Nothing final about eliminator for Vanes Martirosyan

Vanes “Nightmare” Martirosyan has been chasing Saul Alvarez for more than a year and a half now.

To be precise, he’s more after the hardware around Alvarez’ waste, as Martirosyan’s been hovering near the top of the World Boxing Council light middleweight rankings for much of the time since the 22-year old Mexican sensation known as “Canelo” first became the champion in March 2011.

Martirosyan (32-0, 20 knockouts), an unbeaten 26-year-old former Olympian out of Glendale who is the No. 2 WBC contender, will become the mandatory challenger for the WBC belt should he defeat current No. 1 contender Erislandy Lara (17-1-1, 11 KOs) Saturday night at the Wynn Resort in Las Vegas — by no means an easy task. But just who he will have to go through next if he is successful, and how soon that title shot may come, remains as murky as ever, as the winner of Martirosyan-Lara seems to be the furthest thing from the minds of Alvarez and his Golden Boy Promotions handlers.

With the paint still fresh on Alvarez’ Sept. 15 title defense against Josesito Lopez, Golden Boys’ Richard Schaefer was already gushing over the possibility of a May 5 super fight between Alvarez and one of several of the biggest names in the sport, telling Fight Hub TV the night of the fight that, “[Alvarez] is ready to take on anyone. Obviously there are three names which jump out. One of them, of course, is the pound-for-pound king, Floyd Mayweather. Another one is Miguel Cotto. And another one is Sergio Martinez. I think these are the three big names.”

No inclusion of Martirosyan or Lara, even though their fight had been signed to determine a mandatory challenger for Alvarez, likely in January, some three weeks earlier.

As the talk of Alvarez blowing off the eliminator persisted, WBC president Dr. Jose Sulaiman took it upon himself to issue a stern clarification of the WBC’s position on Tuesday, stating in a release posted on the organization’s official Website: “Saul is committed to a mandatory fight with either Vanes Martirosyan or Erislandy Lara, who will be fighting Saturday for the chance to challenge the world champion. After that “Canelo” can choose who will be his next opponent. So Saul’s plans will have to wait, until he has fulfilled his commitment of this mandatory fight.”

According to a report by the Los Angeles Times on Wednesday, Schaefer called the WBC proclamation “not a big deal,” adding, “If you have a chance to fight the best fighter in the world in Floyd Mayweather Jr., and you get that opportunity, doesn’t that take priority?”

Whether or not Alvarez (41-0, 30 KOs) can pin down one of his preferred opponents for a blockbuster in 2013, the idea of him tangling with Top Rank-promoted Martirosyan or Golden Boy stablemate Lara in the interim would seem to have little appeal to his backers. Not only would it generate a fraction of the revenue of a Mayweather or Cotto fight, but the risk of losing would far outweigh the reward of beating a lesser draw. With the first big pot at the end of the 41-0 rainbow one fight away, Golden Boy has little incentive to expose to harm a fighter it has carefully cultivated and protected until now.

That would leave Alvarez with two options: vacate the title to control his own destiny, or more likely, find a way to string along the WBC even further, as far as 2014, perhaps, before honoring his mandatory challenge. Despite Sulaiman’s bravado, there would seem to be ample precedent for the latter, as the WBC has tried keep to Martirosyan tied up in multiple so-called title eliminator bouts over the past two years, while Alvarez extended his WBC reign against such challengers as a well past-his-prime Shane Mosley and Lopez and Alfonso Gomez, who were going up in weight class.  

“In my opinion, he’s going to vacate the belt or he has to face the winner of Vanes and Lara,” Martirosyan’s uncle and manager Serge Martirosyan said. “That’s what the WBC has been pushing for.

“I don’t know if [Alvarez] deserves that fight now [against Mayweather, Cotto, or Martinez]. I think if he goes through the winner Vanes-Lara, then I would say he deserves it, but for now I don’t think he beat anybody that he deserves to get a shot at Mayweather or Cotto.”

Vanes Martirosyan said he is only focused on beating Lara, but has long expressed a desire to challenge Alvarez and admitted he’s excited by the prospect, which he still sees as a strong likelihood.

“I think so because [Top Rank CEO] Bob Arum was at the gym when I was training and he told me, ‘After you beat Lara, I promise you I’m going to get Canelo and I’m not going to let Sulaiman play any more games with you,’” Vanes Martirosyan said. “I’m happy that he said that and I just can’t wait.”

If Alvarez remains staunch in pursuing a career-making fight now, Martirosyan’s best hope for a WBC title shot might be Alvarez simply vacating his title and ending the gridlock. But even in that event, it may be hard for Martirosyan’s camp to take anything for granted, as earlier this summer he was all but ready to wash his hands of the WBC and pursue a different title after the WBC refused to guarantee him a title shot if he defeated Lara.

“Just count up how many eliminators Martirosyan has fought in,” Arum told The Ring in April. “So we look at it as, like, a joke. You can't take any of this seriously.”

Things may have changed now, though, Serge Martirosyan said.

“Depending on the interviews that Mr. Sulaiman gave, I am really, really confident that this time Vanes is going to get a title shot,” he said. “Whether it’s going to be against Canelo or somebody else, I don’t know that, because Canelo wants a big money fight and might leave the belt, so Vanes might have to fight one of the top contenders for the WBC belt, whoever they decided.”

One thing is certain: whether it leads to a title now, later or never, Saturday’s fight is a career-defining fight for Vanes Martirosyan and a night he would be well-served to put Alvarez, the WBC and all surrounding drama out of his mind, if only for a few hours.

“After we beat Lara, then we’ll focus on Canelo,” Vanes Martirosyan said. “I’m not even thinking about Canelo right now, I’m just thinking about Lara. I haven’t won the fight yet, so let’s not count our eggs before they hatch.”

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