By Jake Donovan
If there's anything worse than having a nightmare while sleeping, it's living through one while you're awake.
Welcome to the world of anyone standing in the opposite corner of undefeated junior middleweight Vanes "The Nightmare" Martirosyan.
It's been pure hell for each of Martirosyan's 18 opponents (and counting) to date, as the transplanted Armenian has not lost a round, never mind a fight, since turning pro in early 2005. That streak, along with his winning ways (18-0, 12KO), both figure to continue Thursday. On tap is once-beaten Midwestern junior middleweight Michi Munoz, as Martirosyan is slated for his first scheduled ten-round bout, which serves as the co-feature for the next installment of VERSUS FIGHT NIGHT series.
The bad news gets worse for Munoz and all future opponents – Martirosyan continues to improve with every fight. If there was a single criticism to his game, it's that the Armenian all too often sought the knockout without the benefit of a jab to set up his attack. A typical Martirosyan fight went as follows: bell rings, Vanes is in your face, launching power shots from all angles until you either fall or have lost every round.
Not much has changed – well, two things to be exact. One is his trainer. Having previously been shacked up with two-time Trainer of the Year Freddie Roach, Martirosyan packed his bags late in 2007 and headed to Houston, where he now serves under the tutelage of the well-respected Ronnie Shields.
The other change in his career: the kid now has a jab. You'll recognize it quickly if you're his opponent: it's the long stick that's buried in your face from the opening bell.
Though only 21 years old and still learning with each fight, Martirosyan has already come a long way from his amateur days. Those days began 14 years ago, when his father took him to the gym as a 7-year old living in heavily Armenian-populated Glendale, CA, where his family moved from his native Armenia when he was just four years old.
The trip to the gym was a family affair, with his brothers (one older, one younger) accompanying. All three took a liking to the sweet science, but kids being kids, gravitated toward other sports as well. His older brother eventually traded in his gloves for swimming trunks, while baby bro turned to soccer. Vanes, who was home-schooled throughout his childhood, took a liking to basketball, but his trainers and father refused to stray from the ring, spotting something special from the very beginning.
Their instincts were correct. Martirosyan led a brilliant amateur career, going 120-10 in the non-pay ranks. All but one amateur loss was eventually avenged, including a March 2004 win over Andre Berto.
The only one to go unchecked was in his final amateur fight, dropping a decision to eventual Silver medalist Lorenzo Aragon in the second round of the 2004 Olympics, where he represented the United States. Aragon was a 30-year old, two-time amateur world champion at the time; Martirosyan had just turned 18.
Simply put, experience prevailed over youth.
Turning pro in 2005, Martirosyan has been brought along at a steady pace, while appearing on several networks in the preliminary stage of his career. His first slice of limelight came in 2006, when Vanes opened up a summer PPV telecast headlined by Oleg Maskaev's repeat knockout win over Hasim Rahman. Martirosyan was riding a four-fight knockout streak and had Marcus Brooks down and nearly out in the opening round, but was forced to settle for a lopsided unanimous decision.
The brash 6'0" junior middleweight has also managed face time on Versus and Telefutura, though the lion's share of his bouts to date have served as under card filler, mostly in Las Vegas. Whether or not his fight makes its way to television is of little concern to the Armenian; activity is far more important, or at least as important as his pre-fight ritual, always putting on his right glove first.
It's a fitting superstition, as most of Martirosyan's fights end courtesy of a big right hand. It's how his last televised fight came to a close, with a fusillade of straight rights bombarding Dan Wallace early and often before a final straight right sent him crashing to the canvas. Wallace was left in a limp state, collapsing into the referee's arm as the fight was waved off midway through the opening round.
What set up the right hands? A steady jab, with Vanes landing it the moment he left his corner to begin the fight.
When Martirosyan isn't in your face, it's because he's taking a step back to see where he can next land a shot. It can be a left hook to the body, or a left hook upstairs. Quite often it's a 1-2 as he creeps back inside to close the gap. It could also be a right uppercut from short or long range, popping his opponent's head out of its protective shell to set you up with a money shot, which these days could be any punch.
But it's not always about the power. Every so often, you run into an opponent who refuses to go quietly. Martirosyan experienced that in his last fight, just one month ago, when Clarence "Sonny Bono" Taylor forced the Armenian to work every step of the way, even in serving on the business end of a shutout. Martirosyan never wilted, fighting fire with fire throughout on a cold and rainy night in Los Angeles, even in realizing the night was not ending in a knockout.
Despite an influx of his fellow Armenians making the trip from Glendale to cheer on their favorite son, Vanes remained poised beyond his 21 years, never feeling the need to try to do too much to impress the crowd. Win today, look spectacular the next fight.
With each fight, Martirosyan becomes more and more of a complete fighter, much to the delight of manager Shelly Finkel and promoter Top Rank, both of whom have been with him since his pro debut. Both have nothing but rave reviews for their star in the making, as his consistent development becomes their dream come true. Though their dream continues to serve as everyone else's nightmare.
Jake Donovan is a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America and the Tennessee Boxing Advisory Board. His feature column runs every Tuesday, and his Prospect of the Week series runs every Thursday. Jake is also BoxingScene's official Telefutura correspondent.
Please feel free to submit any comments or questions to Jake at [email protected]