Social media can be a lot of things – good, bad and ugly. For Alex Martin, it was a lifeline from out of nowhere when his career needed it the most.
“I saw Alex on YouTube and he fought Miguel Cruz and absolutely dominated him, but he lost,” said Long Island trainer / manager Joe Zagarino. “It was an insane robbery. I said this kid is special, but super undersized for welterweight. I got a gut feeling about him. I'm gonna reach out and I'm gonna train him and bring him back.”
Chicago’s Martin was a highly regarded former amateur star who compiled a 176-35 slate and several titles before turning pro in 2013. He raced out to a 13-0 record before losing a controversial split decision to Cruz in January 2017, then dropped the rematch five months later more convincingly, getting dropped twice en route to another points defeat. By December, Martin’s 13-0 record had turned to 13-3 after being decisioned by Bryant Perrella, and suddenly a promising career was not only in trouble, but it was close to being over.
“I was thinking about walking away,” said Martin. “I was thinking about hanging it up and just getting a regular job or going back to school. But the love for boxing was still there, and I was hoping a miracle came. And then a dude from New York hit me up on Instagram.”
It's a story that could only happen in boxing, and one that could be Hollywood material if the 32-year-old gets to where he wants to go in the sport, but how do a couple of street-smart folks from Chicago and New York actually get connected through Instagram?
It wasn’t easy.
“Not at first,” Zagarino laughs. “He blew me off a couple times.”
“At first, I thought it was a set-up,” admits Martin. “I'm not gonna lie. But then he just kept hitting me up.”
The pitch just before Christmas of 2018 was simple and to the point. But it would require a leap of faith of epic proportions.
“I reached out to him and said, ‘Move to New York; I'm gonna train you,’” Zagarino recalled. He then asked Martin what he weighed at that moment, a year removed from the Perrella fight.
145.6 pounds. Zagarino couldn’t believe it.
“How stupid could it be to fight at welterweight? I said, ‘Who's telling you this? You are a lightweight.’ He thought I was absolutely clinically insane to talk about moving to 135. He thought that wasn't even possible.”
Martin was still skeptical until he heard one sentence that changed everything.
“I remember him saying, ‘By this time next year, you'll give your son a good Christmas.’ That's all I remember, and right there it motivated me to get down there. I was thinking to myself, should I go? What do I got to lose? I ain't got nothing to lose, so I wound up going.”
Giving a better life to his son, Alex III, was all he needed to agree to travel to New York to begin working with Zagarino. Now his new coach and manager had to figure out how to get him there.
“At the time we weren't doing too hot, me and my cousin, and we spent like our last dollar to fly him in,” 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 left to give to the sport he grew up in.
“I knew I was still young, and I knew I still had a lot of growing to do, a lot of learning to do 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 put a hundred percent into the sport. When I took those three losses, I wasn't putting a hundred percent into the sport, and in training I was slacking. I was staying up late, playing video games, and I just wasn't doing the right things that an athlete would do. Three days before a fight I should not be up at three o'clock in the morning.”
That wouldn’t be happening in his new digs, but that doesn’t mean he picked up where he left off in the gym. There was some rust to shake off before he got back in the ring.
“When I first got in the gym, I had a lot of rust to knock off because I had taken a long break,” Martin said. “I looked worse than I looked when I was in the ring losing. I had a lot of corrections to make. I was making a lot of mistakes and goofing around in the ring, dropping my hands, so I needed to correct all that.”
In September 2019, he returned, halting Marlon Lewis in a single round. Less than four months later, he handled 16-0-1 Angel Fierro his first pro loss. In March of last year, the “0” on Luis Hernandez’ 21-0 record disappeared at the hands of Martin, and last August, he shut out 23-4-3 Josec Ruiz over ten rounds. Four fights, four wins, and a contract with Golden Boy Promotions to boot.
You can call that a comeback. Ask Martin if he thought he would be here in 2022 after all he went through in 2017, and he says he absolutely would have.
“The reason why I say that is that I'm no quitter,” he said. “I knew something good was gonna happen. Something had to give because I just had a lot of bad luck, a lot of stress in my life, and it was gonna get worse before it got better. And that's what eventually ended up happening.”
Zagarino hopes to have Martin 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're hoping to fight Ryan,” he said, respectful of the California phenom, but completely confident that Martin can take another “0” on fight night.
“He'd have to fight completely different,” said Zagarino. “We would take him out of his element. Plus, Alex can take a punch - he's got hit at welterweight. I have to yell at Alex because when he goes home to Chicago, he's always sparring middleweights. I tell him, ‘You can't do that. There's no benefit to your career in sparring middleweights.’ I know Garcia can't hurt him, so what does Garcia do when he can't hurt someone and they have the boxing skill to keep up with him?”
As for Martin, he’s all-in for a Garcia fight, taking to – you guessed it – social media to make his case for the biggest fight and payday of his career.
“That's the fight we want,” he said. “That's what we've been waiting on.”
But does he think he has a shot at getting it?
“I hope so. I'm probably the best option on paper if you look at it. I’m a southpaw, and I'm thinking he's trying to get a tune-up for Tank (Davis), so who would be better than me?”
“He's gonna 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 that if he gets the big fights he wants, he has the skill to be the B-side who bites back.
“I've been a B-side for the last six fights, so I'm fine with that,” he said. “I'm used to it.”