PHILLY BOXING HISTORY                                                                        January 04, 2009


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By Ken Hissner

Several weeks ago I was at the Muhammad Ali gym in the Germantown section of North Philadelphia.  A very familiar looking person came over to me and introduced himself.  “I am Jerry ‘The Bull’ Martin, and I’m training my son.”  It all clicked in, the man who beat James Scott at Rahway prison!    

He came from the island of Antigua to train at Joe Frazier’s gym in North Philly.  But eventually his visa ran out and he ended up in a place that he would someday be king over - Rahway State Prison. 

“He stood out in a very busy gym at Frazier’s,” said Leon Tabbs.  “I paid for him to get out (of Rahway) on the condition he would turn pro,” he added.  Tabbs would manage and train this fighter who had no amateur experience and only six months in the gym. 

“I had many a tough wars with Jerry,” said Percy 'Buster' Custus, now running James Shuler gym, in North Philly.  Others Martin worked with were heavyweight contenders Jimmy Young, Marvis Frazier and light heavyweight champion Matthew Saad Muhammad.  Later, Martin would help prepare Mike Rossman for his title winning fight with Victor Galindez. 

It seems the Philly gym wars either make you or break you. That was how Jerry “The Bull” Martin got started on his way to three title attempts - but that was not what he was best known for.  He would someday return to prison but just for a “visit”!

In February of 1976, Martin turned pro and reeled off six straight wins including Johnny Wilburn, then 8-0, in Baltimore. In his seventh fight, Martin was part of an experiment that posted the punch count on a scoreboard as the fight progressed, as if it were a basketball game.

“I kept watching the scoreboard and couldn’t believe I was losing,” said Martin.  This was May of 1976 in Cleveland, against Cleveland’s Pablo Ramos, then 8-0.  “He came to the corner and argued about the scoring,” said Tabbs.  “I kept telling him to just fight and not watch the score,” he added. Martin lost his first fight, a 10 round decision.   

Upon returning to Philly, Tabbs got local promoter J Russell Peltz involved.  “I was his promoter but there were no contracts in those days,” said Peltz.  Martin would start a 13 fight win streak in November of 1977 which included a win over Jerry Celestine, 17-2-1, at the Spectrum in South Philly, over 8 rounds.  “He was a fairly good fighter who had closed my eye,” said Martin. 

In August of 1979, Martin won the vacant NABF light heavyweight title, beating Dale Grant, 19-6-1, at the Steel Pier Arena, in Atlantic City.

“I had him down six times in that fight before they stopped it in the 12th and last round,” said Martin.  Two fights later he took on Jesse Burnett, 18-8-2, whom he calls “my toughest fight, due to his style that was so awkward and his punching power.” “Martin was strong and aggressive.  Jesse had to box him,” said Jesse Reid.  As the trainer of Burnett and several world champions, Reid should know.

In February of 1980, Billy “Dynamite” Douglas was brought in for his 10th appearance in Philly rings, this time on the outskirts in Upper Darby’s Forum.  “He was old but he was still dangerous and I stopped him in the 10th and final round,” said Martin. 

Around that time, an unbeaten fighter from Newark named James 'Great' Scott, 18-0-1, was making headlines fighting out of Rahway Prison, in North Jersey.  He had defeated eight boxers at fight staged in the prison including future champion Eddie Mustafa Muhammad, Jerry Celestine, and contenders Richie Kates and Yaqui Lopez.  Before being incarcerated, Scott beat Jesse Burnett. 

Scott, as well as his fellow inmates, put the fear of hell in any fighter who entered those prison walls.  The inmates - some in caged areas - screamed at Scott's opponents as they entered the ring.  It was very intimidating.  All the inmates were screaming at me and surrounding the ring to almost where they could reach out and grab you,” said Richie Kates.  

“I was very nervous the day before the fight at the weigh-in.  I am glad I got that out of the way because I wasn’t nervous anymore at the fight”, said Martin. 

“He roughed Scott up,” said Peltz.  “A fight I pushed for and got”, he added. 

“I never thought he could beat me.  He walked straight to me and I hit him with a straight right hand and dropped him in the 1st and 2nd rounds,” said Martin.  The knockdowns proved the difference as Martin won the inmates over beating the “king” of the prison by decision.

The win over Scott earned Martin a title fight two months later against WBA champion Eddie Mustafa Muhammad, 36-4-1, in July of 1980. 

“When he came out slow and cautious in the opening seconds against Muhammad, I knew he was going to lose.  I expected him to go right after Eddie the way he did against Scott. But he was leery of Eddie, and it cost him the fight,” said Peltz. 

“Eddie was a cautious guy himself and when he saw Jerry wasn’t going to try to rough him up, he simply picked Martin apart like a surgeon, same way he did Marvin (Johnson),” added Peltz. 

“I had caught the flu near the end of camp, but that is no excuse.  He was a good technician and puncher,” said Martin. “I got dropped in the 2nd and 6th rounds,” he added.  Though the fight was stopped in the 10th round, one of the judges had the fight even at the time.   

Martin won his next three fights by knockout, earning him a fight with WBC champion Matthew Saad Muhammad, 30-3-2, in September of 1981.  “I hurt him in almost every round.  He was the hardest puncher I ever fought,” said Martin. 

“It was a great fight back and forth,” said veteran trainer George James who would train Martin later on for one fight.

When fight with Saad Muhammad was stopped in the 11th round, one judge, Harold Lederman had it even. 

“The referee (Larry Hazzard) shouldn’t have stopped that fight. I was still on my feet,” said Martin.  Tabbs argued so much with Hazzard that he was suspended for six months and had to fight to get his pay.  This fight would break up the team with Tabbs and Peltz no longer in the picture with Martin.  

Just six months later, Martin received his 3rd shot at a world title, this one in Las Vegas with "The Camden Buzzsaw”, Dwight Muhammad Qawi, 16-1-1. 

“He was the busiest fighter I ever fought,” said Martin.  He was stopped in the 6th round, and the hand writing was on the wall. There would be no more title fights.  Willie Folk became his new trainer.  Folk was well known for training Philly’s James Shuler from the start.  “I had him for about three fights,” said Folk.  “He was a hell of a fighter who was honest and dedicated,” he added. 

“I was stopped by Johnny Davis (13-4) due to a cut in my ear,” said Martin. 

The last win for Martin was in September of 1983 against a promising young Philly Fighter, Anthony Witherspoon, 7-1, the brother of heavyweight champion, Tim Witherspoon.

“I had him training for two weeks to get him ready for Witherspoon,” said George James, his new trainer. 

“I had no sparring before the fight and wasn’t supposed to win,” said Martin. 

"He won the decision, and the local promoter was furious with me,” said James.  It was the only time I ever worked with Jerry."

Next was contender Richie Kates, 44-6, of New Jersey, to whom Martin would lose a 10 round split decision in Atlantic City.  “It was a good fight and I thought I won it,” said Martin.

Martin’s last fight was six months later with Prince Mama Mohammed, 25-1-1, of Ghana, in Atlantic City in April of 1984, losing a 10 round decision.  “It was a fight that I thought I won,” said Martin.  His final record was 25-7, with 17 knockouts.    

Today Martin trains his son, Jerry, who had half-dozen fights in the Navy.  “The game has changed a lot.  They are not as dedicated and they just want to get on TV.  We fought to get to the top,” said Martin. 

I’m sure Jerry “The Bull” Martin would have it no other way for his son.  “Jerry Jr. is a future champion in the making.”     


Ken Hissner interviewed Martin and
wrote this article in December 2008.