When junior middleweight Vanes Martirosyan turned pro at age 18 following an appearance for Team USA in the 2004 Olympics, many regarded him as a prospect to watch and a surefire bet to win a world title.
Fourteen years later and, although Martirosyan became a solid contender, he never lived up to his potential, never became a star and never scored a major victory.
The two times he did fight for a 154-pound world title he lost decisions, to Demetrius Andrade for a vacant belt in 2013 and, in a rematch of a head-butt induced technical draw, to then-titlist Erislandy Lara in May 2016. That is the last time Martirosyan fought.
But Martirosyan has a chance to change the trajectory of his life and career, not to mention quiet the critics, if he can score what would be an astronomical upset against unified middleweight world champion Gennady Golovkin, who is bidding for a division record-tying 20th consecutive defense, on Saturday (HBO, 11 p.m. ET/PT) at the StubHub Center in Carson, California.
"I have been counted out before and I have shined," Martirosyan said. "This is my time. Fate has reached out to me and I am ready to seize the moment. You can never plan for something like this, but you can be prepared, and that's why I never left the gym.
"I've got this opportunity to shock the world. I'm not fighting a robot. GGG is human and he is beatable."
Martirosyan was in the right place at the right time when Canelo Alvarez failed two drug tests in February for the performance-enhancing drug clenbuterol. Alvarez's mega pay-per-view rematch with Golovkin was canceled and he was suspended for six months by the Nevada State Athletic Commission. GGG desperately still wanted to fight on Saturday and his promoter, Tom Loeffler, went to work trying to make it happen on just a few weeks' notice. The fight was moved from T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas to Southern California and from HBO PPV to HBO, and Golovkin took a massive pay cut to keep the date alive.
"I'm not afraid of Gennady. I'm psyched to fight him. This is why I became a fighter. I'm not the only one taking this fight on short notice. Everyone has a soft spot. I'll find his. I have no fear." Vanes Martirosyan
Ultimately, Loeffler and Golovkin (37-0-1, 33 KOs), 36, a Kazakhstan native fighting out of Santa Monica, California, settled on Martirosyan as the late substitute. He was available, had been training and, as a bonus, he had moved from Armenia, where he was born, to Glendale, California, where there is a large Armenian community that is expected to turn out to support him.
Just a few weeks before he got the fight, Martirosyan said he asked his wife who her favorite boxer was beside him.
"She told me Gennady Golovkin. So now I have to beat his ass for that," Martirosyan said with a laugh. More seriously, Martirosyan is excited to have the fight. It is obvious in his voice.
"We are very blessed to have this opportunity," he said. "We can't wait. This is what we dream about, having a fight like this. I am just so excited and every day I have a big smile on my face. I will get to show the world where I belong in this sport. It's a perfect fight for Cinco de Mayo because it is going to be two guys -- Mexican-style fighters -- going head to head. It will be a perfect show for the boxing fans."
When Martirosyan was first rumored as one of the potential Alvarez replacements, his inclusion on that list was viewed as a joke to many. When he actually got the fight, criticism erupted, primarily for three reasons: He was a junior middleweight moving up in weight to face the most fearsome middleweight on the planet; he was coming off a loss; and he had not fought in two years, even though part of the reason was because other fights had fallen out.
Nonetheless, Martirosyan (36-3-1, 21 KOs), 32, was viewed as such a weak opponent for Golovkin that the IBF, which sanctions one of the three major world titles GGG holds, refused to approve the fight. That belt won't be at stake.
"I've got this opportunity to shock the world. I'm not fighting a robot. GGG is human and he is beatable." Vanes Martirosyan
But Martirosyan couldn't care less what the IBF, any fan or media member thinks about his chances. His only goal is to give it his best effort and go for what would be an upset for the ages.
"I am excited to show everyone how good I can be," Martirosyan said. "I feel so fresh and strong. Fans and Gennady will be amazed."
Martirosyan's layoff was not entirely his fault or even that of promoter Don King. Martirosyan had various fights fall out, including what was supposed to be a junior middleweight title eliminator on March 17 on the Jose Ramirez-Amir Imam undercard. Martirosyan was supposed to fight Maciej Sulecki but he pulled out not long before the bout in order to accept a higher-profile and far more lucrative fight at middleweight against Daniel Jacobs, which Sulecki lost by decision Saturday.
"We were supposed to fight in June (2017) and then it was March and (Sulecki) pulled out," Martirosyan said. "Then they told me I was fighting March 29, then it was April 9 -- guys just kept falling out and we just stayed in the gym. When we got the call for the fight they asked me if I could be 176 (pounds a few days later) and I weighed in that day at 174 or 175 (for a WBC weight check). One week before the fight we came in at 167 so we are in shape and we are good to go.
"My trainer Edmond (Tarverdyan) always tells me 'fight or no fight, stay in the gym and stay sharp. It doesn't matter if you don't have a fight.' I know some fighters when they don't have a fight they just stay home chillin' till they get the call to go in the gym. We are always in the gym and always around boxing. We were happy to get the call and ready to go."
Loeffler was pleased he was able to make a deal with King so quickly and that Martirosyan was ready and willing to fight.
"There were names that we went through, and I have to say I can't compliment Vanes and his team enough for had he not signed the contract in two or three days HBO would have said 'this is too late for us to effectively promote and market a fight on HBO,'" Loeffler said. "Some people point to the fact he hasn't fought for two years but he was ready, willing and able. There were three different fights that fell out, and Don King had chronicled that he was ready to fight the opponents. And he is local here in the Los Angeles area. He has huge support from the Armenian community here and was very effective in doing interviews. There is a lot of respect on both sides and this event was really saved by HBO agreeing to show this fight."
With no disrespect to Golovkin or Loeffler, Martirosyan's aim is to put on the best performance of his career, ruin the plans for the possibility of the Golovkin-Alvarez rematch being rescheduled for September and to shock the world.
"I just want to say one thing about Golovkin and Tom and his camp -- this is the first time in my life that I have seen gentlemen and everything has been so classy with everything, with the promotion and the press and everybody," he said. "There is no cursing trying to promote the fight. Everybody knows how big this fight is for me and for GGG. He's going for a record and I'm also going for a record -- to beat the baddest man on the planet. Just the thought of that alone is amazing.
"I have no excuses. People talk about taking the fight on short notice but we are ready. You could wake me up in my sleep and I am ready to fight. I've been doing this since I was 7 years old. We have been waiting for an opportunity like this and we are happy that Tom Loeffler and GGG (offered) it. I'm not afraid of Gennady. I'm psyched to fight him. This is why I became a fighter. I'm not the only one taking this fight on short notice. Everyone has a soft spot. I'll find his. I have no fear."