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Ali stands tall against Martin

Victory never within 35-year-old's reach

BILOXI, Miss. -- You can't beat the calendar.

The long-time queen of women's boxing was dethroned last night at the Mississippi Coast Coliseum when 25-year-old Laila Ali overwhelmed 35-year-old Christy Martin from the opening bell until she finally drove her to the floor for the second and final time 48 seconds into Round 4.

The long reign of "The Coal Miner's Daughter" at the top of women's boxing ended the way so many other great fighters have ended their time -- down on the floor with their face swollen and their spirit broken.

Martin sunk to her knees after a windmill of punches had landed on her head early in what very likely would prove to be her last round of boxing. All night the far taller and stronger Ali had blasted Martin with right hands. Martin was powerless to deflect or counter and in the end it was those right hands that drove Martin to the canvas and lifted Ali to the top of the women's sport.

Giving away 6 inches in height and having never fought within 20 pounds of the 162 pounds Ali carried into the ring, Martin was outgunned and outmatched from the outset. Never once did she find a way to safely get inside Ali's long, looping right hands and the younger Ali made her pay a terrible price whenever she tried.

"She was just too big," said Martin (45-3). "She was too big. She was in great shape and she kept coming but still fights like an amateur. She was just too big."

Too big, too strong, too young, too fast, and far too accurate with her punches, especially the right hands that kept slamming into Martin's face until her left cheek turned black and blue and her nose was bleeding. Only seconds into the first round Ali (16-0) landed her first stinging right, a shot that shook Martin and hinted at the way the biggest evening in the history of women's boxing was likely to go.

"I usually box but I jumped on her," Ali said after referee Fred Steinwinder counted Martin out. "I was definitely stronger than her."

From that moment on Ali pressed Martin steadily, using her superior size to control the distance and repeatedly landed solid rights that shook Martin until she stunned her at the end of the round with another right hook. Martin sunk into the ropes, clearly in trouble, but hung on.

Ali tried to press that advantage in Round 2 and was successful in doing it until late in the round, when Martin finally nailed her with a hook and seemed to hurt Ali for a moment. But it didn't last long as Ali overwhelmed Martin whenever the two of them got close to the point that there was little room for Martin to land a second shot she needed to at least slow down the assault on her senses.

"She cracked me but she never hurt me," Ali said. "I was the greatest before the fight and I'm still the greatest."

Fighting in front of a record crowd for women's boxing of 9,888 that paid the highest gate in the sport's history, Ali made that clear throughout the exciting but onesided fight. She dropped Martin for the first time late in the third round with a barrage of punches that, fittingly enough, began and ended with rights on the jaw.

Martin had consistently lost the exchanges when she did get inside all night long and more often never got to begin them because her reflexes seemed shot and her head movement was nonexistent. She had gotten old overnight and the inside of a boxing ring is not a comfortable place to age. Ali taught her that lesson the way so many other young fighters have taught their older mentors.

On the undercard, highly regarded Ann Wolfe (15-1) spent 10 rounds pounding the only woman to defeat her, Valerie Mahfood, to win the North American Boxing Association super middleweight title and establish herself as the rightful next challenger for Ali. Mahfood (13-7) was as tough as they come but her willingness to take 10 punches for the chance to land one was a strategy that did not pay dividends. She was bleeding from the nose early and continued to do so throughout the fight as Wolfe repeatedly landed uppercuts when Mahfood would pin her against the ropes. That wasn't all she landed though. Although Mahfood had her moments, landing some headsnapping punches of her own, she was never able to take the play away from Wolfe.

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