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The Critics Only Remembered 10 Seconds of Darchinyan’s Career

Vic Darchinyan, out of the shadows: Tom Casino/Showtime
Vic Darchinyan, out of the shadows: Tom Casino/Showtime

By Paul Upham: Going into last Saturday’s junior bantamweight world title unification match between Cristian Mijares and Vic Darchinyan in Carson, California on Showtime, many boxing writers had the Mexican a huge favourite to win. Some even suggested that Darchinyan would not even win a round. A reckless statement considering his past achievements, as if Darchinyan landing a punch on Mijares would be like trying to nail jelly to a wall.

In a pre-fight poll of world boxing writers conducted by Showtime, of the thirty-two surveyed, only six had selected Darchinyan to win. At the Mijares selection was even more dominate, fourteen of fifteen picking him to win.

It was as if the other 29 fights of his career had meant nothing. All Darchinyan’s critics could remember were the 10 seconds when he was knocked out by Nonito Donaire in five rounds in July 2007, his only career defeat. They had chosen to forget his dominating wins over Dimitri Kirilov, Glenn Donaire, Luis Maldonado (who drew with Mijares), Irene Pacheco and Alejandro Montiel.

Darchinyan came out of the shadows to win three world titles at 115lbs.

What was lost on many was the simple fact that Darchinyan had improved since his demoralising defeat. While his renowned power was again on display against Mijares, his new levels of patience, tighter defence and boxing skills were spectacular in their own right.

In a roundabout way, the loss to Donaire actually helped Darchinyan reach a new level of boxing ability. Not only did the taste of defeat allow him to refine himself and become a better boxer, it also gave other fighters the confidence that he could be beaten. Now, the defeat can be totalled by the Armenian as valuable experience.

Looking back, there were also some mitigating circumstances surrounding Darchinyan’s loss to Donaire.

In readily accepting the match, Darchinyan dismissed any suggestion that Donaire would benefit from the first hand ring experience of his older brother Glen Donaire, who had fought Darchinyan in October 2006, receiving a broken jaw in his loss. The two brothers were able to hatch a plan that outsmarted the then IBF flyweight world champion.

Afterwards, trainer Billy Hussein had noted that during the loss, Darchinyan was not listening to his corner instructions and was just trying to knock Donaire out and get home as quick as possible. There was a reason to this. Darchinyan’s Russian fiancée Olga Stovboun was back home in Sydney, pregnant with their first child Ruben. In hindsight, Darchinyan did not handle the dual pressures of a world title fight and an expectant partner on opposite sides of the planet very well.

A change in trainer helped Darchinyan. Not that Billy Hussein was forced out. For Darchinyan’s fight with Dimitri Kirilov in August, Hussein was committed to training his own brother Hussy in South Africa at the same time. With a burgeoning gymnasium to manage, Hussein also found it more difficult to commit to training Darchinyan in the USA before a world title fight for weeks at a time.

When Darchinyan first turned professional under Jeff Fenech, Hussein was the assistant. When Fenech committed to training Mike Tyson in 2005, Hussein became the head trainer. For the Kirilov fight, Hussein stepped aside and was replaced by Angelo Hyder, who had also worked with Fenech and Hussein on many occasions. He was also supplemented by Darchinyan’s amateur trainer from Armenia, Vazgen Badalyan.

In knocking out Kirilov in five rounds, Darchinyan looked better than ever. Hussein is convinced that having an Armenian voice in Darchinyan’s corner helped him immensely. While Darchinyan is now fluent in a number of languages, in his mind during a fight, he still fights in Armenian. Having Badalyan in the corner reinforcing the basic fight plan to Darchinyan in the Armenian language helped him maintain his focus during the fury of combat. It was another reason for the improvement that was on display last weekend. An improvement that Mijares had not expected and something the many boxing writers, writing him off so adamantly before the fight, could not have foreseen.

32 year-old Darchinyan’s regiment of only sparring much heavier boxers also helped him prepare for dealing with Mijares. The “Raging Bull” had over one hundred rounds with Lovemore “Black Panther” Ndou, a former IBF junior welterweight title holder, who is facing Kermit Cintron at welterweight on November 15. If Darchinyan can handle himself physically against the size of Ndou, it gives him a tremendous advantage going into a fight with a boxer who had to weigh-in at 115lbs only 24 hours earlier.

After re-establishing his career with his knockout of Kirilov to win the IBF junior bantamweight belt, promoter Gary Shaw initially suggested that Darchinyan make a mandatory or easier optional defence. Darchinyan would hear nothing of it and with his manager Elias Nasser, they made phone call after phone call and sent email after email to Shaw requesting he make the unification match with WBC/WBA champion Mijares as quickly as possible. With the knockout loss to Donaire no doubt in mind, Mijares and his promoter Lou DiBella readily agreed.

The dominant nine round knockout win is now history.

Born Vakhtang Darchinyan in Vanadzor, Armenia on January 7, 1976 the diminutive southpaw lived in a large house in the city with his father Rubik, a gas station owner, his mother Rena, a Russian language teacher and older sister Liana. His father was a wrestler who loved other tough sports like boxing and weight lifting and took him to the local gym at six years of age.

A successful amateur boxing career followed with Darchinyan involved in 320 bouts, losing only 23. He won 152 international contests with 105 wins by knockout. While he did not win a medal at the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, eliminated in the quarter-finals, he impressed three-division world champion Jeff Fenech at ringside, to the point where he arranged for Darchinyan to train full time with his Team Fenech and he eventually became an Australian citizen in 2004.

After he turned professional in November 2000, the other members of Team Fenech would marvel as Darchinyan would talk about future opponents and nonchalantly say, “Yes, I fight him. I beat him.”

Many mistake Darchinyan’s pre-fight boasts as arrogance. It is simply supreme confidence in his own ability to beat any boxer put in front of him.

“Vic is the most confident fighter that I have ever been associated with,” said promoter Gary Shaw, which is quite a statement considering he has previously worked with star names such as Lennox Lewis, Mike Tyson, Fernando Vargas, Shane Mosley, Ronald ‘Winky’ Wright, Arturo Gatti, Manny Pacquiao and the late Diego Corrales.

“Vic never asks me what an opponent’s style is,” continued Shaw. “I never met anyone like him. I said to someone at ringside, if I was ever in a bar fight I’d want Vic to be there with me, because Vic would probably go after the biggest guy first. He’d even fight a rat on a ship. He would tell me, ‘don’t worry Gary, I’ll chase the rat around and eventually the rat will get tired.’”

Darchinyan 31-1-1 (25) now rules as the best junior bantamweight in the world, though, Mexican Fernando Montiel who has held the WBO strap, may disagree.

The question is what is the biggest and best fight out there for Darchinyan now? Montiel and another Mexican Jorge Arce immediately come to mind. Though, don’t be surprised if Darchinyan is looking even further up the levels of weight classes.

Before his fight with Victor Burgos in March 2007, the main event on the card was the first of the Israel Vazquez versus Rafael Marquez thrilling trilogy. Darchinyan openly offered to challenge the winner of Marquez and Vazquez fight at junior featherweight at the time. “I am going to destroy them both,” he had said. “If you can be knocked down, I can knock you out.”

On Saturday night in the ring immediately after defeating Mijares, standing alongside promoter Shaw, Darchinyan was interviewed by Showtime’s Jim Gray.

"We’re going to fight (Oscar) De La Hoya at a catch-weight of 152 pounds,” Shaw declared, with a smile on his face. The American may have been joking. Darchinyan probably isn’t.

At the beginning of 2007, Darchinyan said that his ultimate goal was to beat Manny Pacquiao to become the No.1 boxer in the world pound for pound. Most doubted him. After his loss to Nonito, they laughed.

Now, after his demolition of Mijares, while it would seem to be highly unlikely, the notion of Darchinyan facing Pacquiao one day cannot so easily be dismissed.

Paul Upham
Content Editor

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