Boxing: Willie Nelson

New style suits Martirosyan well

October, 7, 2014
10/07/14
2:13
PM ET

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.

[+] EnlargeVanes Martirosyan, Willie Nelson
Ed Diller for ESPNVanes Martirosyan, right, scored a much needed win against Willie Nelson last Saturday.
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.”

Nelson squares off with Grajeda on FNF

August, 7, 2014
8/07/14
3:20
PM ET
Exciting junior middleweight Willie Nelson makes his return to ESPN's "Friday Night Fights" when he headlines a card from Fallon, Nevada.

Nelson (22-1-1, 13 KOs) will face Mexico's Luis Grajeda (17-2-2, 13 KOs) in a 10-round bout (ESPN2, 9 p.m. ET) at the Churchill County Fairgrounds.

Out of action for nearly a year because of left elbow surgery, Nelson, of Cleveland, Ohio, returned in June on the Miguel Cotto-Sergio Martinez undercard at Madison Square Garden in New York to drill Darryl Cunningham in the first round.

The victory over Cunningham was Nelson's sixth straight dating back to the lone loss of his career, in 2011 by majority decision against Vincent Arroyo. Nelson rebounded from that loss to score victories over name fighters such as Cuba's Yudel Johnson, John Jackson, Michael Medina and Luciano Cuello of Argentina.

"Willie [Nelson] is knocking on the door to a world title opportunity and an impressive performance against the hard-punching Grajeda moves him in that direction," promoter Lou DiBella said.

With a victory on Friday, a title fight could be in Nelson's future in the second half of 2014.

Nelson was forced to pull out of a December HBO date against Matthew Macklin due to his injured elbow. He also missed an opportunity to face James Kirkland.

Grajeda represents a hard-hitting and dangerous opponent for Nelson. Grajeda has good size and wingspan and has never been down in his career despite two defeats, including a 2010 loss to unbeaten Jermell Charlo.

He usually sets the distance with his jab and fights behind a high guard. While attacking, Grajeda looks to exploit his long wingspan and launch combinations with long hooks.

But if Grajeda has good height and wingspan for the division, Nelson surpasses him in both areas. At 6-foot-3 with a wingspan of 81 inches, Nelson gives off comparisons to Paul Williams for his size and fighting style as a junior middleweight.

Nelson's style of constant pressure makes the most of natural advantages by constantly using jabs and overhand rights from a distance. But when he enters close range, he often doubles up his hooks with both hands. Nelson has power, but he sometimes gets in trouble when quicker opponents close the distance.

In the co-feature battle, unbeaten Hungarian super middleweight Norbert Nemesapati (14-0, 13 KOs), 18, makes his U.S. debut against dangerous puncher Jason Escalera (14-2-1, 12 KOs) of Union City, New Jersey.

The opening bout of the card will showcase the professional debut of touted Chinese heavyweight Zhang Zhilei, an Olympic silver medalist in 2008, who will face American Curtis Lee Tate (7-4, 6 KOs) in a four-round bout.

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