“Vanes is such a hard worker. He’s just a baby now, he’s only 19, but we’re getting there a little bit every day.” — Freddie Roach on Vanes Martirosyan after the latter’s second pro fight
Within the bowels of the Staples Center, inside the confines of the Chick Hearn Media Room, Vanes “The Nightmare” Martirosyan stepped onto center stage.
Shouldered by trainer Freddie Roach and Top Rank Promoter Lee Samuels, Martirosyan was the centerpiece of a press conference on the undercard of an event headlined by Julio Cesar Chavez as a part of his farewell tour.
As this press conference came to be, the mass of media milling around picking at complimentary snacks and hobnobbing within their own cliques as they often do during the undercard, they all briefly looked up at this teenage fighter wondering who he was as the impromptu interview began taking place.
It consisted of one writer asking every question as this promising 19-year-old boxer seemed to only be of interest to one representative of his hometown paper.
On that particular Saturday, May 28, 2005, Martirosyan easily dispatched Jovanni Rubio inside of one round, improving to 2-0.
Since then, five years have passed along with 25 more victories and 16 more knockouts. A lot more people are asking Martirosyan questions these days and a lot more people are paying attention.
And on June 5, the former Olympian and one of Glendale’s favorite sons will step through the ropes and into the biggest fight of his still young career.
Little more than a week remains until the Armenian native takes on “Mean” Joe Greene in a 10-round, 154-pound bout at “The Stadium Slugfest,” a card televised on HBO in which Greene (22-0, 14 KOs) and Martirosyan (27-0, 17 KOs) will be the co-main event at the new Yankee Stadium. While many will tune in and buy tickets to see Miguel Cotto and Yuri Foreman duel in the main event, Greene and Martirosyan will still have plenty of eyes upon them.
For the “Nightmare,” now 24, it will not be the first time he’s fought in a major venue, nor will it be the first time he’s fought atop a card.
He’s fought from top to bottom of the bout sheet, he’s fought indoors and outdoors at magnificent arenas and some that weren’t quite so illustrious.
He’s fought at the Alameda Swap Meet in L.A. and Buffalo Bill’s in Primm, Nev.
He’s also fought in Vegas and Atlantic City, NJ.
He’s fought on untelevised undercards, he’s fought on cable and on pay-per-view.
But make no mistake, this will be the biggest fight that the Glendale fighter has ever fought.
Sure it’s a co-main event on HBO. But this time, for the first time, everything is big.
New Yankee Stadium or not, it’s Yankee Stadium, it’s spacious, it’s New York and the card itself is an event.
And HBO is, indeed, HBO, a network known for putting on big-time boxing matches for which millions tune in.
And Greene, though lacking in an original nickname, is an up-and-coming fighter who many believe is destined for a championship future — just like Martirosyan.
Never before has it all come together like this for Martirosyan.
Sure, he’s defeated good competition, but like any boxer earmarked for success by a big-time promotion such as Top Rank, his road to glory has been well-planned.
Though he’s fought previous “biggest fights of his career,” none have been with so much attention upon him nor against an opponent as challenging as Greene.
Alas, it is all coming together.
This is it, the moment where and when Martirosyan can take himself to the next level of championship chances and glory.
In the world of boxing, Martirosyan is a top-10 fighter in his division, brimming with potential.
For sometime now, at least a year, Martirosyan has clamored to test himself against the next level of competition.
While he’s captured NABO and NABF tiles, Martirosyan knows as well as anybody that titles such as those mean little on the way to the top. And the top is the only place the determined pugilist has ever wanted to be.
Should Martirosyan emerge victorious, in all likelihood, it will also mark the first conversations in which his name is mentioned among those who should challenge the best of the best.
Should Martirosyan emerge with his first loss, it certainly wouldn’t be a disaster. He’s simply too good a fighter for a loss to another good fighter to severely damage a bright future. Still, it would be a lofty setback.
Among those in Glendale’s Armenian community, of which there are many, it’s likely that Martirosyan is its most popular athlete.
But Martirosyan’s road to glory, one that took him to the Olympics and now professional fame, has always been meant for a bigger stage.
Certainly not a press conference with one writer asking questions.
Certainly not just the hometown that adores him.
And if Martirosyan once more emerges, as he’s done throughout his pro career, undefeated, he will most assuredly announce his rightful presence among the elite in the world of boxing.
On June 5, right smack dab in the middle of one of the most famous sports venues in the world, in the heart of the media capital of the universe and live in your living room, Vanes “The Nightmare” Martirosyan will throw his next punch.
If it lands right, he’ll take his next step to stardom — and the biggest one yet.
That’s just the way I see it, playing second string.