Fighters returning from lengthy absences often prefer a tuneup appearance and the proverbial steppingstone to help shake off possible ring rust.
Vanes Martirosyan opted for a radically different approach in his return from a two-year layoff. Moreover, Martirosyan will step into a lion’s den of challenges.
The former junior-middleweight contender will face middleweight champion Gennady Golovkin Saturday night in Carson, California. Golovkin, who was scheduled to face Saul “Canelo” Alvarez in a rematch of their first fight last September, accepted Martirosyan as a late replacement two weeks ago.
Alvarez withdrew after testing positive for a banned performance enhancing substance in his native Mexico that resulted in an eventual suspension by the Nevada State Athletic Commission.
“I was able to take advantage of the opportunity because I never left the gym, even when previously scheduled fights kept falling through,” Martirosyan said. “I would take a week off and then return to the gym.”
Martirosyan (36-3-1, 21 KOs) acknowledges the frustrations of not fighting since losing a unanimous decision against former 154-pound champion Erislandy Lara in May 2016.
“It was hard but I never lost faith,” Martirosyan said. “A good fighter stays ready, stays in shape. How many times have we heard that about an opponent falling out and a replacement getting that golden ticket to fight for a world title?”
However, if Martirosyan were to cash in on the golden ticket, it will require a monumental task. A six-year titleholder, Golovkin (37-0-1, 33 KOs) is considered one of the sport’s top pound-for-pound fighters. Golovkin is the prohibitive favorite to retain his belt Saturday and a victory will tie Bernard Hopkins’ record of 20 successful middleweight title defenses.
“I’m not afraid of Gennady, I’m psyched to fight him,” Martirosyan said. “I’m not the only one taking this fight on short notice. Everyone has a soft spot. I’ll find his.
“Fate has reached out to me and I am ready to seize the moment. You can never plan for something like this but you can be prepared and that’s why I never left the gym.”
In addition to a new opponent, Golovkin moved the fight to an alternate venue for the May 5 date he and his team eagerly wanted to save. Golovkin and Alvarez were scheduled to fight in Las Vegas in a pay-per-view event but when the fight fell through, the bout against Martirosyan was switched to Carson.
Jacobs earns unanimous win
Late Saturday, middleweight contender Daniel Jacobs remained in the mix for another title fight following his hard-fought unanimous decision win against Poland’s Maciej Sulecki at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York.
Jacobs (34-2) was effective with solid combination to the head. Sulecki stood his ground, however, and scored with left hooks and rights to the head.
An exchange of combinations early in the 12th round provided Jacobs the opening to secure the victory, when he dropped Sulecki with a right to the head for the fight’s only knockdown. Sulecki (26-1) reached his feet and gamely pressed the action until the bout’s closing seconds.
All three judges scored the bout for Jacobs, 116-111, 117-110 and 115-112.
Jacobs, 31, will now set his sights on the Golovkin-Martirosyan bout. Jacobs lost a close unanimous decision against Golovkin last year, ending Golovkin’s 23-knockout victory streak.
Friday (10:30 p.m., ESPN2): Ryan Garcia vs. Jayson Velez, 10, junior-lightweights.
Saturday (11 p.m., HBO): Gennady Golovkin vs. Vanes Martirosyan, 12, for Golovkin’s IBF, WBA and WBC middleweight titles.