Kassim Ouma was meant to be just a pretty name on rising contender Vanes Martirosyan's resume. But he had other ideas, pushing the former Olympian to the brink, and scoring a knockdown in the 9th, only to fall in a far-too-wide unanimous decision. The scores were 97-92, 97-93, 97-93. Doing the round-by-round, I scored the fight 96-93 Ouma.
Once among the sport's elite, Ouma looked extremely poor losing 3 of 4 following a defeat at the hands of Jermain Taylor, turning the the former 154 lbs titleholder into nothing more than an opponent. But tonight we not only saw glimpses of what made Kassim Ouma a great fighter, but he actually added some new twists. Ouma opened up aggressively and surprised Maritosyan, who fought the entire bout on his back foot, struggling to plant power punches. An aggressive Ouma is of course nothing we haven't seen before (though it was missing in his miserable performances over the past four bouts), nor was his constant reliance on a (suicidal-looking) lunging 1-2 to press the action. But the pressure definitely had an effect on the Armenian-born Californian, and Ouma followed up with better-than-normal head movement and defense to keep Maritosyan's power at bay. The counterpunch on the inside that put Martirosyan down was definitely a new wrinkle in Ouma's game -- and boy was it pretty.
Now let's be clear, this was not a one-sided fight. I would hesitate even to call it a "robbery": A close Vanes victory would have been perfectly justifiable. But 97-92 means the judges scored the bout 8-2 for Vanes, and that's just wrong. No, what this fight reminds me more of is Diaz/Malignaggi I -- a close fight, a fight that could have gone either way -- but one with just some indefensible cards that indicate judges who had a victor before they even sat down. All of us on the BLH thread for the fight called the Vanes victory; it was exactly the sort of fight that you knew the house fighter would get his hand raised for, the only question being the margin of victory. That's a shame. And what's more a shame is that, unlike Malignaggi, Ouma is not getting a rematch. It'd be one thing if this was his first fight after the Taylor fight, when he was still considered among the elite. But today, he's just an opponent who got the wrong end of the stick. Vanes will move on, and Ouma will have to hope that his performance has earned him some fights that he isn't preselected to lose. Complacency strikes again.
The other thing that should be said is that Vanes Martirosyan fought quite well himself. He was clearly caught aback by Ouma's aggression. But though he didn't look 100% comfortable with it, he fought quite well moving backwards, trying to catch Ouma coming in with 1-2s of his own. His punches were far crisper than his adversary's, and when he was caught he behaved like a fighter -- throwing with bad intentions. Had he lost this fight, as I believe he should have, it would not have set his career back in my eyes one whit. As it was, this was definitely a learning experience for him. But the kid certainly has skill, and certainly has heart, I'll give him that. I just don't think he should have been given this decision.
Note From SC: schraubd picked up fight coverage last night and did a terrific job.