Vanes Martirosyan's next opponent was unveiled recently, but once again it was who the Glendale-based light middleweight isn't going to fight that has dominated story lines.
Martirosyan has agreed to fight Ryan Davis, but only after his camp turned down a proposed World Boxing Council light middleweight title eliminator bout in early May against Erislandy Lara that effectively ends Martirosyan's protracted pursuit of a world title through the WBC for the foreseeable future.
"It's frustrating because we were OK with the Lara fight, it's just that [the WBC doesn't] want to put it on paper that it's a final eliminator," said Martirosyan (32-0, 20 knockouts), the former WBC No. 1 contender, who is currently ranked third by the WBC and has been seeking a title shot against WBC champion Saul "Canelo" Alvarez. "We already fought a couple of eliminators. ...We felt like they're just playing games.
"I don't think they ever want to have me fight Canelo."
Instead, Martirosyan will need to find another title to set his sights on, but in the meantime the clash with Davis (24-9, nine KOs) is currently scheduled for the undercard of the Julio Cesar Chavez, Jr.-Andy Lee WBC middleweight title match on June 16 at the Sun Bowl in El Paso.
Martirosyan's uncle and manager Serge Martirosyan, who had tried unsuccessfully to get Martirosyan into the ring against Chavez, Jr. on June 16, said talks with Top Rank Promotions are still underway to possibly move the fight with Davis to the undercard of the Nonito Donaire-Jeffrey Mathebula bout on July 7 at the Home Depot Center in Carson.
"We didn't have any other choice," Serge Martirosyan said of why Martirosyan is fighting Davis. "The main reason [we turned down Lara] was because [the WBC] wouldn't sign any binders that would say the winner of that fight would fight Canelo. They were not going up on the money and they were not giving us any kind of a binder. I told them either there should be a binder with the money they are offering us or give us more money with no binder. They are doing everything they can to protect Canelo."
The Lara (16-1-1, 11 KOs) proposal was not the first eliminator Martirosyan was required to successfully pass in order to get a WBC title shot, nor was it the first he turned down.
Martirosyan beat Saul Roman on June 4, 2011 in what, at the time, his camp believed to be a championship eliminator fight. Serge Martirosyan said that after the fight, the WBC backtracked and instead claimed the fight was a semifinal eliminator. In Sept. 2011, Martirosyan was asked to fight Alfredo Angulo in another eliminator, but his camp refused the fight. Serge Martirosyan said they turned down the Angulo fight because it was in Angulo's homeland of Mexico, Martirosyan's head trainer Freddie Roach was not available to prepare him for the fight and Martirosyan was at the time embroiled in a negotiation to buy out his contract from former manager Steven Feder.
James Kirkland then fought and defeated Angulo on Nov. 5, 2011 before beating Carlos Molina in a semifinal eliminator on March 24 to achieve No. 2 contender status, setting up a final eliminator between himself and Martirosyan, which was scuttled when it was revealed Kirkland had suffered a shoulder injury in beating Molina.
Serge Martirosyan said that Kirkland would be a better opponent for his nephew than Lara, who has ascended to No. 1 contender status in the WBC.
"We could have waited for Kirkland in September," Serge Martirosyan said. "Why not wait to fight Kirkland in September? He was [the] No. 2 [contender].
"Nobody wants to fight Lara. The main reason, he's a counter-puncher, Cuban-style boxing — he's going to make you look very bad — and he doesn't have a fan base. Kirkland, you get a fan base, there's a lot of people watching the fight and you get a fan base off of beating him."
Kirkland was then tabbed to challenge Alvarez for the title on Sept. 15 at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, but he withdrew from the bout on Friday after experiencing discomfort in his shoulder while training.
For his part, however, Martirosyan said, with all issues of money and guaranteed title shots aside, he would have welcomed the challenge of fighting Lara.
"I think it [would be] one of the toughest fights for me, but at the same time, I could beat Lara," Martirosyan said. "It's a good fight, I think the fans would love to see it, but it would have been the toughest fight of my career for sure.
"I told Serge and my dad I would love to fight and they tried to tell me, 'You've got to be smart and we have to make a business choice because the only way you're going to make money is if you fight for a title.' I took their advice, but if you ask me, I wanted to fight."
While Kirkland's withdrawal would appear to reopen the door to a title shot for Martirosyan, given his WBC ranking and Alvarez' sudden need for an opponent, Vanes Martirosyan said he's been through this dance too many times to get excited.
"I'm not even going to pay attention to it until it gets done," he said of the possibility of replacing Kirkland on Sept. 15. "The WBC keeps going back and forth. I hope I get the shot, but I'm not getting my hopes up."
In absence of a WBC shot, Martirosyan's best option for pursuing another major world title would appear to be the World Boxing Organization, where he is currently the No. 2 contender behind Kirkland. Russian Zaurbek Baysangurov (27-1, 20 KOs) is the current WBO champion and has never fought in the United States, having fought primarily in the Ukraine and Germany.
Serge Martirosyan said that after the Davis fight, he plans to meet with Top Rank brass to outline the next big move for Vanes, hopefully an impact fight in September or October.
"It has to mean something, either money or name," Serge Martirosyan said.