Junior middleweight titlist Erislandy Lara and contender Vanes Martirosyan are quite familiar with each other.
In November 2012, they met in a world title elimination bout that was one of the worst fights of recent years, an action-free snoozer in which neither fighter did much.
Viewers were finally put out of their misery when the fight was called early in the ninth round and sent to the scorecards for a technical decision because Martirosyan had suffered a bad cut over his left eye from an accidental head butt and was unable to continue. The result was apropos: a split draw.
The fighters went their separate ways. Lara is 5-1 since, has won a world title, has made three successful defenses, and has lost only a split decision to Canelo Alvarez in a 2014 nontitle bout.
Martirosyan is 4-2 since, but he lost a decision to Demetrius Andrade for a vacant belt and a 10-round decision to fellow contender Jermell Charlo 14 months ago. Martirosyan then beat former titlist Ishe Smith in September and finds himself with another big opportunity — a title shot against Lara.
They will meet again Saturday (Showtime, 9 p.m. ET) at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas in the main event of a tripleheader of junior middleweight title fights featuring five of the top six fighters in the division, according to the ESPN.com divisional rankings.
“I’m looking forward to this fight. I’m very excited to fight and it’s time to put a period on the fight and end it. And show everybody why I’m the best 154-pounder in the world.”
In the co-feature, Jermall Charlo (23-0, 18 KOs),26, of Houston, will make his second title defense when he faces former titlist Austin Trout (30-2, 17 KOs),30, of Las Cruces, New Mexico. In the opener, Jermell Charlo (27-0, 12 KOs),26, of Houston, attempts to join twin brother Jermall as a world titleholder when he meets the Virgin Island’s John Jackson (20-2, 15 KOs),27, son of former two-division titleholder Julian Jackson. They will vie for one of the junior middleweight belts Floyd Mayweather vacated when he retired last fall.
For Martirosyan (36-2-1, 21 KOs),of Glendale, California, it’s about as much of a must-win fight as there is. The 2004 U.S. Olympian has had his opportunities and has been unable to win his biggest fights.
“I’ve been fighting as a pro for over 10 years. This is definitely the most important fight of my career. It’s do-or-die,” he said. “Win and I move 10 steps forward. Lose and I go 10 steps backwards.
“Beating Lara this time is 10 times bigger than if I had won the first time. Lara has gotten better. Maybe his style hasn’t changed much, but I feel that I’m much better, too.”
The first fight was filled with head butts, low blows and holding. Martirosyan, 30, is hoping this fight is a different story.
“My main concern about this fight is that I just hope it’s a clean fight cause the first fight was really a dirty fight,” he said. “There was a lot of low blows, a lot of head butts and things like that. Let’s just hope the referee does his job better, but we’re ready for anything and the first fight was a learning lesson. And it’s going to be the best fight on this night.”
Lara (22-2-2, 13 KOs),a former star amateur in Cuba before defecting and settling in Houston, is the division’s consensus No. 1 fighter since Floyd Mayweather retired and Alvarez moved up in weight. He believes he should have been awarded the decision in their first encounter.
“To me, I was winning the fight easily. I was outboxing him,” Lara said. “If you go look at CompuBox [statistics] I outlanded him in every single round of the fight. I was doing my job. I felt like I was winning the fight 100 percent and I was coming on strong. I was winning the last few rounds before the cut and I was on my way to stopping him, and then, before you know, he decided not to fight.
“So I’m looking forward to this fight. I’m very excited to fight and it’s time to put a period on the fight and end it. And show everybody why I’m the best 154-pounder in the world.”
The southpaw believes Martirosyan is simply no match for his skills.
“This is definitely the most important fight of my career. It’s do-or-die. Win and I move 10 steps forward. Lose and I go 10 steps backwards.”
“I felt that I was a better fighter than him the first time, and I’m a little better in almost every area since,” Lara said. “One of the most important things is my way of training and my way of getting prepared. I feel that I am much more mature. I’m definitely prepared to do what I do — and that’s win.”
Lara, 33, is so confident that he will defeat Martirosyan this time that he already has designs on what he wants next, although he could wind up facing one of the undercard winners in a title unification fight.
“After I win Saturday, I would love to fight GGG [Gennady Golovkin] or Canelo, but I would prefer GGG [for his middleweight titles],” Lara said. “It’s not frustrating that I’m not fighting the biggest names all the time. I’m a headliner. I don’t feel any pressure. I’m just going to do my job and just keep winning. As long as I keep winning, everything will take care of itself.”
Lara usually does win, but he makes it tough on viewers because he is quite defense-oriented, moves a lot and sometimes runs, whereas Martirosyan is generally more aggressive.
Martirosyan hopes that Lara will stand and fight this time, which, frankly, would be a bit of a surprise.
“I’ve given 100 percent every single day in the gym. This is going to be a tough fight,” Martirosyan said. “I hope he comes to me. It makes for a good fight. Actually, I think he is going to come forward a little more than people expect, but I’m prepared to chase him. Whatever it takes to be effective.
“If he is aggressive, once he feels my power, he is going to go back to what he does best — running. I’m coming to give my all.”