Martha Salazar earns second shot at heavyweight title

PACIFICA — Martha Salazar first challenged for the WBC women’s heavyweight championship in February of 2007.

Despite having fought professionally for almost six years, she felt inexperienced in losing a majority decision to notable rival Vonda Ward.

But her desire to win the big green belt never diminished. Now seven years later, the opportunity has presented itself once again – and Salazar believes her time is now.

Now a 13-year professional, San Francisco’s Salazar (12-4, 3 KOs) will fight Tanzee Daniel (4-3-1, 1 KO) for the vacant women’s title in the 10-round co-main event of the “Back to Business, War On the Wharf” event on Sat. Nov. 8 from Longshoremen’s Hall on North Point and Taylor streets in Fisherman’s Wharf.

Salazar told SFBay she is excited to receive another crack at winning a WBC world title:

“I want it more than I wanted it back then (in 2007), because back then I didn’t know what it was. All I knew was that it was a championship, and that was it. But now I know what it means (to be a champion). That’s why I came out of retirement because there were more women to fight … and now, it’s my time.”

Salazar has held women’s heavyweight gold before, winning the Women’s International Boxing Federation (WIBF) world title in November 2004 with a ninth-round technical knockout of Pamela London in Georgetown, Guyana.

But seizing the WBC championship in her hometown would be a dream come true – one she has worked long and hard to bring to fruition these past seven years.

Her close friend Blanca Gutierrez – owner and founder of the Baby Face Boxing gym in Pacifica where Salazar trains – is aware of Salazar’s passion and determination. She believes a victory on Nov. 8 will be the best thing to happen to Salazar as a professional fighter:

“That was one promise I made to her, that if we stuck this out that she would get the shot for the WBC title and she earned it. She earned it because she beat No. 1 (ranked) Sonya Lamonakis.”

Salazar defeated Lamonakis last April via hard-fought unanimous decision in her first fight since her six-year retirement following the loss to Ward. The fight was originally supposed to be for the same vacant WBC title that Salazar will fight for on Nov. 8.

But Gutierrez declined the offer because she didn’t want to make it a spectacle and preferred Salazar make a strong, proper comeback:

“Too bad that Sonya doesn’t want that title shot. So we went with Tanzee Daniel, who wants to come and step into the ring. She’s a true warrior and she has a great résumé. When you look at her on paper, she’s an incredible athlete and we’re looking forward to a great, great fight.”

All three of Daniel’s professional losses have been against Lomanakis via unanimous decisions in 2011 and 2013 and majority decision in 2012.

Though she started late as a professional at age 31, Salazar has honed her craft since being jumped in her neighborhood by three Samoan girls when she was 13 years old.

She said she decided not to turn pro early because she only wanted to fight the best of the best – something that she takes great pride in and ultimately influenced her decision to come out of retirement:

“Money wasn’t an issue either, because we knew we couldn’t make any money at all in women’s boxing. I just did it for the sport and then after we kept fighting and training, I fell in love with the sport.”

Salazar has tangled with some of the best in her division, including Lomanakis, a spirited trilogy with Ward and even a four-fight series with Marsha Valley between 2004 and 2005.

Some may have expected Salazar to hang up her gloves by now at age 44, but she said she doesn’t feel her years in the ring.

In fact, she believes age is simply just a number and hopes her success and drive at her age can influence anybody to pursue their dreams:

“Sometimes, you’re going to have obstacles where you’re like, ‘Oh, man. Maybe that’s it. Maybe I’m done.’ No, you’ve got to keep pushing. That’s what I want to show the girls … at age 44, I wanted this belt and I came back and took it and grabbed it because that was mine.”

Salazar also serves as a coach at Baby Face Boxing. She has worked the corner during Beautiful Brawlers events, which she has supported since the beginning after Gutierrez envisioned it.

Salazar and Gutierrez have been close friends for more than 20 years since they first met as aspiring kickboxers at a local gym in Daly City in the 1990s. But shortly after the gym closed, they endured the hardship of finding another gym that was willing to take their desire to train and fight seriously.

Gutierrez decided to open Baby Face Boxing, which is named after her father – pro boxer Javier “Baby Face” Gutierrez, who passed away in September of 2000.

Gutierrez originally opened the gym to lose weight following a pregnancy. But her main goal was to ensure that she, Salazar and their female fighters never felt like “second-class citizens”:

“Some girls like to play soccer. Some like to play tennis. Some play volleyball. But we don’t play – we box. So, it’s a very big difference between other sports knowing that someone else is going to hit you. So we want everybody to feel secure, safe, and know that this is what we do, this is what we are and no one can change us.”

Gutierrez’s vision ultimately came to fruition when she introduced the first Beautiful Brawlers event in 2011, showcasing the best female amateur talent from throughout the United States.

Its success spawned three more installments, but what made the inaugural event so special for Gutierrez was that it happened shortly after her father was inducted into the California Boxing Hall of Fame that June:

“What I decided to do is when he got inducted, I decided that we were going to keep his legacy going and we were going to do it through females. I don’t think he ever would have thought that his name would be put out there so much. But it is and we’re accomplishing what I wanted to do – to keep his name alive – so people would know that pioneers from the early 1950s still made a difference and they’re making a difference in females’ lives up to this day.”

Salazar believes the Beautiful Brawlers events are very significant for the sport because they give female fighters the opportunity to make a statement and prove that they are just as strong and passionate about the fight game as their male counterparts:

“A lot of people think that women don’t have the energy to get in there and fight hard and bring the crowd in. So we’re trying to show that to the public and to the world that, hey, we’re here and we’re here to stay.”

Aside from the women’s heavyweight title fight, Salazar and Gutierrez are also excited for the Beautiful Brawlers amateur bouts that will take place on the Nov. 8 card.

For those fighters to share this special moment with a fighter of Salazar’s caliber is simply a team effort in Gutierrez’ eyes:

“All of these girls that are on the undercard have been girls that have supported us and have learned from Martha the whole way through. So this is kind of like their chance to take part in something with Martha instead of us just watching them on the Beautiful Brawlers (fight cards). Now, it’s all of us together.”

Salazar has a hard-hitting mentality inside the ring, though she strongly promotes positivity outside of it. She believes that same positivity has earned her recognition not just at Baby Face Boxing, but within her community.

Gutierrez believes that Salazar’s contributions inside and outside of the ring solidify her status as a true team player:

“Martha’s been around for a long time and she’s a veteran in the sport. She knows how to box and she’s a true boxer – that makes her a legend in history for female boxing. But what really makes her a special person is because she gives so much outside of the ring and she helps create some of the best fighters around.”

Gutierrez said she hopes that at the end of the night, fight fans in attendance recognize Baby Face Boxing for not only rebuilding the women’s heavyweight division, but also proudly supporting female fighters of all sizes:

“Not only are we pumping out every other division, but this division is going to make a difference. So, if no one else is going to put them in the rankings, I’m going to get these girls back in the rankings and they’re going to get the recognition they deserve. Baby Face Boxing believes in all women of all sizes and it doesn’t matter if people think that you’re big or you’re fat. What matters is you’re the best in the world. So we’ll have them from 90 lbs. all the way up. But if you’re 250 lbs., we love you even more.”