Martirosyan Hopes to Turn Ouma’s “Dream” Into a “Nightmare”
By Gabriel Montoya, MaxBoxing (Jan 15, 2010) Special to DoghouseBoxing (Photo © Chris Farina/Top Rank)  
While the Wild Card Boxing Club in Hollywood, CA is home to one of the world’s most famous fighters in Manny Pacquiao, it also houses some of the best prospects and contenders in the world as well. One such prospect, Armenian-born junior middleweight prospect, Vanes “Nightmare” Martirosyan, 26-0 (17), sits on the cusp of contender status. His next obstacle on his road to a title shot, sometime later this year, is former junior middleweight title holder Kassim “The Dream” Ouma, 26-6-1 (16), whom Martirosyan battles this Saturday at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, NV, as part of “Top Rank Live”; a new fight series on Fox Sports Net. The two will fight over ten rounds for the WBO NABO junior middleweight title.

I spoke to Vanes last week as the soft spoken, mild-mannered fighter finished training at the Wild Card. At 6’ 0” with a 73” reach and an orthodox stance to go with his aggressive combination punching style, Vanes has all the tools and talent to make a splash in a hot junior middleweight division. With fighters like James Kirkland, Paul Williams, Sergio Martinez, Sergey Dzindiruk and Alfredo Angulo jockeying for position (or in Kirkland’s case, waiting to return to the sport), Vanes has set his sights on a packed division that promises great fights for years to come. But Vanes, as he is known to his fans, has all the tools and the pedigree to more than hold his own among these talented fighters. Boasting a long amateur career with a record of 120-10 and a win over welterweight title holder Andre Berto in the Olympic qualifiers, Vanes is as seasoned a young fighter as you can get these days. And it all started because of one man: his father.

“I started boxing when I was seven,” explained the Glendale, CA resident. “My father [got me into it]. He was a fighter too, in our country, in Armenia. I moved [to the US] when I was four years old. When I was seven, he found out there was a gym nearby and he took me there and I started boxing. It was his passion too, so I love it too now.”

By junior high, it was clear Martirosyan was a talented enough young fighter to move to the pros and be successful, so he was taken out of school and home educated in order to pursue the rigorous demands of an amateur fighter. After a successful career there, Martirosyan was picked out of the amateurs and signed to Top Rank Promotions. From there, he began training with Freddie Roach until the lifestyle of a successful young man in L.A. began to catch up to him. Vanes decided a change of scenery was needed. Still, the split from Roach was amicable.

“He had to get out of LA for awhile,” explained Roach. “He was hanging out with the boys; being too social. It was fine when he left. I told him the door is always open.”

Vanes settled on trainer Ronnie Shields in Texas. They fought several times together, but there was something missing. Vanes began to lose not only his style, but his training habits and fire in the ring as Shields’ offensive style was installed and Vanes nature as an up-on-his-toes, combination-throwing power puncher/boxer was left behind.

“Ronnie was teaching me a different style,” explained Vanes. “I hadn’t come together yet as a professional under his style. So little by little, we were trying to get together, but, you know, that wasn’t working for me very well.”

It all came to a head in the Billy Lyell fight, one which Vanes won but hurt both his hands in. While this wasn’t the reason Vanes left Shields, the fight marked the end of their time together and served as an important lesson for the young fighter.

“I hurt both hands,” said Vanes. “My left hand was actually broken and was really swollen up. I had to go to the hospital. I threw an uppercut in the first round. It was a tough test for me and I am glad it happened early in my career. I know how to deal with it now if something like that ever happens again.”

After he had healed, Martirosyan and his father decided a return to Roach and the Wild Card was needed. The prospect’s progress had stalled and the belief was that Roach might be able to help him regain that edge he once had. Roach welcomed him home with open arms.

“He was embarrassed when he came back but I told him ‘C’mon. It’s fine. No big deal’,” explained Roach.

As for why Shields and Vanes didn’t fit, Roach chalked it up to chemistry. Sometimes a fighter and trainer’s styles or philosophies simply don’t mesh.

“Something was off,” said Roach. “He is using his speed and power more aggressively and more efficiently. The Texas guys had him doing too much output. I have him sitting him down more. He’s accurate. We have slowly brought him back to where we had him when he left. He’s back on track. Nothing against Ronnie Shields. He’s a friend of mine. We have [Vanes] in good sparring and on a good program. We think it’s all coming together pretty well.”

“Freddie brings out the best in me,” Vanes explained with a shy smile. “He brings out that fire in me. He knows my style very well. I’ve been working with him for a long time. He looks at me and knows if I ran or didn’t run. What I do bad or what I need to do better. He sees all the best parts of me. I fight with fire now. So Freddie’s the best and he brings out the best in me.”

They first thing Roach did upon Vanes’ return was erase some bad habits that vanes had accrued in Texas.

“The second day he was back, Vanes was hitting the heavy bag with a headset on,” Roach remembered with an incredulous laugh. “Listening to music while he was hitting the heavy bag. I went crazy. I said ‘What the f**k you doing?’ I ripped that thing off and laughed ‘We’re not in Texas.’ We have more of a program now. We have good habits every day.”

Part of their preparation for a fight includes Roach watching tape and Vanes taking instruction off of what Roach sees. While some fighters prefer to watch it themselves, Vanes has trust in Roach and prefers to listen to instructions rather than studying film and gathering preconceived notions that may or may not be useful in the fight itself. This camp has been no different.

“Actually I haven’t seen any tape of [Ouma],” admitted Vanes. “I’ve just seen him fight when I have seen him on TV. Freddie’s the one who is looking at it. He just tells me what to do. I trust in Freddie and I just do whatever he tells me to do. I [trust Roach] because it has worked for me already for so many fights. I trust in Freddie. We did the same thing in the last fight. I may watch it once or twice if he wants me to look at it and see what I think. But as far as looking at it over and over again, I just trust in Freddie. He’s the best as what he does.”

With this being their fourth fight together, the fighter and trainer both feel that the wheels are now close to turning at full speed and a title shot is not far off.

“I think so,” said Vanes. “Last couple of fights, I’ve been coming together well as a professional fighter. There’s still more to learn. There is still a learning process. But I think we are getting real good.”

With a plethora of top-notch amateur and professional talent ready and willing to spar with Vanes and push him to the limit, Roach feels that all that’s lacking is some fine tuning.

“The hope is that sparring with world champions gets you sharper and makes you rise to the occasion,” said Roach. “I’ve always felt that if you put Vanes in with a real good fighter, he will rise to the occasion. If you put him in with an ordinary fighter, he will look ordinary sometimes.. So, with this fight, we are moving up the ladder a little bit. We fight Kassim Ouma and beat Kassim Ouma [then] we want a world title fight. There are a few world champions and a lot of good fighters out there. There’s Angulo, we’ll fight him [and/or] Yuri Foreman. And the guy (Sergio Martinez) who just took on Paul Williams. All those styles are difficult. Martinez is the most difficult, style-wise, out of all of them; but they’re all difficult. They are world title fights. But I think [Vanes] is good. He is ready. He has 26 fights now. Undefeated. I think he is ready for the fight of his life.”

“I hope so,” said a hopeful Vanes. “It’s the plan. Kassim Ouma is a great fighter and I have nothing but respect for him. I know he is on the internet talking how he is going to beat me. I don’t talk. We do our talking in the ring. I’m just humble until the bell rings and then I turn into a nightmare.”

With his team in place and the wrinkles in his game ironed out, it’s all now in Vanes’ hands to fulfill his father’s dream for his son to be a world champion.

“When I win, it’s like he wins,” Vanes said with a smile.

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