LAS VEGAS In the first ever installment of Fox SportsNet/FoxSports Espanol’s new “Top Rank Live” series, Vanes “The Nightmare” Martirosyan defended his NABF and NABO junior middleweight belts on Saturday, keeping his unblemished record intact with a unanimous decision triumph over upset-minded former IBF junior middleweight world titleholder Kassim “The Dream” Ouma at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino.
Despite possessing a superior height advantage and 73-inch reach, the six-foot Martirosyan, 27-0 (17), had trouble keeping the smaller 5’8’’ challenger, a renowned volume punching southpaw, at bay, time and time again. While the champion displayed pinpoint accuracy and lateral footwork that frustrated Ouma, 26-7 (16), he could not take utter control of the fight in the championship rounds, where the Ugandan finished strong.
Dave Moretti and C.J. Ross scored it 97-93 for Martirosyan, and Dick Hauck 97-92, in a fight that was arguably a lot closer than the final tally would indicate. As the decision was read aloud by ring announcer Lupe Contreras, the crowd of about 2,000 expressed mixed reactions. Among the spectators in attendance were a healthy contingent of Armenian fans, many of whom made the trip from the fighter’s hometown of Glendale, California.
In the opening frame, Ouma, 150, was the aggressor, with Martirosyan, 153, content to feel out his opponent and pick his shots. The Ugandan had success counterpunching his opponent when they sporadically exchanged and arguably edged the round.
Round two called for Martirosyan to unleash some counterpunching skills of his own, including counter right uppercuts and crosses when Ouma came forward by leading with a pawing right jab. The former Olympian was able to neutralize his opponent’s charges and took the round.
The next round followed a recurring theme as Ouma continued to pressure Martirosyan and began to throw almost exclusively to the head. With about thirty seconds left, however, Martirosyan began to turn it on, landing several one-two combinations to the head to close the third.
In round four, Ouma again attempted to cut the ring off from Martirosyan. The challenger’s trainer, former champ Livingstone Bramble, advised him to put a right hand behind the jab, but he was unsuccessful in putting together any consistent offense. Again, Martirosyan landed the telling punches of the round, namely a left hook to the jaw, a solid right hook to the body and a grazing counter left hook. Martirosyan then looked to the referee as he felt he was on the receiving end of a headbutt.
The fifth round marked a slight change in momentum. It began with Ouma winning the first minute of the frame by landing the cleaner shots as he backed Martirosyan into the ropes. The challenger was able to apply effective pressure despite the champion having his own moments. With a minute left, Martirosyan hit Ouma on the break and was duly warned by referee Kenny Bayless.
The sixth started with, what else? The shorter Ouma doing everything in his power to get inside Martirosyan’s long reach. This time, however, he began to have stretches of exerting his will by landing two to three punches for every one to two of the champion’s. With under a minute remaining, Martirosyan tried to steal the round by throwing two right hooks to body, but the second was met with another warning from Bayless, this time because it was deemed below the belt.
In round seven, a mouse under Martirosyan’s left eye that had surfaced three rounds earlier as a result of the headbutt was now visibly noticeable from press row. The champion tried to use his feet to find his range, circling to his left and looking for an opportunity to strike. At under a minute in, Martirosyan got his wish as he caught Ouma with a counter left hook as the challenger leaned forward. This did not deter the Ugandan as he slugged along in pursuit, and, not unlike the previous round, Martirosyan got the better of the exchanges.
Round eight was more of the same, with a stalking Ouma following his opponent around the ring, having some success landing the right jab-left cross combination to the head and again abandoning his strategy to the body. For his part, Martirosyan now began to dance, using lateral movement to land his counters. With 20 seconds, left, he was able to turn Ouma and land a big right cross to the head that drew a collective “Ooh!” from the fans in attendance. By now, “The Joint” was buzzing with electricity.
The next frame showed signs of Ouma slowing down in the early stages, his punches seemingly not having the same zip. Martirosyan had his way, throwing an effective right uppercut into which the challenger walked to his surprise. Then suddenly, with a little over two minutes left, the two exchanged yet again. This time, however, the result would bode well for the challenger. Ouma threw a quick counter right hand over the top that sent Martirosyan to the floor. The champion sprung to his feet to show the crowd he was not hurt, but it was inconsequential since Bayless had already begun the count. Unfortunately for Ouma, he continued plugging forward, but could not follow up with the knockout blow. Martirosyan then took the offensive as the round came to a close, throwing more right uppercuts and a series of left jabs followed by right crosses to the head.
The tenth and final round opened fast and furious, with both pugilists fighting with reckless abandon. Martirosyan bounced around the canvas, moving to his right and left looking for an opening to strike. At 1:30, Ouma’s aggression paid dividends as the challenger landed several one-two combinations to the head. Martirosyan did his part to make it a scrap by finishing one exchange with a clean counter left hook. With under a minute, Ouma began to turn it on, pressing forward and unloading his last clip of punches to the exhilarating screams of the crowd. With 30 seconds left, Martirosyan began to use his feet and landed a one-two of his own to the head. The final bell brought the crowd to their feet in appreciation..
The champion reflected after a win that was too close for comfort.
“I made the fight tougher than it should’ve been,” admitted Martirosyan. “[Ouma] was an awkward opponent. It was a tough fight. We work on everything to prepare for tough fights.”
His trainer, Freddie Roach, agreed. “[Ouma]’s a veteran and a tough fighter. It was a great lesson for Vanes.”
From the challenger’s perspective, Bramble had a different opinion.
“I thought [Ouma] had it slightly. The rounds that were lopsided we thought we lost, but we thought in the end we had (the decision).”
Saturday night’s result was the last in a long line of pitfalls for Ouma. Seemingly destined to clean house at 154 pounds and enter the pound-for-pound lists in 2005 after dominant performances over Verno Phillips and Kofi Jantuah, the former Ugandan boy soldier-turned-world champion was derailed by an upset loss to Roman Karmazin and would be unsuccessful in wresting away the Undisputed Middleweight title from Jermain Taylor one year later. Now unranked and on the losing end in five of his last six fights, one of the greatest rags-to-riches stories in boxing history must now begin to wonder if he has fought one battle too many.
As for Martirosyan, the next step in his career path will be in the hands of his handlers at Top Rank. Roach had been stating throughout training camp that “The Nightmare” has paid the appropriate dues and is ready for a world title shot. The opportunity will soon arise, but the question is, with which sanctioning body? Top Rank already has Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. entrenched as the mandatory to Sergio Martinez’s WBC crown. However, with both number one contender spots vacant for fellow stablemate Yuri Foreman and Cory Spinks’ respective WBA and IBF belts, he might just get his wish before the summer is over.