Martirosyan out to make an impression
Vanes Martirosyan is 24 and ready to make his move.
"It's my coming-out party and I can't wait," said Martirosyan, a rising junior middleweight contender. "I have been waiting for this moment my whole life."
The moment he speaks of comes in New York on Saturday (HBO, 10:15 p.m. ET) when the 2004 U.S. Olympian from Glendale, Calif. -- who was born in Armenia -- makes his HBO debut against another rising young fighter, Queens' Joe Greene at Yankee Stadium.
Most of the hype surrounding the card has centered on the story of future rabbi Yuri Foreman defending his junior middleweight title for the first time against Miguel Cotto, who is going for a title in a third weight class and trying to shake off last fall's knockout loss to Manny Pacquiao.
Foreman and Cotto are the stars of the show, along with the stadium, where the Yankees will be hosting their first fight since 1976, when Muhammad Ali defeated Ken Norton in the old stadium across the street.
But Martirosyan (27-0, 17 KOs), steadily built up by promoter Top Rank and manager Shelly Finkel since turning pro in early 2005, wants to steal the show. He knows that an impressive performance could propel him into the sorts of bigger fights he craves.
"At this point in my career, I feel I am in the best shape of my life thanks to my trainer, Freddie [Roach], and I feel like I'm the best I have ever been," Martirosyan said. "I feel it's time to step it up and fight bigger and better guys. I am ready for them. I'm ready to step it up and take on the world, so this is a dream come true.
"I am just blessed and happy that it's my time. I'm sure I will be victorious. I can promise you this won't be the last time I will fight on HBO."
Brad "Abdul" Goodman, the Top Rank matchmaker who has done every one of Martirosyan's fights, believes the fighter is ready for Greene (22-0, 14 KOs), a blue chip prospect -- he won the 2004 National Golden Gloves -- slowed only by inactivity and promotional issues.
"This is definitely Vanes' biggest fight to date. I think he's ready to produce," Goodman said. "It's something that he's always wanted. He's been telling us he wants to fight top-notch guys to get the recognition he thinks he deserves. I am not taking Joe Greene for granted. He's on a big stage like Vanes and he's going to go all out. I wouldn't expect anything less than 110 percent from the guy, but I think Vanes is ready for a guy like Joe Greene.
"You're going to know where both guys stand. You'll know which guy is real or not. If Joe wants to go somewhere he needs to beat Vanes, and vice versa."
Finkel signed off on the fight, and he too thinks Martirosyan is ready for the spotlight. But he's a little nervous, like he always is.
"I hope that he doesn't get caught up in the hype of the event and the big thing of it being at Yankee Stadium," Finkel said. "I know he's trained hard, he's a good puncher and he's got it all. It's just a matter of him putting it together."
Martirosyan has been a long-term project for Top Rank. After a standout amateur career, in which he defeated future welterweight titlist Andre Berto [who also beat him] and future junior welterweight titlist Timothy Bradley Jr., Martirosyan turned pro at age 18. He has not been rushed like many other young fighters have, even though he admits he's been in a hurry.
"I turned pro when I was very young and Top Rank has done a great job and I trust them," Martirosyan said. "I wanted to fight better and better guys sooner, but they've been doing this for a long time and they know what to do. I trusted them. I trusted my manager, Shelly, and my corner. My job is to get ready to fight who they tell me I need to fight.
"I just re-signed with them and they promised bigger and better things and I am excited to be part of history at Yankee Stadium. I have the best team behind me. They did their job. The rest is up to me to do my job."
Top Rank is known for its patience and an ability to develop young fighters into stars and champions. The company has done it with numerous fighters -- Oscar De La Hoya, Floyd Mayweather Jr., Cotto, Kelly Pavlik and Juan Manuel Lopez, to name a few.
Top Rank boss Bob Arum hopes Martirosyan can follow a similar path.
"This is what we've built him for over all these years, a night like Saturday," Arum said. "If he comes through as we hope that he will, we'll be able to step him up to the next level and go after some of the bigger names in the junior middleweight division. I think he's a confident kid and I think that Freddie has settled him down. Vanes is a wonderful young man and very conscientious. So I really believe he has a great future."
Martirosyan's maturation as a fighter has not come without adversity. In his last fight in January, Martirosyan faced former titleholder Kassim Ouma and although Ouma had not fought particularly well in recent fights, he gave Martirosyan everything he could handle, including knocking him down in the ninth round.
But Martirosyan finished strong in the 10th round and won a unanimous decision. He certainly learned from the experience.
"I learned you don't underestimate your opponent," he said. "I looked at Ouma like he was washed up and done. That was a mistake. I learned from that. I'm happy I had a good corner and we pulled out the victory. I'm happy with what happened because I learned from my mistakes."
Said Goodman, "I knew it was going to be a tough fight but I think, all due respect to Kassim Ouma, that Vanes made it much more difficult than he had to. He could have made it an easier fight if he had followed the game plan. He did certain things that were wrong. He learned from it. We got the 'W' and it was back to the drawing board."
If the tough fight with Ouma chipped away at any of Martirosyan's obvious confidence, his recent sparring session with world titleholder Sergei Dzinziruk boosted it again.
Dzinziruk was training for a May 14 fight and Martirosyan was preparing for Greene when they went five rounds at Roach's Wild Card Gym in Hollywood, Calif.
"I did really well. I cut him in the sparring session. I cut him below his eyebrow," Martirosyan said proudly. "I was tagging him pretty good with my right hands all day. If it was a fight, I would have stopped him, to be honest with you. I would have knocked him out, but we were just working. I respect him as a fighter. We were supposed to go like six or eight rounds, but they stopped it in the fifth round because I was catching him too much and he was bleeding. The better guys you spar with, the more it boosts your confidence."
Martirosyan and Greene are familiar with each other although they've never faced each other. They were on the same U.S. Junior Olympic team, when Martirosyan was 145 pounds and Greene closer to 160. Martirosyan said they were friendly and that Green was "nice" and "cool."
But Martirosyan added, "He's the perfect opponent to make me look good. I am sure he's a hungry fighter and this is the fight of his life also. But it's time for me to graduate and go to college and start banging with the big boys."
Arum will have a lot to say about what happens next with Martirosyan.
"He can win the fight and yet we might not feel he's ready for the top competition," Arum said. "We just don't know. After we see his performance we will sit down and figure out what's next. The winner of Foreman and Cotto, maybe [Antonio] Margarito, maybe Sergio Martinez. You want these kids to be talking about fights like that, but you have to temper it a little bit."
That's hard for Martirosyan. He'd like to fight the winner of the main event for a title.
"I kind of see it like a little tournament and hope the winners fight," he said. "If it's not a fight with Cotto or Foreman, I hope it's someone else with a title. Dzinziruk, Martinez. And Paul Williams. Even though he doesn't have a title, he's a guy I would really love to face even if that sounds crazy."
Martirosyan's excitement was palpable, then he calmed down.
"First things first though," he said. "I have to get past Joe."
Dan Rafael is the boxing writer for ESPN.com.
MORE BOXING HEADLINES
- Ali fighting off pneumonia, 'vastly improved'
- Caballero to defend vs. Guevara on Feb. 27
- Former heavyweight champ Terrell dies at 75
- Stevenson stops Sukhotsky with 1-punch KO
MOST SENT STORIES ON ESPN.COM
COTTO VERSUS FOREMAN