Olympic trial: Martirosyan elevates toward the Andres
It’s not often that you’ll find an excuse to tie the Spinks brothers in with the Blues brothers. But here goes: By some odd coincidence, the quality of the United States Olympic boxing teams over the last 34 years has run almost perfectly parallel with the quality of the Saturday Night Live casts.
Most observers old enough will forever claim that the original 1975-’76 SNL “not ready for prime-time players” were the best, just as their 1976 Olympic counterparts remain revered more than three decades down the road.
If you grew up a few years later, then maybe you consider the Eddie Murphy seasons of the early-’80s to be the golden age of SNL, just as slightly younger boxing fans might argue that the ’84 boxing team was as good as the ’76 crew.
From the Dana Carvey/Mike Myers years through the Chris Farley/Adam Sandler era, SNL is generally remembered fondly but nobody claims it was at its absolute peak, which is more or less how we recall the solid ’88, ’92, and ’96 Olympic teams.
Then in the 2000s, Olympic boxing and Saturday Night Live took a shared nosedive. There was the occasional Will Ferrell or Tina Fey taking their place among the SNL legends, but for the most part, it was a good decade to go to bed early on Saturdays. The amateur boxing program gave us Andre Ward and Jermain Taylor in the past decade, but one gold medal and seven medals total over three Olympiads do not exactly suggest a Belushi-Murray-Chase-Aykroyd level of talent.
Poor Olympic performance doesn’t always translate into poor pro performance, however, and focusing in specifically on the 2004 Olympic team, it’s make-or-break time in the professional ranks. Nobody will ever confuse the ’04 group with their ’84 or ’76 counterparts no matter what, but the team that fought in Athens is in a position right now to at least prove themselves the best team of the ’00s.
Two members of the team have done their part in recent months: Ward and Andre Dirrell, who defeated Mikkel Kessler and Arthur Abraham, respectively, in Showtime’s Super Six tournament to move to the top of the super middleweight division.
The rest of the team, however, has done about as much in the pros as Gary Kroeger did after leaving SNL. Rau’Shee Warren still hasn’t turned pro. Ron Siler finally did in 2010 and promptly lost his second pro bout. Rock Allen is undefeated at 15-0 but never stepped up to decent opposition and hasn’t fought in more than a year. Devin Vargas showed ample heart in losing to Kevin Johnson, but showed at the same time that he’s not a title threat. Jason Estrada is a serviceable heavyweight opponent, but he’s lost three times in less than 20 fights. And Vicente Escobedo is a solid fringe contender, but at 22-2, his chances of reaching the elite level have generally been dismissed.
That leaves one name left overÔÇöone fighter who hasn’t done what the Andres have but who hasn’t really stumbled yet either. Junior middleweight Vanes Martirosyan is 27-0 with 17 KOs, andÔÇölive from New York on Saturday night!ÔÇöhe makes his HBO debut against fellow unbeaten “Mean” Joe Greene.
Martirosyan just turned 24. He’s been moved at the right pace, stepping up gradually from fight to fight over the last three years. Greene is the first opponent, however, that some observers will be picking to defeat “The Nightmare.” If Martirosyan beats him at Yankee Stadium, he separates himself from the Olympic teammates who flopped and turns the “Big Two” of Ward and Dirrell into a possible “Big Three.” If Martirosyan loses to Greene, the Andres stand alone.
“The pros are a totally different game from the amateurs,” Martirosyan said. “They throw you in the waters, and if you can swim, you can swim; if not, then you just ask for a lifeguard and get out. I think Ward and Dirrell, they adapted very well. They’ve done a great job.
“This fight against Joe Greene is going to be the fight that’s going to put me up there. But I don’t just want to fight guys like Joe Greene. I want to fight bigger and better guys and I want to prove to the world that this is where I belong. I’m not just doing this for fun. I want to make history. I want people, when they say ‘boxing,’ to say my name. I don’t want to be in Ward and Dirrell’s category, I want to be somewhere higher than that. That’s my goal.”
Before Martirosyan can shift his full attention to such lofty aspirations, however, he has to get past Greene. And, with apologies to a certain amphibian Muppet, it’s not easy beating Greene.
Martirosyan actually has known Greene for many years. They were on the Junior Olympic team together. But Dirrell defeated Greene in the Olympic Trials, keeping him off the ’04 team that went to Athens.
“Joe’s a good guy, he’s a nice guy, but I’m going to have to kick his ass on June 5,” Martirosyan said. “I respect him totally, but when the bell rings, there’s no respect and I’m going to take his heart.”
The undefeated Armenian-American has a charming, friendly personality, and his confidence doesn’t come off as cocky or egomaniacal. However, some might say his confidence is unwarranted in light of his most recent outing.
Martirosyan struggled mightily against Kassim Ouma on Jan. 16, winning a 10-round decision that not everybody thought he deservedÔÇöand that nobody aside from the three judges thought he deserved by four or five points. Former titlist Ouma had lost four of his previous five and looked like a no-risk steppingstone for the young Olympian, but a different version of Ouma showed up that night.
“Everybody was like, ‘Ouma’s washed up, Ouma’s done,’ but Ouma came to fight, and that’s the great thing about boxing, you don’t know what’s going to happen until you step into the ring,” Martirosyan said. “After the fight, I spoke to Ouma, and he told me, ‘Believe it or not, all my career, this is the best shape I’ve been in for a fight.’ He said, ‘I give you a lot of credit, you adjusted.’ He came to fight, he was a totally different Ouma than what I saw in the film. The fight made me realize not to underestimate anybody, whoever I’m fighting.”
If Martirosyan isn’t underestimating anybody these days, he at least has a different estimation than most people do of one particular top 154-pounder. While many of the world’s best welterweights, junior middleweights and middleweights can’t get far enough away from Paul Williams, Martirosyan wants “The Punisher” in the ring right now.
“If everything goes well with Joe Greene, I would like to fight Paul Williams next,” Martirosyan shockingly declared. “That might sound wild, but it is what it is. I talked to [trainer] Freddie [Roach] about it, and we could get him out of there, I know that we can knock him out. We have a strategy for Paul Williams. I want Paul Williams so bad, it’s crazy. I want to fight the best.”
Such ambitious plans can wait. First, Martirosyan has to become the first man to defeat Greene. If he does, he will have suggested there are three members of the ’04 U.S. Olympic team with pound-for-pound potential. And if Ward, Dirrell and Martirosyan all do reach that potential, then they will have done their teammates proud and established the Athens group as the best the United States produced this decade.
This Saturday night, we’ll find out whether Martirosyan is a ready-for-prime-time player. He seems convinced that, against Joe Greene, he’ll “look maaah-velous.” Now it’s time for him to convince the rest of us.
ÔÇó I got one particularly interesting email in response to last week’s column about possible replacements for Lennox Lewis on HBO: Raul Marquez wrote to me with his list of credentials, and no doubt about it, from an experience point-of-view, he has everyone else crushed. The reason I didn’t include him is that most of his work has been in Spanish, and I’m about as qualified to judge who’s a good Spanish boxing analyst as Ellen DeGeneres is to judge a singing competition. I can’t give Marquez a personal thumbs up or thumbs down since the only English commentary I’ve seen him do was about six or seven years ago on NBC and I barely remember it, but given his experience behind the microphone, he’s certainly worthy of HBO’s consideration.
ÔÇó Speaking of commentators, we got a subtle but enjoyable Teddy-ism from Teddy Atlas on Friday night, when he posed the question, “How do you beat Old Man Time?” Word has it that Father Time and Old Man River were both upset they only got half a name-drop.
ÔÇó Questionable Quote of the Week, Part I: Vitali Klitschko declaring, “I want to prove that I’m the best in the world.” No you don’t. You’ve made it quite clear that you’re content to prove you’re somewhere in the top two.
ÔÇó Questionable Quote of the Week, Part II: Marian Muhammad claiming of her ouster from the IBF, “I think that when the promoters and membership find out how this all went down, they will pull away from the IBF.” Marian, if they didn’t pull away at any point in the past 25 years, then pulling out in the face of disturbing behavior clearly isn’t in their DNA.
ÔÇó Add Ivan Popoco to the list of guys who are never going to crack the top five of THE RING rankings but who I’ll watch anytime they’re on TV. (In case you’re wondering, Luis Carlos Abregu currently holds the top ranking on that list.)
ÔÇó Referee Jean-Guy Brousseau, who officiated the Marcus Upshaw-Renan St. Juste fight on ESPN2 last Friday, definitely wins the award for “Ref Most Likely To Someday Play A James Bond Villain.” Next time he gives the fighters their opening instructions, I want to see him stroking a hairless cat.
ÔÇó If you haven’t yet seen the July 2010 issue of THE RING (the one with David Haye on the cover), I highly recommend Editor-in-Chief Nigel Collins’ “Ringside” editorial on Edwin Valero and the inner battles so many fighters over the years have faced. It’s good to read this tragedy put in perspective by someone who understands the sport of boxing, serving as a counterbalance to what’s been written by certain mainstream outlets that only take an interest in boxing when things go wrong.
ÔÇó Keep an eye out for a new episode of Ring Theory later this week. Thanks to all of you who have supported the show and made it one of the top-10 most-listened-to sports podcasts on Podbean over the past two weeks and the number-one most-subscribed-to Podbean sports podcast over that period. You can also check us out on iTunes, where I don’t have any rankings data yet, but I do know we’re the first podcast that comes up when you search “Ring Theory.” Imagine that.