Vic Darchinyan has never lacked confidence heading into any fight, or at least he's never let anyone know that his usual cockiness wasn't there. This Saturday night on HBO Boxing After Dark, the veteran Armenian by way of Australia might be coming down to his final chance at serious relevance as a contender when he faces prospect Luis Del Valle in a super bantamweight fight.
Darchinyan (37-5-1, 27 KO) dominated at flyweight for years, becoming one of the most feared brawlers in the sport, pound-for-pound. A charismatic figure, equally easy to like or dislike, he saw his seemingly impenetrable walls busted down by Nonito Donaire in 2007, as the then-lightly regarded Filipino demolished Darchinyan on Showtime, knocking him out on a gorgeous left hook in the fifth round.
Since then, things have been a little harder. Sure, he's still had ferocious moments in the ring, but the aura of Darchinyan the Invincible was forever shattered by Donaire, a man he said for years he wanted to rematch (still does, apparently), but never did, for a variety of reasons on both sides, it seemed.
Since the loss to Donaire, Darchinyan has gone 9-4-1, a mark that doesn't turn heads, but his losses have all been interesting, at the very least (the draw came against Z Gorres, two fights after Donaire). Now 36 years old, he's ancient for a fighter his size, and has been cast into the unfamiliar role of step-up opponent for the 25-year-old Del Valle, a Puerto Rican prospect hoping to become a player.
What's troubling about this fight for Darchinyan, even if he won't admit it, is that after his flyweight reign, he went up to super flyweight and did fine, but above that, he's been shaky. After the worrisome draw with Gorres (a good boxer, but not someone who was considered on Darchinyan's level at the time), he went on a brief rampage, starting with a KO-5 over Dmitry Kirilov in in August 2008.
Darchinyan followed that up with a completely one-sided ass-kicking of Cristian Mijares, at the time considered a top ten pound-for-pound guy by many, and the best super flyweight in the world. Mijares, a fine boxer without much punch, was completely overwhelmed by the fistic fury of Darchinyan, who truly became "The Raging Bull" once more on that night. Vic came back from that to pound the hell out of Jorge Arce, in a matchup that had a big amount of trash-talk going in, and wound up with Arce needing to be saved from himself as Darchinyan administered a thorough beating.
Darchinyan then dipped his toes in the water at bantamweight, facing Joseph Agbeko in July 2009. Many predicted Darchinyan would win and capture a title in his third weight class, but he sort of gave the fight away, and lost a decision in Florida that seemed like it could have gone his way with just some minor in-ring adjustments.
Was it the famous Darchinyan arrogance? Was he so sure that he'd knock Agbeko out that he never fought to win a decision? Had his recent good run returned a sense of invulnerability to him?
Whatever it was, he fought a bad fight, and even though he was very competitive, he didn't get the win. And there he was again, starting over. Darchinyan went back down to 115 and defended two of the three titles he'd unified, beating Tomas Rojas and Rodrigo Guerrero, the former a long-time contender he knocked out on a brutal body shot, and the latter a guy who wound up staying a contender, though at the time he was just an overmatched greenhorn who proved he could take shots, lasting a full 12 rounds with Vic despite taking a hammering.
After that, Darchinyan likely reckoned he'd done as much as he was going to do at 115 pounds, so back up to 118 he went. He won the IBO title against Eric Barcelona, and if anyone besides Ricky Hatton, Danny Green, and Antonio Tarver took the IBO title all that seriously, that would have made Vic a three-division champion.
Later in 2010, Darchinyan accepted an invitation to a four-man bantamweight tournament on Showtime, and faced unbeaten prospect/emerging contender Abner Mares in December. Vic lost a terrific, mean-spirited fight by split decision, but came back in April 2011 to put on a vintage Vic performance, stampeding over Yonnhy Perez, which ultimately retired the tough and talented Colombian ex-champ. That win gave Vic third place in the tournament. If you know Darchinyan's career and personality at all, you know that that wasn't good enough.
Two more bantamweight title shots have come down the pipe since then. Darchinyan was sorely outclassed and made to look downright silly at times by WBA titleholder Anselmo Moreno last December, and this April, he took a risky trip to Japan and wound up losing a close decision to WBC champ Shinsuke Yamanaka.
That makes Darchinyan 0-3 in world title fights at bantamweight, and just 2-4 overall. Now he's moving up to super bantamweight, and promoter Gary Shaw -- who has long held Darchinyan as a prized prizefighter in his stable, for good reason -- knows that his guy is nearly at do-or-die time.
"Right now Darchinyan has his back against the wall and he's going to give every ounce of energy to win this fight," Shaw said in a press release.
"Del Valle is a great young fighter with a tremendous amount of talent, but he's never been in the ring with an experienced fighter like Vic. I'm expecting an exciting fight this Saturday between these two and I won't be surprised if Darchinyan comes out victorious."
Of course, Darchinyan is his old self -- at least for the notebook scribblers -- and he says that he's going to cost his promoter money. Shaw also co-promotes Del Valle with Lou DiBella.
"I'm the ultimate road warrior," said Darchinyan. "I've traveled all over the world to scrap with the best fighters in my division. This Saturday will be no different when I step in the ring with Del Valle. I'm looking forward to giving him his first loss while I get myself back into title contention.
"Del Valle better be ready for a rough fight because I'm coming hard every round. Gary should not have invested his money in Del Valle, because it was a bad investment and he is going to lose his money."
Whether or not Darchinyan is "the ultimate road warrior" is certainly up for debate (almost all of his notable fights have been in the U.S.), but at least he still sounds confident. He hasn't lost that yet. Then again, Ricardo Mayorga and Edison Miranda sound confident before every fight, too.
Del Valle has had a solid run in his past few fights, graduating from "he's got talent" status to "legitimate prospect" with wins over the likes of Dat Ngyuen, Jose Angel Beranza, and Christopher Martin. The Martin fight, which aired on ShoBox in April, was Del Valle's last outing and showcased his skills as well as some potential shortcomings. He seemed to tire pretty heavily late in the 10-round fight, but dropped the capable Martin in the seventh round and won a wide decision on scores of 100-89 (which was kind of ridiculous), 98-91, and 97-92. I had it a slightly closer 96-93 for Del Valle -- it was a good, competitive fight, and he deserved the win.
Del Valle was an amateur standout, which Darchinyan was, too. Also like Darchinyan, he's an aggressive fighter who sometimes will abandon his base skills to throw down -- it's not a bad quality, just something about him.
Del Valle is a warrior, and this fight is expected to steal the show. Though the card may not be a "can't-miss" sort of thing for most, this fight just might be can't-miss -- it has potential to be a serious brawl between a couple of guys at opposite ends of their careers. It's a crossroads fight, and though the veteran is on the downswing, Darchinyan can't be counted out, even fighting heavy, even getting old. Del Valle has never faced someone like Darchinyan.
If Del Valle does win the fight, there are plenty of options for him after. If Darchinyan loses, there might not be anything more than another role as an opponent for another rising young fighter, a status level that often sees aging fighters hang on forever, confident they're just about to score that One Big Win that will get them back into the title picture again.
Darchinyan may actually already be there, hoping more than planning, trying to claw his way back. But I'm not going to say he can't win. I still remember the invincible Vic Darchinyan, and so does he, for better or worse.
Bad Left Hook will have live round-by-round coverage of HBO Boxing After Dark this Saturday night at 9:30 pm EDT.