Social media can be many things – good, bad and ugly. For Alex Martin, it was a lifeline that came out of nowhere when his career needed it most.
“I saw Alex on YouTube and he fought Miguel Cruz and absolutely overpowered him, but he lost,” Long Island coach/manager Joe Zagarino said. “It was a senseless heist. I said this kid is special, but super too small for welterweight. I have a feeling about him. I’m going to reach out and train him and bring him back.
Chicago’s Martin was a highly regarded former amateur star who compiled a 176-35 slate and multiple titles before turning pro in 2013. He raced to a 13-0 record before losing a controversial split decision to Cruz in January 2017, then dropped out of the rematch. five months later in more convincing fashion, getting retired twice en route to another loss on points. By December, Martin’s 13-0 record had dropped to 13-3 after it was decided by Bryant Perrella, and suddenly a promising career was not only in trouble, it was about to be over.
“I was thinking of leaving,” Martin said. “I thought about hanging up and just getting a regular job or going back to school. But the love for boxing was still there, and I was hoping for a miracle to happen. And then a guy from New York contacted me on Instagram.
It’s a story that can only happen in boxing, and could be Hollywood material if the 32-year-old gets where he wants to go in the sport, but how do some street smart people in Chicago and from New York actually connect via Instagram?
It was not easy.
“Not at first,” laughs Zagarino. “He blew me off a few times.”
“At first I thought it was a set-up,” admits Martin. “I’m not going to lie. But then he kept hitting me.
The pitch just before Christmas 2018 was simple and precise. But that would require a leap of faith of epic proportions.
“I contacted him and said, ‘Moving to New York; I’ll train you,” Zagarino recalled. He then asked Martin what he weighed at the time, a year out from the Perrella fight.
145.6 lbs. Zagarino couldn’t believe it.
“How stupid could it be to fight at welterweight? I said, ‘Who told you that? You are a lightweight. He thought I was clinically insane for talking about going to 135. He thought it wasn’t even possible.
Martin was still skeptical until he heard a phrase that changed everything.
“I remember him saying to me, ‘This time next year, you’re going to give your son a good Christmas.’ That’s all I remember, and there, it motivated me to go there. I was like, should I go? What do I have to lose? I have nothing to lose, so I ended up going.
Giving a better life to his son, Alex III, was all he needed to agree to travel to New York to start working with Zagarino. Now his new trainer and manager had to figure out how to get him there.
“At the time, it was not too hot, me and my cousin, and we spent our last dollar to bring him here,” laughs Zagarino, who welcomed Martin to the Empire State on January 9. 2019, a date that sticks in the mind of a fighter who still had something to give to the sport in which he grew up.
“I knew I was still young and I knew I still had a lot to do, a lot to learn inside and outside the ring,” Martin said. “So all I had to do was give myself a break and figure out what I really wanted to do and if I really wanted to box and give myself one hundred percent to the sport. When I suffered these three defeats, I did not invest myself one hundred percent in the sport, and in training, I relaxed. I was staying up late, playing video games, and just not doing the right things an athlete would do. Three days before a fight, I don’t have to be up at three in the morning.
That wouldn’t happen in his new digs, but that doesn’t mean he picked up where he left off at the gym. There was rust to shake off before stepping back into the ring.
“When I first came to the gym I had a lot of rust to remove because I had taken a long break,” Martin said. “I looked worse than when I was in the ring losing. I had a lot of corrections to make. I was making a lot of mistakes and messing around in the ring, I was dropping my hands, so I had to correct all that.
In September 2019 he returned, stopping Marlon Lewis in a single round. Less than four months later, he handled 16-0-1 Angel Fierro his first professional loss. In March of last year, the ‘0’ in Luis Hernandez’s 21-0 record disappeared at the hands of Martin, and last August he shut out 23-4-3 Josec Ruiz in ten rounds. Four fights, four wins and a contract with Golden Boy Promotions to boot.
You can call it a comeback. Ask Martin if he thought he would be here in 2022 after everything he went through in 2017, and he says he would have.
“The reason I say that is because I’m not a quitter,” he said. “I knew something good was going to happen. Something had to give because I was just having a lot of bad luck, a lot of stress in my life, and it was going to get worse before it got better. And that’s ultimately what happened. ‘happened. “
Zagarino hopes Martin will be back in the ring in April, and he doesn’t mince words when asked who he hopes to fight – Golden Boy’s Golden Boy Ryan Garcia.
“We hope to fight Ryan,” he said, respectful of the California phenom but completely confident Martin can take another “0” on fight night.
“He should fight completely differently,” Zagarino said. “We would take him out of his element. Also, Alex can take a punch – he was hit at welterweight. I have to yell at Alex because when he comes home to Chicago he’s still fighting middleweight. I tell him, ‘You can’t do that. There’s no career advantage to fighting middleweight. I know Garcia can’t hurt him, so what does Garcia do when he can’t hurt someone and they have the boxing talent to follow him?”
As for Martin, he’s all for a fight against Garcia, taking to – you guessed it – social media to make the case for the biggest fight and payday of his career.
“This is the fight we want,” he said. “That’s what we expected.”
But does he think he has a chance of getting it?
“I hope. I’m probably the best option on paper if you look at him. I’m a southpaw, and I think he’s trying to get a focus for Tank (Davis), so who would be better than me ?”
“He’s going to think I’m a tune-up,” laughs Martin, who knows where he sits in the pecking order at 135 pounds. For now. Because he knows if he gets the big fights he wants, he has the ability to be the B-side fighting back.
“I’ve been a B-side for the last six fights, so that’s fine with me,” he said. “I’m used to it.”