Olympics: U.S. Boxer Vanes Martirosyan Advances

Associated Press Online
August 16, 2004 Monday

U.S. Boxer Vanes Martirosyan Advances

by GREG BEACHAM; AP Sports Writer

ATHENS, Greece

They began the year as teammates and competitors for the same spot on
the U.S. team. After a string of calamities that seems possible only
in the wild world of amateur boxing, they went to Athens as friendly
rivals hoping to fight each other for a medal. Of course, amateur
boxing got the last laugh.

U.S. welterweight Vanes Martirosyan got off to a promising start with
a first-round 45-20 victory over Algeria’s Benamar Meskine on Sunday.

But Andre Berto won’t join him. Berto, a Floridian fighting for his
parents’ native Haiti after being disqualified during the U.S. team
trials, lost a contentious 36-34 decision to former French world
champion Xavier Noel.

“We were hoping we could meet up at the end of the road, but I guess
it’s not happening,” Berto said.

American lightweight Vicente Escobedo joined Martirosyan and
middleweight Andre Dirrell in the second round Monday with an easy
30-10 win over Colombia’s Jose David Mosquera, keeping the U.S. squad
unbeaten. Light heavyweight Andre Ward and light welterweight Rock
Allen also drew byes into the second round.

Martirosyan, an 18-year-old from Glendale, Calif., was the
14th-ranked U.S. welterweight seven months ago, but rose to the
division’s upper echelon in the weeks before the team trials in
Tunica, Miss., last February.

That’s when Berto and Juan McPherson, the top two American prospects,
both were disqualified – Berto for misconduct after allegedly
throwing McPherson to the ground during their fight, and McPherson
because of his injured neck.

While Berto engaged in a protracted appeals process to clear his
name, Martirosyan filled the void with a series of victories and even
more wins in the qualifying events leading up to the Olympics.

When Berto’s appeals failed, the Miami-born fighter became Haiti’s
one-man boxing team, coached by American Tony Morgan and encouraged
by his former teammates – including Martirosyan, who was thinking
about Berto moments after he pulverized Meskine.

“I feel like there’s a reason I’m on one side (of the draw) and
Berto’s on the other,” Martirosyan said. “I just feel like in the
finals, we’re going to be together.”

But amateur boxing has little to do with emotion and power – both
strong suits for most American fighters. Since the rule changes
adopted in the wake of judging scandals and an increasing aversion to
violence, Olympic boxing is a technical sport of flurries and

While the taller Noel fought a prototypical amateur fight, Berto
wanted a brawl. Though he nearly rallied from a nine-point deficit in
the fourth round with a strong charge, Noel hung on for a decision
that was loudly jeered by fans.

“I thought I pulled it out, but I guess not,” Berto said. “I went
through a lot to get here, so I still think that’s a big
accomplishment. I fought my heart out. … I got here, man. I’m just
glad I got to participate in the opening ceremony. It’s a
once-in-a-lifetime type of thing.”

Martirosyan extended his Olympic hopes at least to Thursday, when
he’ll fight two-time world champion Lorenzo Aragon of Cuba.

The Armenian-born fighter showed the power and flair of a contender
in his opener, dictating the fight’s pace with a stiff jab and
opportunistic combinations. He also counterpunched effectively while
landing more shots to the head than almost any competitor so far at
the busy Peristeri Olympic Boxing Hall, which hosts more than 20
fights every day of the preliminaries.

While Berto’s exuberance hurt him against a skilled technical
fighter, Martirosyan battered Meskine with a series of early shots
before essentially finishing the fight with a devastating left to the
Algerian’s head early in the third round.

“We’re Armenian. We have this thing where we get a little bit out of
control in the ring,” Martirosyan said. “I love this sport so much.
The coaches have told me to calm down, just think about points
instead of trying to get the guy out of there.”

Two Americans received first-round byes, and five more will fight in
the next three days before the second round begins Wednesday. Tougher
fights still loom for a team that’s thought to be among the weakest
in the United States’ superb Olympic boxing history, but the boxers
believe they can improve on their four-medal haul four years ago in

“We’re a great team, we’re in great shape – and we’re going to bring
a lot of medals home,” Martirosyan said.