It was nearly two years ago when Vanes Martirosyan last found himself in a prizefight.
Yet on Saturday, Glendale's favorite boxing son will find himself in the biggest prizefight of his career.
It was roughly 14 years ago when Martirosyan surprisingly fought his way onto the 2004 United States Olympic boxing team.
Yet as Saturday approaches, the 31-year-old native of Armenia feels very much like the amateur who forced people to take notice when he went from an underdog to an Olympian.
"It feels amazing," Martirosyan said of being a huge underdog. "It takes me back to the Olympics. Nobody expected anything of me, that's where I got the nickname the Nightmare.
"I'm gonna shock everybody."
On Saturday night in front of a live StubHub Center audience in Carson and those watching on HBO, Martirosyan (36-3-1, 21 knockouts) will look to carry out an upset of the ages when he toes the line with Gennady "GGG" Golovkin (37-0-1, 33 KOs), a monster of a middleweight with knockout power, a phenomenal chin, a closet full of title belts and years running of recognition as one of the pound-for-pound best.
"People show up expecting to see something and then you show up at your best and they're like, 'What's going on here?'" Martirosyan said. "I love surprising people."
Saturday's matchup has already been a surprise to many in the boxing lexicon as Martirosyan will emerge from almost two years of inactivity into a high profile bout against Golovkin, 36, for the International Boxing Federation, International Boxing Organization, World Boxing Assn. and World Boxing Council world middleweight titles. It came to be in the aftermath of Saul "Canelo" Alvarez testing positive twice for a banned substance (which the fighter blamed on eating contaminated meat in Mexico), which forced the cancellation of Golovkin-Alvarez II. Looking to stay busy, Golovkin decided to fight on Cinco de Mayo without Alvarez and Martirosyan, on all of four weeks' notice, became the opponent.
"I am glad to be back in the ring and giving a fight to my fans. I am happy that Cinco de Mayo will still have boxing. It is good for the sport. … Cinco de Mayo is a big night for a fight and for a Mexican-style fighter like me. It is very important to me to be fighting again, to be fighting on Cinco de Mayo. I didn't want to disappoint the fans who wanted a fight on a Mexican holiday. I am grateful to the Mexican fans who support me and who supported me after the fight with Canelo and during the past two months," Golovkin said on Monday at a media day at the Glendale Fighting Club. "When my fight with Canelo was canceled I never stopped training.
"I no longer think about Canelo. I am only focused on this fight. I just want to fight Vanes. I remember him from the 2004 Olympics. I know he is not easy. Vanes is a strong and active fighter in the ring. He is a good fighter. Vanes is a real guy, a real fighter. He is tall and strong. In 2004, I thought Vanes was the best boxer on the US Olympic team."
Martirosyan is a 15-1 underdog on some sports betting sites as Golovkin seems to have just about everything in his favor, including being the heavier fighter as Martirosyan has never competed above 157 pounds and Golovkin has been a marauding mainstay at 160 pounds.
But Martirosyan's trainer at the Glendale Fighting Club, Edmond Tarverdyan, believes the higher weight is good considering the late notice and short camp.
It's Martirosyan's boxing ability and his mindset that have Tarverdyan most excited, however.
On a Wednesday evening 10 days removed from fight night, Martirosyan entered the GFC with an ear-to-ear grin. He's happy to be there, happy to be back and happy for the opportunity.
"When Vanes is happy, he performs better," Tarverdyan said. "Fighters like that, they don't have ring rust.
"If Vanes brings his 'A' game, he can beat anybody."
Having trained under Freddie Roach, Ronnie Shields and others throughout the years, Martirosyan rejoined Tarverdyan roughly 15 months ago as the two had worked together numerous times before. Tarverdyan worked out Martirosyan signing with promoter Don King and opportunities came and they all went.
"At least five," said Martirosyan of the amount of fights that fell through during his two years of inactivity.
So the grin that marks the Nightmare's face is somewhat new, but it's lasted for the past four weeks since the announcement.
"I was kind of bummed out at home because so many fights got made and then canceled," Martirosyan said. "Then I heard that and got really excited.
"Everybody was happy and excited."
Not since May 21 of 2016 has Martirosyan fought as he dropped a unanimous decision to Erislandy Lara in a rematch from a technical draw in November of 2012.
"That's what makes it so great is after two years, I can come back and fight somebody so great," Martirosyan said. "So when I win, it'll make it so much better."
The initial Lara bout and the last span Martirosyan's last eight bouts in which he's gone 4-3-1 after a 32-0 start to his career.
In the second fight against Lara – for the IBO super welterweight title and the WBA super welterweight strap – and a November, 2013 split decision loss to Demetrius Andrade – for the WBA super welterweight belt – Martirosyan previously vied for world titles and came up short.
He'll look to be a world champion once again if he can upset Golovkin, but in the world of boxing as it's long stood, world championships, often weighed down by politics, an abundance of belts and weight classes, don't mean as much as public appeal and perception. Thus, the chance to knock off Golovkin or even just put on a good show in the face of so much doubt is very much the top prize.
"Be myself and do what I gotta do and not worry about that person in front of me," Martirosyan said of his biggest key to winning. "It's just another person."
Golovkin, the No. 1 ranked pound-for-pound fighter by The Ring, will be attempting to tie Bernard Hopkins' division record of 20 title defenses. Twenty-three straight bouts were ended via knockout by Golovkin until he beat Daniel Jacobs by unanimous decision in March of 2017. His last bout was a controversial split-draw against Alvarez in September of 2017, one many pundits believed Golovkin had won.
Coincidentally, Alvarez has been a long sought opponent for Martirosyan, who has called him out for years. Now, though it's not against each other, Alvarez is responsible for Martirosyan's biggest fight.
There is a mutual respect and longtime familiarity between the Golovkin-Martirosyan camps.
Both fighters were part of the 2004 Olympics in Athens, with Golovkin representing his native Kazakhstan and winning a silver medal in the middleweight division. Martirosyan did not medal, but became a prodigy going into the pro ranks after earning a surprising Olympic berth and garnering amateur wins over future pro standouts Austin Trout, Andre Berto and Timothy Bradley.
Golovkin became a middleweight champion before he even fought inside the United States much less in front of HBO or pay-per-view audiences. Tarverdyan, however, had taken notice of him while seeing him perform in Germany.
"Gennady's been a true champion for many, many years, so how can you not be a fan of a fighter like that?" Tarverdyan said.
Tarverdyan and his most famous trainee, former Ultimate Fighting Championship women's bantamweight champion and current World Wrestling Entertainment wrestler Ronda Rousey, were shown ringside for GGG's October, 2014 knockout of Marco Antonio Rubio at the StubHub Center. Rousey had two fight camps that partially took place in Big Bear and were bestowed keys to the gym in which Golovkin prepared with trainer Abel Sanchez.
Much as Rousey became a transcendent figure when she made history as the first UFC women's champion, also on the card Saturday, undefeated women's welterweight juggernaut Cecilia Braekhus (32-0, nine KOs) will square off with Kali Reis (13-6-1, four KOs) in a historic bout that will stand as the first female boxing match to air on HBO.
But Martirosyan is looking to make his own history.
"If we beat Gennady, Vanes becomes the best out there," Tarverdyan said, "so it's a dream come true.
"It's a win-win situation for him. He understands that, he has to go out there and perform."