Vanes Martirosyan was the chosen one. He will battle Gennady Golovkin at the StubHub Center in Carson, California, on Saturday after Canelo Alvarez withdrew from the original bout scheduled for Las Vegas in the wake of two failed doping tests. (Alvarez's subsequent suspension by the Nevada Athletic Commission would have derailed the fight anyway.)
Martirosyan, a former junior middleweight world titlist, took on this challenge less than three weeks before fight night, a fact that has boxing fans all asking the same questions: Is Martirosyan a legit competitive opponent? Is it right that the fight is even taking place?
Answers may vary from a yes to a resounding no. For what he has accomplished, Martirosyan could be considered a legitimate contender for Golovkin. Beyond that, this bout lacks any sporting legitimacy.
A true contender
"Courtesy and courage are not mutually exclusive" is what an old Spanish-language adage says. I need to use this phrase in order to justify my argument. While it's true that we disagree on the matchup, we must accept that Martirosyan has enough boxing credentials to stand in the ring against GGG.
Let's start with the weight: Martirosyan is a natural junior middleweight boxer who has mainly fought at under 160 pounds, although he has faced heavier opponents. Martirosyan usually gains a few pounds above that limit. For example, on Nov. 9, 2013, when he took on former junior middleweight world titleholder Demetrius Andrade (now fighting as a middleweight), Martirosyan weighed 164 pounds. He dropped Andrade in Round 1 before losing by split decision.
If we consider that Golovkin is a small middleweight who gains just a few pounds between the weigh-in and the fight, Martirosyan could be the heavier fighter in the ring come Saturday. We should add that Martirosyan is taller than GGG (5-foot-11½, versus 5-foot-10½), but there is no difference in their reach, which is 70 inches. These numbers tell us that neither fighter will have any real physical advantage.
Martirosyan has never been knocked out, has always taken punches well and, most important, has shown great signs of recovery. He proved that last point by recovering from knockdowns in two fights he later won (a TKO7 over Saul Roman in 2011 and a unanimous decision over Kassim Ouma in 2010). Martirosyan has lost three fights, all against first-class opponents in heavily contested bouts: against Erislandy Lara in 2016 (a rematch of a 2012 technical draw), a close UD against Jermell Charlo in 2015 and against Andrade.
Thus, Martirosyan should not be considered a "tomato can" against a three-time champion such as GGG; in theory, he is a bona fide contender. However, we have to draw a line here. It's one thing to say that Martirosyan is a legitimate opponent. It's another thing to say that this is a legitimate contest. It is not. At all.
Not a good contest
Martirosyan has fought only once in the past 32 months. He last stepped into the ring almost two years ago, on May 21, 2016, against Lara. He has lost two of his past three bouts (the victory came by decision against Ishe Smith).
Adding to the inevitable rust from a lack of recent bouts is a possible decline in his skills; Martirosyan is, after all, 32 years old. To top it all off, he signed on to this fight only 16 days before it takes place; the official announcement came on April 18.
Martirosyan can say he's been training all along all he wants. He can say he has been ready for this opportunity to fight for a world title. But it's hard to buy any of that because almost every opponent who takes a fight on such short notice says the same things. It is almost a written script: "I was on the verge of ending an eight-week training camp, and I am in the best shape of my life." Reality, though, is completely different. Such opponents are usually unprepared, do not have enough rounds in the gym and are not in top physical shape. That means they must make lots of sacrifices to meet the weight requirements, and inevitably they will face many disadvantages on fight night.
A victory by such an opponent will always be an exception. It won't be Martirosyan's fight to win; it will be GGG's to lose. And we already know that, in all likelihood, Golovkin has never stopped training, even after the fight with Alvarez was canceled.
It is possible that Martirosyan could take the fight to the scorecards, but at the end, it will be a decision victory for Golovkin. Martirosyan's style and lack of punching power will make things easier for Golovkin, who will not be highly demanding and will look to claim victory in what essentially will be nothing more than an exhibition fight.
This fight should not be taken seriously, and I don't consider it a legitimate bout. It's not Golovkin's fault. GGG had so little time to pick a new opponent after Alvarez withdrew. Still, these kinds of situations in which a new contender shows up, even with the right amount of preparation, always carry a risk, no matter who it is.
The reasons for Golovkin turning this into a mission to find an opponent to replace Alvarez instead of canceling the date and moving on are unknown. Regardless, it sets a dangerous precedent, and, above all things, it trivializes the credentials of a sport in need of strict authority that places fighters' health as its utmost priority. There are time frames that must be respected, no matter what.
It is true that at the end of the day, professional boxing is a business. However, allowing it to stage exhibition bouts such as this one, with an opponent who will be nothing more than a supporting actor, threatens the legitimacy of this business and its own credibility.