Frank Sinatra once famously sang that if he could make it in New York, he could make it anywhere. His famous line implied that we also could and that will certainly be the case for Vanes Martirosyan, who faces fellow undefeated junior middleweight prospect Joe Greene this Saturday night in “The Big Apple” before Yuri Foreman defends his 154-pound WBA strap against Miguel Cotto. But as it relates to the business of boxing, “Ol’ Blue Eyes” could have been talking about performing on HBO, because when you’ve made it to “The Network of Champions,” you’ve hit the sport’s biggest and most lucrative platform
For Martirosyan and his opponent, this is their first appearance on the network.
"I know every fighter dreams to be on HBO; it’s the big stage. I’m just really excited," said Martirosyan, who has a record of 27-0 (17) coming in. In addition to leading off the “World Championship Boxing” broadcast, he also gets to fight at the inaugural boxing card at the newest incarnation of Yankee Stadium, which will be configured to hold 35,000 fans. "It’s exciting because that’s what you want. You want people to see you; you want to get that recognition. I’m just blessed to have a good manager and a good promoter that put me on stages like this."
His brain trust believes he’s ready for such a leap.
"We felt he’s been ready for a little while," said his manager Shelly Finkel. "We haven’t been able to find the right opponent. Now, we finally have the right opponent to do it and this fight should be a real test for him."
Martirosyan has been televised many times, from shows on Fox Sports Net to the Versus Network to smaller pay-per-view broadcasts, but this is his maiden voyage into the big time. You could say this jump is akin to the rookie basketball player who has a successful regular season, making his first appearance in the NBA Finals. The game is still the same; it’s the pressure and the stakes that are much higher.
Finkel, who has led a multitude of fighters to this level says, "It’s a totally different stage, but if the guy isn’t ready for it at this point in his life, after a number of fights, having been rated, fighting the Oumas of the world, he’s stepping up, he should rise to it. I believe he will."
But it’s that outing against Kassim Ouma in January that cast doubt on Martirosyan, who was floored and won a controversial decision against the veteran in Las Vegas. He looked like anything but a fighter ready to co-headline a major promotion. Martirosyan says of that bout, "I learned a lot from that fight and I took Ouma for granted and I underestimated him. Just like everybody else, I thought he was shot; he was done. But y’ know, Ouma came to fight; he was in good shape. I learned a lot from that fight and I’m going to take a lot from that into this fight." His trainer Freddie Roach conceded, "He did have some difficulties in that fight, but Ouma’s a little bit more tricky than Joe Greene. Joe Greene’s a little bit easier to read. Ouma has that experience, of course. He looked good in spurts, but he needs to be more consistent."
When asked if he was alarmed by that performance against Ouma back in January, Finkel told Maxboxing, "A little, but not really alarmed. That may not be the right word. Could he have been better? Yes. But hopefully, he learned from it and I think he thought he was going to go out and blow him away. And Ouma’s just too smart for that and is it the best performance? No. But hopefully, it’ll make him a better fighter for the next one."
Martirosyan, who represented the United States in the 2004 Olympics, has all the requisite tools to succeed. But at times, he has still looked like a fighter who hasn’t fully made the adjustment from the amateurs to the pro ranks. By today’s standards, an Olympian who takes 27 fights to get to this level is considered to have been developed rather slowly. "It really has been a long process," agreed Roach, who started with Martirosyan and took him over again after his dalliance with Ronnie Shields, not long ago. "His anger gets in the way sometimes. He gets mad. I told him, ‘Just take it easy; just because the guy wants to run on you, don’t get mad and try to kill him. Take your time and set him up. We’re getting to him slowly. But after this fight with Greene, I’d love to see him in a title fight."
Being on HBO and Showtime comes with certain obligations. For the first time, young fighters such as Martirosyan and Greene have to go through fighter meetings with the broadcasters, media obligations multiply and their fights are timed out to the minute. It also means boxing in front of the largest audience you’ve ever had for one of your fights. It’s much different than being in a six-round swing bout.
"They do get nervous," said Roach, whose fighters have been on this plateau many times before. "But Vanes has been an Olympian, and so forth. He’s used to being on a big stage, obviously, being on the Olympic team and the opening ceremony and all that nerve-racking stuff going on. But I think he’ll be OK."
His fighter echoes his point. "It helps a lot because the Olympics was different countries coming together. You don’t understand what language they’re talking, so you have to focus on your fight and get through that. So it helps a lot. I recommend everyone go through the amateurs before they go to the pros because it’s a big experience and you need that in the pros."
But making it to either HBO or Showtime, while certainly a huge step, isn’t the be all and end all. According to Carl Moretti, for young men like Martirosyan or Greene, it should actually just represent the beginning, to a large degree.
"I don’t know if it’s so much Vanes or any other fighter willing to make the jump to HBO,” said Moretti. “I think it’s more of an acceptance that he should be willing to fight after that fight for not as high [of a] profile, and that comes with maybe less money, just to stay active and to continue to get better. It doesn’t necessarily mean it will; you could end up right back on HBO or Showtime or any other premium cable network. But if the fighter’s willing to understand that you just can’t wait around for dates and to continue to grow and get better, then I think you can make that move at anytime. It’s when you get stuck and limited to X-amount of dollars with a certain network, that you can lose your advancement."
But it’s still a huge momentous occasion; after all, it’s boxing’s version of headlining on Broadway after years of being an understudy.
"No question," said Moretti, "when you have a young fighter who’s been developed on lesser cable shows and what not, undercards, and they get their first opportunity to fight on Showtime or HBO it’s- I don’t want to say ‘crowning glory.’ It’s just a beginning- it’s almost like, well, the fighter has reached a certain level where there might have been some doubt in the past. Now, he’s there. Now, it’s ‘Where do you go from here?’"
It’s something that Martirosyan can’t wait to find out.
"I think this is a test for me, to throw me in the big waters and see how well I swim. I think that’s what it is and I just can’t wait to go out there and see what I can do."
Was told that Guillermo Rigondeaux has come to a verbal agreement with Top Rank. With that, I’d expect him back with Roach back at the Wild Card Boxing Club...Hearing that Showtime might have a September 18th doubleheader with the Arthur Abraham-Carl Froch “Super Six” fight and a fight at the Home Depot Center with maybe Rafael Marquez or Vic Darchinyan...Nonito Donaire will face Hernan Marquez on July 10th as the opening bout on Showtime. Donaire sure has been fighting a lot of guys moving up in weight recently, hasn’t he?...So was newly-retired Ken Griffey Jr. the last real, clean great ballplayer of the past era? How many of you have his 1989 Upper Deck rookie card that was #1 (as in the first-ever printed card for the company)? I got a few of them...This week’s edition of “The Main Event” had Bert Sugar and Martirosyan as guests on “The Championship Hotline”….