Martirosian bows out to Cuban veteran

Los Angeles Daily News, CA
Pasadena Star-News, CA
Aug 20 2004

Martirosian bows out to Cuban veteran

Of course, it had to be a Cuban.

That’s the way it’s gone more often than not for the U.S. boxing team
in recent Olympics. Some Cuban fighting gray at the temples schooling
some U.S. boxer fresh from earning his learner’s permit.

The boxing program on that little tropical island remains one of the
hottest in the world. The once great amateur program in the U.S.,
cold as ice.

Since the 1988 Olympics the U.S. has won a grand total of two boxing
gold medals. Meanwhile, Cuba brought home 13.

Nothing is expected to change here. Cuba is favored to advance six
boxers to the finals and the U.S. maybe one.

So it came Thursday afternoon that the USA’s Vanes Martirosian drew
Cuba’s Lorenzo Aragon in his second-round match.

Aragon owns cigars older than Martirosian. He’s 30 and has won two
world championships. One more serious Cuban boxing veteran.

Understand, in Cuba they don’t turn pro. Their best boxers just keep
appearing at Olympics and world championships. They get better and
better until deemed too old and replaced by the next 28-year-old

Fidel Castro may be on his last legs, communism crumbling, the Cuban
economy in shambles, but the country’s boxing remains a regular world

On the surface, Thursday offered the biggest of mismatches. A few
months ago, no one in the U.S. even knew Martirosian. He was 17 years
old and ranked 14th nationally at 152 pounds when he went to trials.

But with two of the top boxers in his weight class disqualified Andre
Berto for throwing Juan McPherson to the ground, forcing McPherson
out with an injury Martirosian turned it on and stunned just about
everyone by winning the welterweight class.

Martirosian was born in Armenia and came to the U.S. at age 4 with
his family. He’s now the pride of Glendale’s swelling Armenian
community, but all logic pointed to his being outclassed against

Martirosian entered the ring first. You figured his knees might be
shaking. He won his first Olympic bout against Algeria’s Benamar
Meskine, but Aragon was a whole other level.

“I wasn’t nervous,’ Martirosian said. “I just love boxing so much, I
can’t wait to get into the ring.’

Martirosian talks about boxing with the kind of enthusiasm most
teenagers reserve for PlayStation 2. And he clearly was not afraid of
the veteran.

But Aragon is a serious veteran, and looked it. Apparently the judges
thought so, too.

He scored early and often with punches that barely seem to graze the
kid. He’d tie Martirosian up, then stick his arms out straight like
it was the kid holding him.

Several times Martirosian was warned by the official from Lestho (a
small South African country) not to hold.

“He was holding and I was getting called for it,’ Martirosian said.
“It was frustrating. He was trying to get into my head, but I stuck
to my game plan.’

He had fought and lost to Aragon once before in May, starting well
but getting a little too excited and allowing the Cuban to score
easily with jabs.

This time out, it went the other way. In the electronic scoring
system in the Olympics, a point is scored for each blow landed,
regardless of its power.

Aragon jumped to a quick 8-2 lead after the first round. Martirosian
scored the first two points of the second, and Aragon the last six.

A 14-4 lead is huge in this four- round format. Still, Martirosian
kept up the pressure and actually won the next round 4-3 and split
the final round.

That ended his dreams of gold, the Cuban advancing with a 20-11

“I thought he scored more points than he did,’ said U.S. coach
Basheer Aboullah.

“I wanted that one. I thought if he beat the Cuban we could really
build some momentum for the rest of the tournament.’

Aragon, the 2003 and 2001 world champion, acted like it was so much
in a day’s work. At least a Cuban boxer’s work.

“We Cubans are always optimistic because we are the best team,’
Aragon said. “We aim at getting gold at all 11 weight classes.’

Martirosian made Aragon look like a very beatable fighter. He landed
the hardest blow of the bout, staggering Aragon with a right. But the
official warned him for slapping. Must have been some slap.

“He showed me a lot of respect this time,’ Martirosian said. “He knew
I hit hard. I caught him good in the first round.’

Now he gets to play cheerleader for his surviving U.S. teammates.
Typically, boxers use the Olympics as a springboard to a pro career,
but Martirosian now 18 isn’t so sure.

“I’m still young,’ he said. “I’m still going to get better. He’s 30
years old. You might see me in 2008, who knows?

“To me, it’s not about the money. I just love amateur boxing.’

The pros do offer one major advantage, though. No Cubans.

From: Emil Lazarian | Ararat NewsPress