By Alexis Terrazas
It was rowdy, cramped and unkempt inside the Longshoreman’s Hall; the boozed-up crowd made sure of that.
But above the drunken clamor, one piercing voice managed to top all of those inside the building that played host to the boxing event that night.
It belonged to a girl.
“Come on, tía. Let’s go! This is your house,” 17-year-old Ariana Borrero cried out, as she was confronted face-first with the anguish of watching her aunt Martha “The Shadow” Salazar fight inside the prize ring. But watching Salazar box on Saturday, Nov. 8, and win, was also sweet.
“That’s my motivation right there—for everything,” said the aspiring fighter Borrero, tears streaming down both of her cheeks while pointing to the ring and the shiny belt that was nestled over her aunt’s shoulder. “That’s me right there. That’s who I do it for. I never quit. I learned that from her. I never quit, ‘cause I’m gonna get one of them one day.”
For 10, two-minute rounds, the ornery 235-pound Salazar bullied and battered the bigger and younger 252-pound Tanzee Daniel, slashing away at the New York fighter’s torso and skull with constant looping rights and lefts. Salazar didn’t lose a single moment of any round that night, claiming her second women’s world heavyweight title in a career that has spanned 13 years.
“Now I decided that this is my time. And hey, I proved it,” Salazar said in her dressing room after her unanimous decision victory. “I’ve been waiting a long time for this.”
The climb to the top
After a fledgling kickboxing career was abandoned due to a lack of worthy female opposition, the girl from Ocotlán, Jalisco, Mexico who was raised tough in San Francisco’s Visitacion Valley, laced up the gloves and chanced a career in professional boxing in 2001.
The going was slow. But then on a random Friday in 2003 while making her delivery rounds for Aramark Uniform Services—a job she still has today—the phone rang.
Dee Pooler, the Oakland boxing trainer who handled Salazar’s career at the time, asked his heavyweight if she wanted to fight the following day on the opening bout of the Roy Jones Jr. versus John Ruiz pay-per-view card in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Salazar answered yes before realizing she didn’t know the name of her opponent.
“I didn’t know, and I didn’t care,” Salazar said. “I told him, ‘Listen I don’t want to fight [any] tomato cans. I wanna fight the best.”
Her opponent that night was Vonda Ward, the first woman ever to hold the WBC Women’s Heavyweight title—the same one that Salazar claimed against Daniel. The wiry 6-foot-6 former NCAA Division I basketball playing Ward, who at the time was 15-0, was being groomed for big things. Salazar barely lost to ward, but the Vegas crowd cheered as though she were the true winner.
She fought and lost again to Ward in 2007, and was nearly knocked out of the sport. But she was lured out of a 6-year retirement in 2013 for a fight with then No. 1 heavyweight Sonya Lamonakis. Beating Lamonakis would lead to the Daniel fight—and the title.
Her mother Alicia was there to see her beat Daniel, despite Salazar vowing never to take her mother to a live fight after she tried to take off her shoe and attack Salazar’s opponent. But her father Eustaquio wasn’t.
“I won, thank God…thanks to my dad who passed away last year,” Salazar said, her voice cracking. “But, he helped me up there, you know.”
The last round?
At her advanced fighting age, Salazar’s latest shining moment in the boxing ring could be her last.
“You know what man, I’m getting older,” Salazar said, who turns 45 in February. “But I think I can do one more. I don’t have a lot of time. So maybe if those two other girls, Carlette [Ewell] and Sonya [Lamonakis] want to wait till I retire so they can come and take over, it’s all good. Hey, I’m the best so far right now.”