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Unbeaten lightweight Frank Martin eyes push toward title

An absence of light didn’t dissuade Frank Martin from training on the eve of the 2016 Golden Gloves national championship in Salt Lake City.

It actually emboldened the unbeaten lightweight when a power outage hit the conference room in his nearby hotel — and prompted his coaches to unsheathe the flashlights on their cellular phones.

And Martin to run more intensely around the room, knowing he needed to make weight.

“I’m running around the room, they see my shadow on the wall,” he recalled.

Hence the nickname. Hence “The Ghost.”

Martin (16-0, 12 knockouts) has reappeared this week in Las Vegas, where he’ll stage a battle of unbeaten 135-pound contenders with Michel Rivera (24-0, 14 KOs) on Saturday at the Chelsea inside The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas. Their duel tops a Premier Boxing Champions presentation on Showtime and doubles as a WBA lightweight title eliminator.

The winner is in prime position to challenge for a title next year.

“Every fighter’s got to go through one of these type of fights to show the people who they are,” said Martin, 27 and a southpaw. “The boxing fans. The people that’s on the upper level of boxing and all that, this is my coming-out party.”

Martin says his nickname has another meaning now, “just coming out of the blue, beating some of the guys that I was beating.” He’d nary an interest in boxing, preferring football and wrestling as a child and adolescent in Detroit and Fort Wayne, Indiana.

Sans a football and wrestling scholarship, Martin said he felt “stuck” as he turned 18.

So he pivoted toward boxing, relocating to Indianapolis to train and working a litany of jobs — like security, or at Bob Evans Restaurant — to support himself while developing as an amateur.

Sometimes, he’d work third shift so he could train and attend amateur tournaments, a la the Golden Gloves national championship, during which he defeated burgeoning welterweight Vergil Ortiz Jr. in the 141-pound final.

The national championship compelled Martin to turn professional the following year. By 2020, he’d begin training in Dallas under the guidance of famed trainer Derrick James, to whom he was introduced by Martin’s cousin, former Dallas Cowboys linebacker Jaylon Smith.

James also trains unified welterweight champion Errol Spence Jr., who promptly signed Martin to his promotional company, Man Down Promotions.

“When he came to me, we’ve been adding what he already brought to the table. He was already focused on getting better. It was all about his mentality,” said James, also the trainer of undisputed 154-pound champion Jermell Charlo. “When you’re in the gym with other successful fighters, you don’t want to be the one who’s not successful.”

Under James, Martin has refined his fast hands, footwork and power. An educated jab sets up power punches and has helped Martin secure knockouts in his last two fights against Romero Duno and Jackson Marinez.

Rivera, 24 and from the Dominican Republic, is the taller and longer fighter, while Martin operates as the more powerful fighter.

“This is one of them fights that every fighter has to take eventually in their career,” Martin said. “This fight is going to put me closer to that WBA belt.”

Contact Sam Gordon at sgordon@reviewjournal.com. Follow @BySamGordon on Twitter.

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