By Jake Donovan

Top Rank’s newly developed Fox Sports series “Top Rank Live” saw several changes in its inaugural episode, including changes in its main event and its co-feature falling through at the eleventh hour.

Through it all, the series managed to jump out to an impressive start, headlined by junior middleweight contender Vanes Martirosyan overcoming a slow start and a late knockdown to take a hard-fought - albeit, controversial - unanimous decision over former titlist Kassim Ouma.

The bout headlined a televised tripleheader, aired live from The Joint at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Martirosyan, 153 lb, knew going in that the bout would be the toughest test of his young career, but still struggled early to find his rhythm. Ouma, 150, was in his face from the opening bell, fighting with the will and desire of an ex-champion in search of one last great moment, if not a career revival.

The first couple of rounds saw Ouma charging forward, landing several straight lefts, while Martirosyan fought in reverse with the intention of boxing from the outside. Several two-way exchanges ensued, but Martirosyan’s best moments came often in reaction, landing right hands after Ouma was able to score with left hands down the middle.

Momentum shifted late in the third round, with Martirosyan overcoming what was a dominant Ouma round to that point to enjoy a late surge. The 2004 Olympian carried over the success into the fourth, which proved to be his best round of the fight to that point. Ouma was still charging forward, but was getting caught with jabs, right hands and hooks, while not offering much in return.

Newly hired head trainer Livingstone Bramble didn’t like the direction of the fight, and convinced Ouma to return to what was working best for him; applying pressure and denying Martirosyan the necessary room to get off his punches.

The advice proved to be sound, as Ouma picked up the pace in rounds five and six. Martirosyan tried to rally back midway through the six, but his rhythm was interrupted by a final warning from referee Kenny Bayless for excessive low blows.

With only four rounds to go in their scheduled ten, Martirosyan was running out of room for error. The Armenian-born junior middleweight responded with a timely surge in the seventh, finding his range and repeatedly scoring from the outside as Ouma’s rate of activity dramatically dipped.

Chants of “Va-Nes” filled the casino ballroom as Martirosyan continued to make every moment count down the stretch. The will and determination was still there for Ouma, but his punches no longer had any snap on them by the eighth, while Martirosyan was improving with each round.

Then came the ninth round and the ultimate game changer.

Ouma remained calm despite the fact that a chance at a major upset was beginning to slip away. Martirosyan’s confidence level was rising, but would all come crashing down after Ouma sent him to the canvas courtesy of a counter right hook about a minute into the round.

While a flash knockdown, it was enough to send Martirosyan into panic and desperation mode. He managed to gather his senses and regain control of the fight, but still gave away a round at a crucial point in the fight.

Both fighters fought the tenth with the mindset that whoever won the round would win the fight. Martirosyan threw caution to the wind, resulting in some of most punishing combinations in the fight. Ouma continued to apply pressure, but his lower rate of activity in comparison to earlier in the bout actually made him an all-too inviting target for Martirosyan, who closed strong.

In the end, it turned out that the three judges saw a much different fight, one where not even a late knockdown would threaten to take the fight from the house fighter.

Dick House saw the bout 97-92; Dave Morretti and C.J. Ross each scored it 97-93, all in favor of Martirosyan, who improves to 27-0 (17KO) with the biggest – and most grueling – win of his career.


“I made the fight tougher than it should’ve been. Ouma was an awkward opponent and I could’ve done a much better job,” acknowledged Martirosyan, whose left eye was reddened and his spirits somewhat dampened despite surviving a stiff test.


Tough decisions are now forced to be made in Ouma’s career. Once upon a time among the very best junior middleweights in the world, the charismatic Ugandan loses for the fifth time in his past six fights as he falls to 26-7-1 (16KO).

The bout was tabbed as the main event after welterweight contender Joshua Clottey declined to appear on the series, and more specifically on Fox Sports. The decision turned out to be a blessing in disguise for all involved; Clottey wound up scoring a career-high payday for his forthcoming showdown with Manny Pacquiao, while Martirosyan was given his first prime time main event slot.

What figures to follow in the months to come is perhaps his first crack at alphabet glory. At whatever point his handlers decide he’s ready for such an opportunity, he can point to this night as the ultimate learning experience.


Highly decorated amateur Jose Benavidez (1-0, 1KO) enjoyed a successful pro debut with a 1st round knockout of Stephen Cox (1-1, 1KO) in their scheduled four-round super lightweight bout. The reigning National Golden Gloves champion based out of Phoenix, Benavidez had no problem adjusting to the pro ranks, controlling Cox with his jab before unloading with his power shots.

Benavidez’ first scored knockdown of his career came less than a minute in, catching Cox with a left hook on the temple. The sequence marked the beginning of the end; Cox beat the eight count, but absorbed more punishment, until a body shot and left hook left him defenseless in a corner, prompting referee Kenny Bayless to stop the contest at 1:21 of round one.

Local super featherweight Diego Magdaleno has now spent more than half of his pro career at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino, but the southpaw looked anywhere but at home in struggling to get past scrappy journeyman Gerardo Robles in the televised opener.

Magdaleno (13-0, 5KO) eventually surged ahead late in the fight to take a well-earned unanimous decision, by scores of 78-74 (twice) and an unacceptably off tally of 80-72.

Robles was in his face from the opening bell, and had Magdaleno hurt in the third round. The tide eventually turned, with Magdaleno adjusting and taking over for good from the fourth round on to maintain his undefeated record and also preserve a slot on Top Rank’s “Latin Fury 13/Pinoy Power 3” PPV card next month.

The bout became the evening’s makeshift co-feature when visa issues prevented Joksan Hernandez from making the trip across the border, kayoing his fight with undefeated featherweight prospect Miguel Angel Garcia.

Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of and an award-winning member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. Contact Jake at