Art Simonyan: Poised For Glory
24.05.04 - By Fiona Manning: In a corner of the Wild Card Gym in Hollywood, USBA 122 pound champion, #5 IBF world ranked contender Art Simonyan pauses in front of a poster for the World Boxing Hall of Fame “Path To Glory” series. A fighter, fists up, eyes determined, reminds Simonyan why he’s in the gym every day, why he has sacrificed more than most. In four years, Simonyan has not allowed himself to see his wife and daughter and will not allow himself that particular luxury until he has reached the #1 position.
Article posted on 24.05.2004
On the eve of his highly-anticipated ESPN2 title eliminator showdown with Thailand’s Fasang Por Tawatchai (nickname “Narongrit Pirang” or 3 K Battery) at Elk Grove Village in Chicago, the moment is not lost on Simonyan’s trainer, big John Bray.
Bray, like everybody else who knows the hard-working Armenian born, Glendale-based fighter whose record stands at 13-0-1, 7 KOs, knows that on Friday night, Simonyan will be one step closer in his own path to glory.
“He’s ready,” Bray says, admiringly. “Art is always ready. I wish every fighter were like this. This is one disciplined kid.”
Indeed, Simonyan has earned the respect and friendship of everyone at the gym – including future opponent, Israel Vasquez who reigns supreme as the IBF super bantamweight champion.
Simonyan has come to spar in a round robin in his last day of training and Macka Foley and Pepper Roach who run the gym very smoothly in the absence of Freddie Roach (who is in South Africa with Virgil Hill, then heads to Las Vegas to traine Mike Tyson)
are impressed with Simonyan – and with John Bray.
“Oh, Art can fight,” Pepper says. “He doesn’t have that traditional Armenian style, that stiff European style. He surprises everybody.”
Foley concurs. “He gave Manny Pacquiao very good work in this gym. He’s a good kid, hard working, learning new things every day. He doesn’t have that European style of fighting anymore because he’s fighting so many Mexican kids.
“If you go into any of the gyms in California now, all the amateur gyms, it’s all Armenian and Mexican kids. They’re the only ones fighting now.”
Normally Bray has his fighters training at the Northridge Athletics Club but they’re here, like hawks, hunting out quality sparring partners.
“It’s taken me three years to get Art to bend his knees and not to pitty pat, to commit to each punch,” he says.
Looking amazingly trim and healthy, Bray says he is in better shape now than he ever was as a heavyweight contender. “I had the skills,” he likes to say. “But not the discipline.”
Simonyan faces the tough Tawatchai, who is 43-6, 23 KOs and the IBF #8 because “None of the top guys would fight him,” says Simonyan’s manager Harry Kazandjian.
“The #1 and #2 positions are vacant and that’s where we want to go. The #3 guy, Paulie Ayala is committed to fighting Barrera, the number 4 guy, Jose Luis Valbuena just lost to Israel Vasquez and the number 6 and 7 guys won’t look at us, so we went down to Tawatchai.”
Simonyan has no idea who is opponent is and can’t even pronounce his name.
“I am fighting Shhooshosoong,” he says, his ever-present smile breaking into laughter. “Shosungshoshoo!”
Simonyan whose English is not great but he tries – isn’t making fun of his opponent. He simply has no idea who he is.
He has never seen 3K fight and won’t watch the tape Kazandjian has just given Bray to watch.
Even Kazandjian has not watched the tape. “All I know is that he’s a short kid and a southpaw. I’m not worried. I know Art is a tremendous fighter. I respect him enormously.
“I mean I used to be a fighter [Kazandjian was a lightweight contender in the 80s] and I know a lot of fighters, but I’ve never met anyone like Art. He is always at the gym.”
Kazandjian and Simonyan leave the strategy up to Bray who, true to the team’s tradition will watch the fight then tell his well-prepared fighter, “Now, Art, this is what I want you to do.”
The technique has never failed them – not even when many perceived Art as being perhaps not ready to face a tough, busy veteran Radford Beasley.
“He followed the plan exactly as I asked him to do it. He went in and boxed Beasley and slowly started to beat him up. I knew at some point I was going to ask him to close the show and he did – in the seventh round.
Obviously there is enormous trust between fighter and trainer.
“I’ve proven myself to him,” Bray says. “He trusts me to come up with the game plan. But to me, I’m just a glorified water boy. Art is the one who does it all.”
He points to a mat on the floor. “A few years ago, I’d quit boxing and I was really depressed and bitter and I lay right over there and Macka Foley saved my life.
“Macka told me if I learned how to use the mitts and become a good mitt man, I’d never have to work another day in my life and he was right.”
Foley remembers it well. “He was a bit lost,” he says, not wanting to take the credit for Bray’s hard work – but then neither does Bray who is embarrassed when Foley says he is a very hot, up-and-coming trainer.
“I worked with the best trainers in the business. I worked with Emmanuel Steward and Angelo Dundee and I worked with the best fighters – I worked with all the heavyweights, Tyson, everybody,” says Bray.
“I took a little bit from every single one of them and I pass it on to my fighters. Finally, as a trainer, I have learned discipline.”
Nobody is more disciplined though than Simonya who never overeats, never gets out of shape. “I drink water all the time, about two gallons a day, easy,” he says.
“My favorite thing to eat is fruit. I know most fighters love the hamburgers and the junk food. Not me. To be honest, I don’t really like to eat much. I never did.”
“He walked into the gym at 123 today,” Bray says. “How many fighters do that a week before the fight? None of them do? This kid is amazing.”
Simonyan’s strength of will and focus dazzle those closest to him.
In a sport where many fighters get into trouble for their er…bedroom habits, Simonyan has kept himself abstinent with his wife Lucina and daughter Carina far away home in Armenia.
“He will not go and see them,” Kazandjian says. “Until he is number one.”
Simonyan and his wife talk every day and he now for the first time he feels their long-awaited reunion is not far off.
In another rare boxing move, he has kept the same team around him, Bray, Kazandjian and cutman Carlos Vargas (a rare cutman in that he is actually in the gym for training sessions) since he started fighting in the US.
“Carlos is my encyclopedia,” Bray says. “He knows everything.”
Carlos has his eyes on Simonyan as the young star prepares to do battle in the ring.
Kazandjian says Simonyan is the easiest fighter he’s ever worked with.
“He’s never asked me who the opponent is or how much money he’s getting. Actually, the last couple fights he started asking me about the money which means we’re getting close to the top now. We’re close to his goal of being number one.”
Very close indeed.
For questions or comments: email Fiona Manning at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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