ATHENS (AP)–Vanes Martirosyan erased any doubts about the legitimacy of his spot in Athens–battering Algeria’s Benamar Meskine in a 45-20 victory in the preliminaries Sunday to earn a second-round match with Cuba’s Lorenzo Aragon.
"I finished like a champion,"said Martirosyan–an Armenian-born 18-year-old from Glendale–Calif. "I could have won another four rounds–to tell you the truth. I felt so good out there.”
Martirosyan showed the power and flair of a contender–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 boxing venue–which hosts more than 20 fights every day of the preliminaries.
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 mediocre four-medal haul four years ago in Sydney.
"We’re a great team–we’re in great shape and we’re going to bring a lot of medals home,"Martirosyan said.
Martirosyan was one fight from elimination at the US team trials in February in Tunica–Miss.–but the two top contenders were disqualified when Andre Berto threw Juan McPherson to the canvas–injuring McPherson’s neck. McPherson was medically disqualified–and Berto was banned for his actions.
Though he caught a lucky break–Martirosyan made the most of it by earning an Olympic spot in the ensuing qualifying tournamen’s. Berto–from Winter Haven–Fla.–made the Olympics anyway on Haiti’s team–but Martirosyan beat Berto in a subsequent tourney.
"A lot of boxing fans and people in our organization were very well aware of Vanes,"US coach Basheer Abdullah said. "There were a lot of predictions that he was going to make this team. He was very–very aggressive today. He dictated what was happening in the fight.”
Martirosyan was cheered at Peristeri Olympic Boxing Hall by his father–Norik–a former amateur fighter who moved his family to California when Vanes was 4; his younger brother–Vatche; his uncle and his cousin–and a bunch of fans from Glendale who showed up unannounced–waving Armenian and American flags.
Aragon–whose victory over Greece’s Theodoros Kotakos was stopped on points in the third round–will be a stiff test for Martirosyan on Thursday. The 1996 Olympic featherweight is a two-time world champion as a welterweight–and he beat Martirosyan in the Athens Test Event in May.
But Martirosyan was slugging point-for-point with Aragon until the fourth round–when Martirosyan says he got overexcited by the prospect of an upset.
"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."
After a slow first minute against Meskine–Martirosyan landed the first of many shots to the Algerian’s head. Martirosyan then staggered him with a beautiful left hand early in the third round.
That punch effectively ended the fight. Meskine retreated to full-scale defense while Martirosyan chased. Martirosyan scored 16 points in the final round–putting his whole body behind his blows in a vain effort to flatten Meskine.
Perhaps that Armenian instinct hasn’t completely been coached out of him–and it will serve him well as a professional.
But first things first: Martirosyan finished third in the Athens Test Event–and he isn’t keen on keeping that prize.
"I brought that bronze medal back so I could take the gold,"he said.