.
For Salazar, it was like a repeat of a bad movie.
“How is it that Vonda wins that first fight but then collapses? The Nevada State Athletic Commission went in her dressing room and gave her a 30 day suspension. I am the one who supposedly lost the fight and I didn’t have a mark on me,” she said.
“Her team appealed the suspension and she won but it’s taken me a few months to get her back in the ring. This time I knew I had to knock her out to win the fight, but despite the fact I knocked her down, the referee never even counted her out. She was allowed to continue.”
Leaving nothing to chance, Salazar took the last three months off from her job in a uniform factory near her home in Millbrae, CA to devote herself to her training.
“She is the hardest working fighter I have,” said Pooler who has worked with Salazar for more than 10 years. “I find female fighters are very loyal to the workout.
“We started in kickboxing together and her dedication and focus are impressive. She worked hard for this fight. When they announced the decision, I turned to her and said, ‘It’s Vegas all over again.”
Pooler wanted the victory badly for his fighter and for himself. Now he is focusing on landing Salazar another fight. She hits very hard which makes it harder to get her fights because she is perceived as a big-time spoiler.
“We’re working on Flor Marie Del Gado the WIBA champion,” said Pooler who feels Salazar’s extensive prior experience as the UFC light heavyweight champion has provided her with the tools to cope with the vagaries of a pro boxing career.
It was Pooler, a star UFC cruiserweight who fought for the world championship three times, who convinced Salazar to switch to traditional boxing 13 years ago.
“Kick boxing is much harder on your body,” said Salazar. “It hurts more. I much prefer boxing.”
Pooler can testify to that. The last time he fought was as recently as two years ago, when he had to “bow out in the second round due to knee problems.”
He trains 20 fighters and frequently spars his charges “but not too much,” he chuckled. “I’ve retired three or four times and I don’t want to get any ideas about making a comeback.”
Salazar and Pooler are such a strong work team, she took his former ring name of The Shadow and works hard to maintain the right to use the name.
“I wanted to win the belt for Dee,” said Salazar. “He’s a good trainer and he’s done right by me.”
The hardest part of not winning the title was returning from Ohio to discover that she had been laid off from her job in northern California as well.
Salazar remains philosophical. “I never went 10 rounds before and that was good, to know that I can do it. I think I got tired because I was doing all the work in there.”
With heavyweight female fighters being so scarce, the chances of a rematch are better than good.
In fact Team Salazar are counting on it for next year.
“I have to wait for Vonda because she plays basketball too and she’s about to go into the playoffs,” said Salazar. “But I am a very, very patient woman. I can wait.”
While Pooler tried to distract his fighter from thinking about last week’s fight with a rigorous 8 mile mountain track run each day, he also trains her very hard, preparing her for all of the top female fighters in her division.
“I know how they all fight and each day we’ll train like we’re getting ready for one of them.”
Salazar meanwhile recuperates from her latest, tarnished quest for glory.
“Vonda told me after the fight that I hit her harder than anyone’s ever hit her and I know that’s true. Some of her friends came over and told me I won that fight. Even her mother came and told me it was a great fight. They’re nice people over there in Canton, Ohio. Very nice. Too bad that next time I go there, I’ll be putting that girl on the floor.”