SOUTHEAST GLENDALE — Glendale-based lightweight boxer Art "Lionheart" Hovhannisyan is quick to acknowledge that tonight is the most important night of his career so far and he has trained accordingly.
"It's the biggest fight in my career, so it's the [longest] camp I've had in my life," said Hovhannisyan, who has trained for tonight's 10-round clash with Miguel Acosta under the guidance of Glendale Fighting Club proprietor Edmond Tarverdyan. "I'm ready for a fight and I'm hungry for a fight because my last fight was last August. I'm ready for 'Showtime.'"
Hovhannisyan (14-0-2 with eight knockouts) is set to do battle in the televised main event of tonight's "Shobox" card on Showtime emanating from the Chumash Casino in Santa Ynez, where, with a win, he could see his career accelerate quickly after it's been stuck in neutral since his last fight on Aug. 5, 2011, with his last victory coming nearly two months earlier.
The opportunity comes with some degree of risk, however, as Acosta (29-5-2, 23 KOs) is the most accomplished and perhaps most dangerous of the fighters the 30-year-old native of Gyumri, Armenia has faced in his six-year professional career.
The 34-year-old Acosta, a native Venezuelan who fights out of Caracas, is a multiple-time former world champion, holding the World Boxing Assn. World lightweight title belt as recently as Feb., 2011 and has fared quite well against undefeated fighters in the past, having handed three opponents their first pro losses.
"I don't really care who my opponent is," Hovhannisyan said. "We've worked on my physical speed and my power so I can prove on Friday I'm better than him. Everybody will see.
"It's a big name for me, but I don't think it's going to be a hard fight because I know he's a top fighter and he's smart, but if he [lets] down one time I will get him down."
Hovhannisyan fought to a four-round technical draw with Cristobal Cruz in his last fight after beating Archie Ray Marquez via convincing sixth-round knockout in his previous outing. Both fights were held at Chumash.
Since then, Hovhannisyan has been working with a new strength and conditioning coach, and sparred often with former WBA Super World light welterweight champion Amir Khan during his training camp.
"He's looking very good, we had a great training camp," Tarverdyan said. "He's been training really, really hard, harder than ever.
"We had him spar with Amir Khan because both of them had big fights in front of them. It was a war when they sparred together, but it was great for both of them because they both prepared really well going head to head together."
It's likely that Tarverdyan hoped Khan, who was stopped in the fourth round on Saturday by Danny Garcia in his bid to reclaim his WBA title, could provide a passable simulation of Acosta in as much as both have a slight size advantage over Hovhannisyan.
Acosta reached his zenith with back-to-back wins over undefeated fighters Urbano Antillon (July 25, 2009) and Paulus Moses (May 29, 2010), stopping Antillon via technical knockout in the ninth round to claim the WBA belt before knocking out Moses in the sixth in his first defense of the title.
"He's [beat three] undefeated fighters that tried to get a title away from him," Tarverdyan said. "We know that he's a little bit of a bigger guy than Art, but it's an opportunity that's a big name. We had to take the fight."
Acosta's next defense on Feb. 26, 2001 resulted in a 10th-round TKO loss to undefeated Brandon Rios, Acosta's first loss in 19 fights since Oct., 2003. He rebounded with an easy win on Sept. 30, 2011 over Luiz Cardoza, who was 3-31-1 at the time, before losing a 12-round decision to Richard Abril for the WBA title on Oct. 22, 2011.
Now, just as Hovhannisyan is looking to use Acosta as a stepping stone to his first world title shot, Acosta enters the ring hoping a win over Hovhannisyan can vault him right back into the title picture.
"We believe [Hovhannisyan] is a tough fighter," Acosta's trainer Julio Peña said. "We don't know what kind of strategy he has, but we believe he's the perfect guy for where we need to go now, that's why we took the fight.
"We've just come here to do a job and the best man will win, but [Acosta] knows he needs a big fight and he's going to do everything possible to win, one way or another."