Vanes Martirosyan will never forget walking into promoter Dan Goossen’s office for the first time.
Coming off his first defeat against Demetrius Andrade in their vacant junior middleweight title bout last November -- and having recently been dropped by promoter Top Rank -- Martirosyan was at a crossroads moment of his career at age 27.
“[Dan] looked me straight in the eye and said, ‘You have so much talent -- let me help you out.’” Martirosyan told ESPN.com. “I believed him because he looked me straight in the eye when he talked to me. Then I got with [Dan’s brother and trainer] Joe [Goossen] and it was the same with him. It’s all a family with 100 percent honesty.
“When you get people that are 100 percent, you are going to get 100 percent of the results. Nobody believed in me after my loss, except for Dan.”
Less than a year later, Martirosyan scored his second straight win under the Goossen banner -- and the biggest of his career -- on Saturday when he outdueled Willie Nelson by unanimous decision in an action-packed bout at the Foxwoods Resort and Casino in Mashantucket, Connecticut.
Not only was the victory an integral one for Martirosyan (35-1-1, 21 KOs) in terms of his future as a title contender at 154 pounds, but the bout took on substantially more meaning following Dan Goossen’s death less than a week earlier after a short battle with liver cancer.
Martirosyan (35-1-1), a native of Armenia who fights out of Glendale, California, entered the bout unsure if going on with the fight was the right move. But it was a message relayed to him from Dan Goossen shortly before his death that spurred him on.
“What motivated me the most was that Dan, before he left, told Joe to make sure that we do good Saturday,” Martirosyan said. “So we had to grant his wish and we had to make him proud. That was one of the most motivational things that he said, and it helped me a lot.”
The combination of a heavy heart and a new attitude under the tutelage of Joe Goossen helped Martirosyan put forth a performance against Nelson that was atypical to what we have seen from him in the past.
This was an all-new Martirosyan -- a fighter focused on seizing the moment and bursting right through it.
After suffering a cut above his right eye in Round 4, he never wilted. Martirosyan not only hurt Nelson (23-2-1, 13 KOs) with a series of uppercuts and straight right hands late in Round 8, he came out of his corner the next round like a man possessed.
“I wanted to get into a brawl, to be honest,” Martirosyan said. “After Round 8, I thought about Corrales-Castillo for some reason having Joe in my corner.”
Joe Goossen was in Diego Corrales’ corner when he rallied to dramatically stop Jose Luis Castillo in their legendary first bout in 2005. He was also the trainer of record when John Molina did the same in the final round against Mickey Bey last year.
So the marriage between fighter and trainer would appear to be a perfect one when you consider Martirosyan, once a standout amateur who represented the United States at the 2004 Olympics, has had difficulty fulfilling his potential on the pro level.
Both in his loss to Andrade, in which Martirosyan scored a first-round knockdown, and his 2012 draw with Erislandy Lara, he was plagued by stretches of passive inactivity. That has changed under the influence of Joe Goossen, who has long preached an attacking style.
“It’s all Joe Goossen. I used to just box and move, but Joe is making me become a complete fighter,” Martirosyan said. “I think working with Joe is going to make me more action-packed and smarter, with more knockouts.
“One thing he always talks about is [fighting with] balls. He always asks me, ‘Do you have your mouthpiece? Do you have your cup? Do you have your balls?’”
Martirosyan’s turn to a more exciting style should also help him get him the fights he desires against the very best in the division. His short list includes Austin Trout, rematches against Lara and Andrade, or a showdown with Canelo Alvarez.
“This is boxing, and we are warriors. People pay to see us fight and want to see a good fight,” said Martirosyan, who is managed by Al Haymon. “[Canelo] comes forward to fight and, as you guys saw Saturday, I come forward. It will be action-packed and something the fans would love -- something like Castillo-Corrales, maybe.”
There’s a reason why Martirosyan has referred to his new alliance with the Goossen family as a second chance for his career. He claims the loss to Andrade showed him “who my true friends are, including some family members,” leading him to keep a much smaller inner circle these days.
It’s that family atmosphere within camp that has allowed Martirosyan to blossom and begin to find out how good he can be. There’s a feeling of trust that is tangible. For the first time against Nelson, Martirosyan entered a fight feeling like he was fully prepared, which simply wasn’t the case under former trainer Freddie Roach.
“No disrespect to Freddie, but he always had to go and train Manny Pacquiao or Miguel Cotto,” Martirosyan said. “So I never had 100 percent focus in my training. Now that I do, I see the difference. Joe puts 100 percent of his time into me, and that’s why you saw a good performance on Saturday, and you are going to see more in the future.”