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Can Vanes Martirosyan Regain His Form?

(Photo © Chris Farina / Top Rank)
(Photo © Chris Farina / Top Rank)

2010 was supposed to be the year of “The Nightmare.” With the NABF and NABO light middleweight titles in tow, Vanes Martirosyan took his 26-0 record into Las Vegas against a seemingly faded Kassim Ouma in a showcase bout that would supposedly spring him into the discussion of elite fighters at 154 pounds. 


But after a dicey win where he rose off the canvas against the Ugandan, followed by a decisive yet ugly victory over fellow unbeaten prospect Joe Greene five months later, many wondered if the 2004 Olympian from Glendale, Calif., had regressed from Top Rank’s can’t-miss contender to solid but unspectacular prospect.


“I didn’t do good in the Joe Greene fight, to be honest with you,” said Martirosyan, now a spotless 29-0 (18). “I did enough to win but I should’ve won by knockout. He gave me a hell of a fight—same thing with Ouma, who was in great shape—and now I look at fights differently now. You have to have Plan A, B, and C.”

This Saturday, Martirosyan has an opportunity to restate his case and reframe the critics’ perceptions when he faces Saul Roman in a WBC light middleweight semifinal title eliminator on the Sebastian Zbik-Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. undercard at the Staples Center in Los Angeles.


“I’m ready to go after this camp,” he said as he went over his medicals with co-trainer Edmond Tarverdyan. “I just want to go in there and kick somebody’s ass.”


After all, the 25-year-old from nearby Glendale had to deal with a plethora of issues outside the ring, especially a changing of the guard in managers from Shelly Finkel to Steven Feder of Standing Eight. Feder has been frank about his client’s current status in the food chain.


“The key for us at this point is to accomplish two key goals—win at all costs and look great doing it,” said Feder, who also handles cruiserweight contender Lateef Kayode. “Vanes is at that place in his career where winning isn’t enough. It’s all about the entertainment factor at this point. He’s always done enough to win but he knows that to capture the world audience and the respect of the TV executives, it’s about performance.”


Making the transition between managers can often be detrimental to a fighter if neither man is on the same page, regarding the direction of the fighter’s career. However, Martirosyan assuredly stated that the new face in his corner has hardly been a distraction.


“It’s been different from Shelly to Steve,” he said. “Shelly’s one of the best managers ever but Steve’s been doing a good job so far, so we’ll see how it goes.”

Rather, it was the nine-month inactivity after the Greene fight that has plagued the pugilist’s progress.


“When you don’t have a fight, your mentality is totally different,” said Martirosyan. “When you’re training in that setting, you’re kind of half-assing things because you don’t have anything to work toward. What the inactivity taught me was how to stay focused when there’s no fight set and Bob Arum and my team helped me to do that.”


“A fighter like Vanes spent so much time in the gym and in the ring that as he focused on his career, it left little time to focus on his life,” added Feder. “You need both. It’s a balance and one without the other, it will eventually catch up to you.”


So far, the partnership is undefeated. After a couple postponements, including one, ironically enough, on the undercard of a Chavez fight last November, Martirosyan finally returned to the ring two months ago. In his first fight with Standing Eight Management, Martirosyan had no problems dispatching Bladimir Hernandez in two rounds on the undercard of Lucian Bute-Brian Magee in Montreal.


“I was number one with the WBO and I wanted the fight with [Sergiy] Dzinziruk with all my heart,” he said. “In the end, though, I don’t know what happened. There was no step-aside money or anything. Hopefully, he mans up down the line and fights me. It’s been frustrating. I was just glad to get that [Bladimir] fight to get back in there.”


Regardless of the extended period on the shelf, at the Wild Card Gym in Hollywood, one never runs out of sparring partners. As such, the 154-pounder had another opportunity to show that his return to form had begun when he stepped in the squared circle with Chavez himself last week at Wild Card. 


While the event was supposed to a media showcase for Chavez, many in attendance wondered if the “Son of the Legend” had chosen the right sparring partner to unveil what he has learned under the tutelage of Freddie Roach, also who handles cornerman duties for Vanes. 


In the video footage of the sparring session, Martirosyan continuously peppered Chavez with jabs and uppercuts, stepping on and off the gas pedal at his liking. The Armenian-American scurried out of trouble with ease when Chavez attempted to pressure him and made Saturday’s headliner appear as raw as ever.


“It was great,” reflected Martirosyan. “I didn’t go all-out on Chavez. I was kind of playing with him and it felt good because I did good in front of all that media. They saw what I was capable of doing, with more combinations and speed.”


Of course, there are no sanctioning bodies peddling their wares or writers making credential requests for gym wars. To be a bit critical, Martirosyan still seemed susceptible to a few right hands straight down the pipe from Chavez. 


Overall though, Martirosyan turned quite a few heads with his dominance and perhaps it was indicative of his willingness to go back through the gauntlet necessary to regain the acclaim bestowed on him six years ago when Top Rank signed him out of the amateurs.


“This is the best he’s looked in a long time,” said Roach. “He has the talent. When he focuses, he can’t be stopped. It’s all up to him how far he can go.”


Further compounding to the urgency to excel on Saturday is the expected Armenian contingent from Southern California. Fans clad in the country’s red, blue, and orange made their presence known a few weeks ago when they virtually took over the Home Depot Center in Carson to support Arthur Abraham in his unsuccessful bid to unseat WBA super middleweight champ Andre Ward.


“I’ve been covering Vanes ever since he became pro in 2005,” said Manouk Akopyan, sports editor at Yerevan Magazine. “Basically, he was born in Armenia but he’s been raised in Glendale, which has the biggest Armenian community outside of the actual country.


“With Armenians, we are very proud of our sports and our athletes. As long as you represent the country in a good light, winning the world title doesn’t actually matter. Vanes goes to all the Armenian community events. He’s very accessible to the people and the kids and the younger demographic loves him.”


Akopyan tempered his praise with a dash of realism.


“Definitely though, Vanes has to perform well here,” he said. “I didn’t give him the Ouma fight and he didn’t really perform well against Joe Greene but if he does well on Saturday, he can continue to make a name for himself, especially with the older Armenian crowd, because there will be a lot of Armenians making the trip from Glendale to watch him.”


So is Martirosyan ready? After calling out lineal middleweight champ Sergio Martinez and WBA light middleweight champ Miguel Cotto earlier in the week, one had to wonder if his mind was in the right place. After all, neither of those guys is Saul Roman, the man he faces on Saturday, nor Saul Alvarez, who he’d conceivably fight next by virtue of winning the WBC eliminator.


The age-old cliché is that you don’t want to look past anyone. Roman, although having been knocked out by Martinez and dominated by David Lopez as recently as last year, has reeled off two stoppages, including one of Michael Medina that landed the Tijuana native this bout. As a result, Martirosyan clarified his stance and addressed his remarks. 


“The reason why I called everyone out besides Alvarez was because I don’t think they will give me the chance to fight him,” he said, alluding to Alvarez’s promoter Golden Boy. “So I’ll call out people who will fight me instead of having to chase guys and having to talk sh*t. I would knock [Alvarez] out so there’s no way they’d make that fight with me.


“Really though, I’m focused on Roman,” Martirosyan reiterated. “I actually sparred with Medina for this camp. Working with Freddie has been great because he’s one of the best handicappers in the game and Edmond’s one of the best trainers around, especially with my conditioning. Everyone’s going to see that I’m back.”


With an impressive display this weekend, “The Nightmare” can restore his reputation as one to watch in 2011.


Ryan is a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. Contact him through email at, through Facebook at or follow him on Twitter @rmaq28.

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