Latin Fury Colts

BY George Kimball ON June 23, 2009
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The participants in the four televised bouts on Top Rank’s PPV show at Atlantic City’s Boardwalk Hall Saturday night are from eight different nations. Although the card is being billed as “Latin Fury 9,” only three of the eight headliners are from Spanish-speaking countries -- and should Imperial Hank follow Boardwalk equine tradition and drown Jorge Arce in the Atlantic Ocean Thursday morning, Latin Fury’s Latino Quotient could be down to two.

In a 1931 episode subsequently immortalized in the film “Wild Hearts Can’t Be Broken,” 24 year-old Sonora Webster plunged off a tower and into an 11-foot swimming pool while astride a horse named Red Lips. Red Lips reportedly dove like Jorge Arce fights, which is to say awkwardly. Although both horse and rider landed in the pool, Ms. Webster, who was fond of watching her horse’s shadow during the descent, hit the water face-first with her eyes open, incurred two detached retinas and was blinded for life.

Arce, a jockey-sized former 115-pound champion from Mexico, will attempt to emulate Sonora Webster Thursday morning by galloping up the Boardwalk aboard a New Jersey-bred nag named Imperial Hank. Although no flying leaps into the ocean are on the agenda, with the fun-loving Arce you never know, and should the publicity stunt devolve into a horse-bites-man story Bob Arum probably won’t even be surprised. (Ed. Note: JuanMa rode the horse on the boardwalk on Thursday.) That’s just about the only injury that hasn’t yet visited this star-crossed card.

Originally, remember, this was going to be Kelly Pavlik vs. Sergio Mora, but that bout was scrapped when the middleweight champion came down with a staph infection. Paulie Malignaggi was going to fight undefeated Coloradan Mike Alvarado, but that one fell apart with an injury to Alvarado, and Paulie, rather than face a substitute, signed to fight Juan Diaz instead. Fernando Montiel’s bantamweight title defense against Eric Morel also blew up when Montiel hurt his hand sparring.

Arce (51-5-1 and coming off a one-sided butt-kicking at the hands of Vic Darchinyan) was actually supposed to be riding a Mexican horse in Tijuana last Saturday night, but with the participants dropping like flies, Arum figured that it would be a good idea to have a couple of actual Latins on Latin Fury 9, and transferred Arce’s bout against Fernando Lumacad to Atlantic City.

Described as a “Filipino Fireball,” Lumacad is 19-1-2, but will be fighting outside his homeland for the first time. In introducing him, Arum said Lumacad was from Manila, and when an interpreter pointed out that he was actually from General Santos City, the hometown of a somewhat more prominent Filipino boxer, the promoter quickly recovered, saying “I just didn’t want to scare Jorge.”

Actually, the thought had already occurred to the Lollipop Kid anyway:  “When I told my friends in Mexico I was fighting a guy from the Philippines, they all said ‘Oh, no, not Manny Pacquiao!” revealed Arce.

Despite the wholesale defections, the multi-national array on the PPV show (the others are from Puerto Rico, Cameroon, Armenia, Ukraine, Belarus, and the United States) boasts a staggering aggregate record of 219-14-5.

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On August 22, 2004 I was at the Peristeri Boxing Hall in Greece when Vanes Martirosyan lost a decision to two-time wold champion Lorenzo Aragon of Cuba in a quarterfinal match of the Athens Games.  Aragon was a wily 30 year-old veteran, and Martirosyan had just turned 18 and was (behind Rau’shee Warren) the second-youngest member of the Ameican team, few had really expected him to win then, but it was a significant occasion nonetheless, because he hasn’t lost since.

Actually, no one, including Matrirosyan himself, had expected him to be even in Athens. Born in Armenia, he had moved to the United States at the age of four, and 13 years later his father had told him “Go ahead and go to the Olympic Trials, have some fun and get some experience, and hopefully you’ll be ready by the 2008 Olympics in China.”

Vanes was one bout away from elimination at the Trials that year, but then came the Andre Berto body-slam to Juan McPherson that knocked both guys off the US team. McPherson wound up in the hospital and Berto, disqualified, wound up fighting for Haiti, and the next thing he knew, Martirosyan was fighting his way through qualifiers to win a spot on the squad for Greece.

“The plan was still to aim for 2008, but then I started beating guys like (current world champions) Timothy Bradley and Andre Berto and I knew I could hold my own,” said Vanes. “So I decided to turn pro after the Olympics.”

He originally signed on at Freddie Roach’s Wild Card Gym, but left two years ago to train under Ronnie Shields in Houston. Then earlier this year, said Martirosyan, “I knew if I was going to get to the next level, Freddie was the guy to train me,” so he moved back to California.  He and fellow Roach disciples Pacquiao and Amir Khan share the same personal trainer, Alex Ariza, and are workout partners.

Although Roach’s stable has swelled with his burgeoning reputation, Matrorosyan doesn’t feel overlooked. In fact, he says he gets more quality time with the three-time trainer of the year now than he did in his first go-round at the Wild Card.

Roach had intended to be in London with Khan Saturday night, and even after Khan-Andres Kotelnik was postponed elected to remain in LA with Khan. The latest addition to Roach’s training staff, Jesse Reid, accompanied Martirosyan on the trip east.

The original plan had been that Michael Moorer would handle the Martirosyan corner for Saturday’s bout against Joe DeGuardia’s Andrey Tsurkan (25-4), but Roach’s already fragile relationship with the former heavyweight champion reached the boiling point a week ago, and last Friday Freddie showed Moorer the door.  Pfft.

Roach was already more than somewhat annoyed six weeks earlier when Jim Lampley claimed on the Pacquiao-Hatton telecast that Freddie had brought Moorer on board as a concession to his physical limitations as a result of his Parkinson’s Disease. It wasn’t true (Lampley was apparently repeating the fanciful brainstorm of a 24/7 producer), but neither did Moorer attempt to disabuse TV people of their assumption.

“I didn’t hire Michael Moorer because I was sick,” Roach told us then. “I hired him because he was broke and he needed a job.” But even then Moorer’s overbearing presence was wearing thin.

“He’d antagonized a lot of people in the gym,” confirmed Reid, who trained Gaby and Orlando Canizales and who was the chief second in Hector Camacho’s corner when he ended Sugar Ray Leonard’s career. “Personally, I like Michael, but many people find him difficult to get along with.”

Roach said last week that Moorer had alienated “five or six” boxers with whom he worked. Martirosyan says if so, he wasn’t one of them: “I liked his kind of ‘tough love,” said Vanes. I wasn’t uncomfortable with Michael, and I’m not uncomfortable with Jesse.”

Martirosyan is 24-0 as a pro, and his roots notwithstanding, will be more familiar to many Latio Fury watchers than some of the actual Latinos will.  A boxer serving his apprenticeship with Top Rank is bound to wind up on a lot of Spanish-language telecasts, and Vanes has been on at least half a dozen of them, where his action-packed style has resulted in some head-turning performances.

After he beat previously undefeated Michael Medina in Primm, Nev. last September, Martirosyan experienced an unsettling moment when he found himself surrounded by a small army of Mexican boxing fans.

“Then I realized they were my fans,” said Vanes. “Even though I was fighting a Mexican guy, they all knew me from television and they’d been cheering for me.”

In addition to handing Medina his first loss, Martirosyan has also established something of a yardstick for comparison against John Duddy foes. Before he knocked out Harrison Cuello in one last month, Martirosyan beat Billly Lyell two months before Lyell put the first ‘W’ on the popular Irishman’s record, and last November he had a KO1 of Charlie Howe, who had extended Duddy the distance five months earlier.

Tsurkan represents a step up over his usual fare, and if all goes well Saturday night, Martirosyan says he is prepared for even deeper waters.   Paul Williams, for example.

If fighting on a Latin Fury card is a new experience for Tsurkan, so, apparently, is fighting for Top Rank. The Ukraninan’s entire address at Wednesday’s New York press conference couldn’t have been more than 30 words long, but five of them were “I’d like to thank HBO.”

“It’s not on HBO!” shouted Arum, who looked ready to strangle him. 

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In the other fight on the PPV card, Belarus-born, New York-based rabbi-in-waiting Yuri Foreman (27-0) faces former Contender Cornelius (K-9) Bundrage of Detroit. Foreman, whom Tsurkan battled to a controversial split decision two years ago, will be fighting for the third consecutive time in Atlantic City, this time in a bout that has been designated an eliminator for the IBF 154-pound title. The 36 year-old Bundrage (29-4) beat former champion Kassim Ouma last year, an accomplishment that seemed more meaningful then than it does now – particularly in light of K-9’s performances in other fights in which has stepped up to a comparable level – he has lost to Grady Brewer, Joel Julio, and Steve Forbes, and was knocked out in one by Sechew Powell.

Saturday’s card was originally booked into the main arena at Boardwalk Hall, but when Pavlik-Mora went south it was moved to the more intimate Adrian Phillips Ballroom. In addition to the quartet of televised bouts, the 10-fight card includes a couple of interest. In one, Philadelphia junior welter Demetrius Hopkins (28-1) returns to the ring for the first time since dropping a split decision to Kendall Holt in last December’s WBO title fight, with Hector Munoz (18-2-1) of Albuquerque furnishing the opposition. In the another, 6-0 Russian middleweight  Matt Korobov will face 9-2-1 Mexican Benjamin Diaz.

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