LAS VEGAS — Vanes Martirosyan and Erislandy Lara's rivalry started as a war of words and, unfortunately for the aspirations of both fighters and fans in attendance at the Wynn Resort in Las Vegas Saturday night, the first meeting between the two rising light middleweight stars ended as little more.
The anticlimax of the HBO "Boxing After Dark" World Boxing Council light middleweight title eliminator saw both fighters trading insults, barbs and boasts through a microphone, over a chorus of boos, of what they would have done if only the main-event fight had been allowed to run its 12-round course.
That ceased to be a possibility when Martirosyan's left eye was split wide open by an accidental head butt from the Cuban southpaw with 29 seconds elapsed in the ninth round and the decision went to the judges' score cards. The development was met with no small voice of displeasure from the crowd, but that reaction paled in comparison to the collective groan that went up when a technical draw was announced.
"I feel great," Martirosyan (32-0-1, 20 KOs), a Glendale resident, told HBO interviewer Max Kellerman in the ring following the decision. "It sucks about the head butt. Our plan was to come on later on because he gets tired. The last round I kind of took off and wanted to finish strong, but unfortunately the head butt happened."
In addition to providing Martirosyan with the first blemish on his pro record, and furthering Lara's reputation as a fighter who can't get the benefit of the doubt from the judges when a big fight is on the line, there is now no clear No. 1 contender for the WBC belt held by Saul Alvarez, who was mandated by the WBC to fight the winner of Saturday's fight.
Both fighters expressed a desire for a prompt rematch.
"One-hundred percent," Martirosyan said of fighting Lara (17-1-2, 11 KOs) again. "As soon as the stitches come out, I'm going to rematch."
Judge Jerry Roth scored the fight, 86-85, in favor of Martirosyan, Ricardo Ocasio had it 87-84 for Lara and Dave Moretti failed to break the deadlock when he called it an even draw. The News-Press had the fight scored 76-76 in favor of Martirosyan heading into the ninth round.
"We can continue it right now," Lara said to Kellerman. "In the final few rounds, I was going to hit him and he was going down."
Both fighters had each done their fair share of hyping the animosity in the run up to the fight, with Martirosyan baiting Lara with verbal insults in the media and Lara shoving Martirosyan after the two exchanged words at Friday's weigh-in.
But early in the fight, Martirosyan tried to box from the middle of the ring and keep Lara at a mid-range distance while working his jab and straight right. Martirosyan opened up with some effective combos, but early on it was Lara landing more punches, although he would quickly retreat from each attack.
Both fighters were warned be referee Jay Nady early in the third after getting tangled up and Lara began to have some success with his jab as Martirosyan was forced into some awkward lunging counter-punches.
In the fourth round, Martirosyan was caught with a low blow and went down to both knees wincing in pain.
"He's kind of a dirty fighter," Martirosyan said. "[He hit me with] a couple low blows, he keeps coming in with his head, he's good with stuff like that."
The shot drew an admonishment from Nady, but no deduction, although it seemed to invigorate Martirosyan into closing the round strong.
"He said I'm not a good fighter, but they have never taken a point from me in my entire life," Lara said.
Lara came out quickly in the fifth with a clean combo before Martirosyan drove him back into a corner and connected with a flurry of punches. Martirosyan was no longer chasing Lara around the ring, instead working angles to cut off his retreat against the ropes and trying to set him up for straight rights.
Lara had a cut under his left eye by the early stages of the seventh round, but won the round when he began to successfully counter Martirosyan's misses with shots of his own.
"Vanes is a great fighter, but I hit him with everything that I wanted to," Lara said.
Lara seemed to be hurt by a body-to-head combo from Martirosyan early in the eighth round.
"It was a close fight, but he ran all night," Martirosyan said. "This is not the amateurs, this is the professionals and he was running all night."
"[Trainer] Freddie [Roach] was telling me to keep pressing the action, keep putting pressure on him. He was running all night, it was tough to catch him. He's good for the amateurs, getting points and running, that's all he was doing."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun