Notes: Martirosyan Finds Focus in Houston

Steve Kim/

Albert Hammond and Tony! Toni! Tone! were wrong, it does indeed rain in Southern California. And last Friday, on a wet, windy, cold evening underneath a much-too-small tent that was erected a night before at the Alameda Swap Meet in Los Angeles, a large throng of Armenian-Americans braved the elements to show their support of jr. middleweight prospect Vanes Martirosyan, who improved to 18-0 with a six round decision over journeyman Clarence Taylor.

Martirosyan wasn't even part of the Telefutura broadcast last week, but to these rabid partisans, he was their main event. And as their man did his thing, they vociferously showed their support throughout. As Terrell Owens would say - they love themselves some Vanes.

There are some notable fighters of Armenian descent today, from Arthur Abraham to Vic Darchinyan and many others who perform regularly in California. But it's evident that Martirosyan, who represented the United States in the 2004 Olympic Games, has an opportunity to become the first one to develop as a ticket seller and have some crossover appeal in the States.

But ironically, that same adulation he is showered with locally is the exact reason why he made the switch from training with Freddie Roach in Hollywood to Ronnie Shields in Houston, Texas.

"Freddie's a great coach, everybody knows that; I can't complain about Freddie and I'm not because I know he's a good coach. It was more about being focused and I needed a change because I wasn't feeling that my boxing skills were improving, and it had nothing to do with Freddie," Martirosyan would explain a few days after his latest fight. "I think it was more of me getting to it and learning. I told my uncle, 'I need to be more focused and we talked to Shelly (Finkel), and Shelly recommended Ronnie Shields and then we also had a talk with Freddie. Freddie recommended Ronnie Shields also, and for us to go over there. Freddie also agreed with us that I needed to be more focused and think about my boxing more and work on some new things and learn.

"So we all agreed, Ronnie Shields was the man for the job."

Martirosyan lived basically his whole life in Glendale, California, which has as large a concentration of Armenians as any city in the United States. Because of his boxing prowess, he had become a bit of a celebrity. And at times, the attention could be suffocating.

“Ever since going to the Olympics and stuff, everything happened so fast for me. Being young, being in that spot and now as a professional everything is growing day by day," he says. "When I go places, I don't want to go because I know there's going to be people there and they're going to want to talk to me and stuff like that. I mean, I love it. I love my fans, but sometimes you want to focus on your job and do what you have to do. It's kinda hard when people are always there talking to you, it gets you off your concentration of what you're doing."

Roach says he harbors no ill-will towards his former fighter, who he had trained from the beginning of his professional career in 2005.

"His family told me he had some personal problems and they gave me a little excuse why," he would say at his Wild Card Boxing Club on Wednesday afternoon. "If he had personal problems, why would that fix it by moving? I didn't really understand that."

Roach is irked by one thing, though. "Vanes never said bye to me, never said thank you, never said anything. I never spoke to Vanes. I know Shelly and Ronnie Shields are good friends and I don't know, is Shelly mad at me for losing Pacquiao or something?"

As he says this, Roach is laughing at the thought. But the respected cornerman never got the sense he had a distracted boxer on his hands.

"Never. Me and Vanes had a great relationship, I thought," he would say. "And he's very respectful and he works hard and I thought he was headed in the right direction. He was getting good sparring here with Roman Karmazin and guys like that."

But Roach is a veteran of the sport and he knows the nature of the business, so he's philosophical about the loss.

"Like Eddie Futch told me one time, 'Fighters will come and go, Freddie; don't let it bother you because you'll end up going crazy.'"

Having world-class fighters is not a worry for Roach, who currently works with perhaps as deep a roster of fighters as anyone in the sport. The problem for young fighters such as Martirosyan is that they can get lost in the mix when the likes of 'the Pac Man' and Bernard Hopkins prepare for big fights. At times, you can be like that guy in the bakery with ticket number 35, while ticket number 14 is being serviced.

For the most part, Martirosyan gets a monopoly on Shields, who also works with lightweight champion Juan Diaz.

"Ronnie's a type of trainer that gets with you from the beginning till the end," explains Martirosyan, who also lauds the work of conditioning coach Brian Caldwell. "Like when I walk in the gym, he doesn't work with anybody else until I'm done training. He stands with me side-by-side until I'm done and no matter how many times I make a mistake, he always repeats it until we get it right. And that's what I like about Ronnie."

It's in the formative years of a fighter where trainers are the most vital. It's at the early stages when they develop a ring identity and sharpen their tools. Fighters are also human, and if they feel they aren't given the proper amount of attention by an individual, they are prone to go to somebody else that will.

Roach believes that could be a possibility here.

“I’m thinking that a little bit. ‘Why didn't Vanes come and tell me himself' or just come to say good-bye to me? They told me he's temporarily going to Houston and he'll be back. But Ronnie's a good trainer and maybe he's going to get more attention there and maybe that's what he's looking for, more attention. But one thing about Vanes though, he got my attention. We worked pretty closely together and I was surprised but I wish him the best."

Going from Glendale to Houston is a bit of a culture shock. Lil’ Armenia it ain't.

"I think there's 200 Armenian families in Houston, if I'm not mistaken," says Martirosyan, who is staying with a family friend in H-town. But this is more training camp than residence. "It's good over there, the person I'm staying with, he told everybody I'm here for training, nothing else. I don't want to be seen anywhere or go out. That's all we're doing, we're just going to the gym, to the house, from the house, to the gym. That's all we're doing. It's been working out good for me. I'm staying focused and I'm thinking about my goals and my dreams and that's number one for me and there's no more distractions and no more pressure for me from anybody."

So far, the results have been good. In his debut with Shields, he would impressively stop Dan Wallace on December 20th as a swing bout on the 'Versus' network. While that bout went less than one full round, Taylor would extend Martirosyan the full six round distance. But it's clear that Martirosyan, for the first time as a pro, is setting and planting his feet and fighting much less like an amateur.

"The kid is a good puncher and if he sits down on his punches a little bit more, he'll have a lot more knockouts," said Shields shortly after their fight last Friday night. "But he gets a little anxious; I'm trying to slow him down just a little bit. It's coming around. He's starting to use his jab a little bit more. But it's going to come."

Taylor, the classic awkward spoiler, is the type of durable fighter every young prospect faces in the course of their development. Despite a rather pedestrian mark coming in (12-12-2), he's rarely stopped and he provides valuable experience. Outings such as these in the long run can be much more valuable than the highlight reel knockouts that grab people’s attention.

“You learn so much about them," says Shields of this type of performance. Martirosyan, for the most part, was patient and measured and tried his best to break through the high guard of Taylor, who also possessed a stout set of whiskers. "This is just my second fight with him and it lets me know a lot of what I got to do now with him. It's just the experience; he needs a little more experience but he's going to get it."

"He's not making the same mistakes he was before," says Finkel, who manages Martirosyan. "It's going to take a little time but I think he made big, big leaps in the last two fights."

To stay focused on this bout, instead of going back home to Glendale prior to the fight, he stayed at a hotel in Commerce to avoid any distractions. He says he plans on spending about 10 days back home before heading back out to Texas.

"He's a great student. He wants to learn," says Shields, who works with his new fighter at the Savannah Boxing Club. "But it's kinda hard when you have a 21-year old guy fighting in front of all these people that know your name."

Perhaps it's even harder to develop and improve when everyone is patting you on the back everyday, unconditionally. In Houston, he's just another guy trying to build a career. The change was needed.

"In retrospect, yes," agreed Finkel, who admits, "I would not have changed anything. But there was him getting stale there and some other things in his personal life and they felt it was just better to get new surroundings and it seems to have made him blossom."

Finkel, who lives in New York, never saw a problem.

"No, but I'm not there and the uncle and them did not tell me until it was, 'Hey, he's staying out late, he's this and that.' Its part of growing up, but it's hard when you're a fighter."

Martirosyan who seemed to have hit a plateau in his development throughout much of 2006 and 2007, could just be scratching the surface of his potential.

"I think so, I think there's a lot I could do and show in the ring. I just can't wait to show it. I tell my dad and uncle I want to fight somebody that has a name, somebody that could throw punches, fight me back, because I feel like the guys that I'm fighting now they're not doing that," says Martirosyan. "Top Rank knows that and they're stepping me up little by little. But I want to fight somebody that's going to fight me and throw punches so I can show the world what I can do."

Finkel is ready to step him up. "I think now he's on a track to move to the 10 rounders now, and he'll continue to just grow and if we're lucky, he'll be ready for a title shot," he says.

Shields simply says, "He's going to be champion of the world one day."

RANDOM THOUGHTS (Really just longer 'flurries')

  • I just got through reading Angelo Dundee's book, 'My View from the Corner', which was co-authored by Bert Sugar. It may not have any mind-blowing revelations, but it's still an entertaining read filled with some pretty good stories. If you're a fan of Dundee, Muhammad Ali and Sugar Ray Leonard, you'll enjoy this book, although you may not learn anything new.

One story that did grab my attention was how Mike Trainer, the noted attorney of Leonard, basically did whatever he could to make sure Dundee did not get his negotiated percentage as the trainer/manager, relatively early on during their run. What was disappointing was that Leonard basically did nothing to stand up for him.

Remember this folks, just as many trainers are screwed as fighters.

  • I happened to catch the ESPN Classic 'SportsCentury' profile on one of my favorite fighters, Marvelous Marvin Hagler. As usual, it was a first-class production. What stood out is that they actually had photos of a young Hagler when he still had a full head of hair. I have to admit, I had never seen those before. His shaven skull was such an iconic image to me, it's hard to believe he ever had anything on top. And no, he wasn't sporting a jheri curl.

But I do think they played up the fact that his loss to Leonard ruined his legacy or his life somehow a bit too much. Yes, it was bitterly disappointing and he did have some personal setbacks afterwards, but Hagler's life isn't a failure in any way whatsoever. In fact, you could argue he found much more peace and harmony in his life after boxing than any of his contemporaries from that era.

  • My favorite Hagler story has nothing to do with a fight or anything that happened inside the ring. I was told by somebody who was there that when he was on the verge of really making the big bucks, his contract was coming up with the Petronelli brothers, who were just hoping to get anything near the 33-percent they were getting for working with him as they had.

As usual a lot of things were being said to the fighter, who at this point had all the leverage. As his final deal was hammered out with Bob Arum, Hagler just looked over at the Petronellis and said that he appreciated the job they had done for him and saw no reason to change the parameters of their deal.

With that, the deal was done.

They don't make 'em like that anymore.

  • Speaking of jheri curl, without his new clean cut, it took me about two weeks to figure out that that was Michael Cage on the Clippers post-game show out here on Fox Sports West.

Cage was a rebounding fool, wasn't he?

  • Pete Carroll going from USC to the Atlanta Falcons is akin to training Floyd Mayweather and then dumping him for a club fighter. A bad one, at that.

  • OK, Lakers fans, do we dare get excited about this team based on what happened last season? The thing is, Jordan Farmar is greatly improved, Derek Fisher in place of Smush Parker is making a huge difference and Andrew Kid-Bynum-ite!!! is looking like a future all-star. Kobe even seems content (believe it or not).

Now, we shouldn't fall in love with this team just yet, but let's just say we’re dating steadily right now but it won’t be until after February when we start to meet the parents and stuff.

As for Bynum, well, he had me at hello.

  • As a Padres fan I was happy to see Goose Gossage get his long overdue call to Cooperstown. He was an old-school closer, back when they had to get more than three outs and didn't have three run leads at their disposal with no men on base. Today, saves are the most overblown statistic in baseball.

Gossage isn't just comparable to those fighters who fought 15 round championship contests, but really those fighters who fought 100-plus round fights, where you could stand over opponents who had been knocked down. Today's closers are like boxers who box no more than six rounds and still get to wear headgear and 14-ounce gloves.

I loved Gossage, even when he was throwing high fastballs that were driven about 5,000 feet into the Detroit night by Kirk Gibson in '84.

  • Don't you wish that ESPN2 had enough of a budget to air a fight between super middleweights Jean Pascal and Edison Miranda, instead of bouts involving them against the likes of Omar Pittman and David Banks before they square off (most likely on another network).

But Allan Green in-studio with Brian Kenny should be good. He's got the gift-of-gab. But please, no more talk of his health issues of the past. That should've been filed under 'waaaaaay too much info'.

  • There's no absolutely, positively, no excuse for Sergio Mora to not look good against Rito Ruvacalba, who's a badly faded fighter.

As of now, he doesn't pose the threat that Rita Moreno or Rita Rudner do.

  • Lucien Bute's first defense of his IBF super middleweight title, on February 29th, will come against William Joppy.

I don't even need a punchline here.

Have a great weekend folks.