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Is Darchinyan a star in the making?

07
Feb

Vic Darchinyan (right) went toe to toe with Jorge Arce on Saturday in Anaheim, Calif., stopping the popular slugger after 11 rounds. Will Darchinyan's next fight be against 122-pound champ Israel Vazquez? Photo / Naoki Fukuda

Vic Darchinyan is hands down the best 115-pound fighter on the planet.

In just six months, the cocky southpaw puncher proved it by brutally knocking out Dmitri Kirillov and Cristian Mijares and unifying three major titles in the process, before chopping up contender Jorge Arce to an 11th-round stoppage Saturday at the Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif.

There’s no doubt that Darchinyan (32-1-1, 26 KOs) has the experience, bizarre style, freakish strength and boundless confidence to give any of the world’s top junior bantamweights hell in the ring, but can the Australia-based Armenian attract the kind of cross-over attention his talent and accomplishments merit?

Despite his entertaining style, ability to produce electrifying knockouts and willingness to face the best fighters in and around his division, Darchinyan’s going to be a hard sell – at least to the American public.

If the 33-year-old veteran was 30 pounds heavier, he would have a fighting chance of earning some mainstream attention in the U.S. However, American sports fans seldom pay attention to boxers under the welterweight division.

Fighters under the featherweight limit are barely recognized by even hardcore fight fans. Just ask hall of famer Ricardo “Finito” Lopez.

However, Darchinyan’s dominating but tougher-than-expected fight with Arce (51-5-1, 39 KOs) drew 5,540 fans to the Honda Center, close to half of whom were of Armenian descent. That’s not a terribly impressive head count, but it’s a start.

Darchinyan’s raucous fans were not treated to the massacre that the fighter promised the boxing media, but he got the job done.

Darchinyan, who defended his WBC, IBF and WBA junior bantamweight titles, landed his vaunted left hand at will throughout the fight but was never able to knock Arce off his feet. He dominated the fight, winning all but one round on the official scorecards, but Arce put up enough of a fight in some of the early and middle rounds to make the Showtime-televised bout interesting.

The question is: Was Darchinyan interesting enough to bring in solid ratings on Showtime and build on the few thousand fans who cheered him on Saturday?

Darchinyan’s promoter Gary Shaw believes his fighter is, particularly if the diminutive punisher is paired up with the right opponents.

“There’s Fernando Montiel, the WBO 115-pound champ,” Shaw said after the fight. “Vic can fight (Montiel) for all the belts at 115 pounds. There’s also a good bantamweight champ (IBF titleholder) Joseph Agbeko that Vic could challenge.

“But the fight that I think will attract the kind of attention that could really make him a star is (THE RING junior featherweight champ) Israel Vazquez.”

Shaw, who co-promoted Vazquez’s trilogy with Rafael Marquez, says the 122-pound king’s all-action style and Mexican heritage would combine with Darchinyan’s jump up in weight to make a high-profile event.

It’s a showdown that Shaw believes the Showtime network, which televised the Vazquez-Marquez trilogy and eight of Darchinyan’s title bouts, would jump at.

“Ken Hershman (Showtime’s top boxing executive) loves the kid,” Shaw said. “He’ll buy Vic’s fights at any weight.”

However, after Arce, a fighter many thought was well past his prime, took Darchinyan 11 rounds, more than a few ringside observers at Saturday’s fight wonder whether it’s such a good idea for the junior bantamweight boss to move up in weight.

Shaw blamed Darchinyan’s less-than-stellar performance on the fighter’s over-anxiousness to make good on his prediction to stop Arce in a few rounds.

“I think he wanted the knockout too much,” Shaw said. “I think he really wanted to hurt Arce, and in trying to force the knockout he made it a longer fight than it would have been had he taken his time.”

Darchinyan admitted that Arce’s resilience surprised him.

“I didn’t expect this kind of fight,” he said, “but (Arce) is tough and a good fighter. I hit him with some good shots and he kept coming back. I would have liked to knock him out cold, but it’s OK. I’m happy (with my performance).”

After soundly losing the first two rounds, Arce took the initiative and made the fight an inside brawl. In rounds three, four, five and six the gutsy slugger landed enough left hooks and body shots to get a rise out of the Mexican fans and bloody Darchinyan’s nose.

However, by the late rounds, the superior strength, speed and power of Darchinyan began to tell on Arce’s legs and face, which was bloodied and badly lacerated around his right eye. Although he was defiant throughout the fight, Arce only remained upright by clutching and grabbing going into the championship rounds.

On the advice of ringside physician Dr. Paul Wallace, referee Dr. Lou Moret stopped the fight between the 11th and 12th rounds because of the severe swelling and cuts around Arce’s right eye.

Arce, warrior that he is, was disappointed with the referee’s decision.

“I wanted to continue fighting,” Arce said at the post-fight press conference. “I don’t know why they stopped the fight. I’m a puncher. I always have a puncher’s chance.”

In all likelihood, he didn’t. After 57 pro fights and over a dozen extended brawls, Arce’s legs and reflexes are no longer what they were.

But it hurt Arce’s pride to be stopped for the first time in 9 1/2 years. The last time Arce was stopped, hall of famer Michael Carbajal did it with a single punch – ironically ending that fight in the 11th round.

Carbajal, a 1988 Olympic silver medalist who was a three-time 108-pound titlist, was the last sub-featherweight fighter to earn cross-over appeal from the American public.

But Carbajal had a dance partner in fellow 108-pound titleholder from Mexico, Humberto “Chiquita” Gonzalez. The two mighty mites engaged in a thrilling three-fight series, with the rematch garnering Carbajal a million-dollar payday.

The potential for a ring rivalry exists for Darchinyan, but unfortunately the fighter’s promoter will not let it happen. The only man to defeat Darchinyan in the pro ranks, Nonito Donaire, has recently entered the 115-pound division. Donaire, who knocked Darchinyan out in a flyweight title fight in 2007, has looked impressive in his subsequent fights.

Donaire is respected by the boxing media and has a growing Filipino fan base, but because he left Shaw to be promoted by Top Rank after an acrimonious split last year, the talented boxer-puncher is low on Darchinyan’s list of possible opponents.

At least as far as Shaw is concerned.

“We’re not fighting Donaire,” Shaw said at the post-fight press conference. “(Darchinyan) wants to fight Donaire, but as long as I have promotional rights, he’s not fighting Donaire. I don’t believe in rewarding disloyal fighters with opportunities to make money and win world titles.

“We have other options. We have Montiel. We have a Mijares rematch. There’s Agbeko; and Vic keeps talking about fighting Vazquez. I have a rich history with Israel, so this is a fight that you may see. If not, we might try to make a fight with Rafael Marquez.

“There was a time when Vic was chasing Arce all around the world for a fight, but they didn’t take the fight. Now he’s the guy the all the other fighters are calling out.”

Darchinyan has a worthy rival in Donaire. It would be a shame if at least one return match doesn’t happen because of bad blood between Shaw and Donaire.

However, if Darchinyan keeps taking on top fighters while climbing weight classes – and he keeps winning – perhaps he’ll prove that he doesn’t need Donaire to make it big. Only time will tell.

It should be fun watching him try.

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