Frank Martin rallies late to remain undefeated

Frank “The Ghost” Martin needed a final round knockdown to remain undefeated and pull out a close but unanimous decision win over previously unbeaten Artem Harutyunyan in Las Vegas on Saturday night. With the win, Martin – promoted by Errol Spence and trained by Derrick James – secured a shot at the WBC lightweight title presently held by Devin Haney.

Born in Armenia, Harutyunyan (12-1, 7 KOs) has spent his professional career to this point in Germany, but although he was making his U.S. debut against a highly touted contender, he showed no intimidation and took the fight to Martin early, throwing combinations from mid-range that kept the American on the back foot. Martin (18-0, 12 KOs) looked to land counter shots but frequently struggled to find space to land in between Harutyunyan’s busy offense.

After a frustrating opening few rounds, Martin utilized his footwork to turn Harutyunyan and fire potshots from angles in round four, and in round five he appeared to be getting into his flow, as he strafed his opponent with straight shots to body and head. The sixth was his most dominant of the fight thus far, as he cracked Harutyunyan with a left hand and chased him around the ring, landing fierce combinations as Harutyunyan sought to recover.

And then, remarkably, it was Harutyunyan who took the initiative as Martin resorted to looking again for counters and allowed the Armenian to seize control once more. After the ninth round, James yelled at his boxer that he needed to greatly step up his output and try to knock Harutyunyan out, and Martin responded with his best round since the sixth. By round 11, Martin was the one moving forward and throwing the greater volume of punches as well as landing the harder blows, and now Harutyunyan was increasingly in survival mode. 

The two men came out for the final round with the fight seemingly in the balance, but a Martin right hand appeared to damage Harutyunyan’s left eye, and as Martin unleashed his arsenal, the Armenian elected to take a knee to buy himself some time. The strategy worked in that it enabled him to reach the final bell, but Martin’s assault over the final few frames secured him the win on all three scorecards by scores of 114-113 and 115-112 twice.

“He was definitely a tough opponent. I wouldn’t say he was too difficult, it’s just that my reaction time wasn’t working like it normally do for me,” Martin said afterward. “He definitely tough. I hit him with some big shots, he stood up, he bounced around the ring, he stood tall. I take my hat off to him because he took some big shots.”

Elvis Rodriguez made a major statement in the junior welterweight co-main event, utilizing his southpaw right hand to gradually take command against veteran Viktor Postol, dropping him in the sixth and stopping him in the seventh of a scheduled 10. Postol (31-5, 12 KOs), a former 140-pound titlist, started brightly behind his own orthodox jab, bouncing on his toes and stepping into his punches. Rodriguez (15-1-1, 13 KOs) began to find his groove in the second half of round two with a thudding power jab, and he carried that into round three, staggering the Ukrainian with a short jab and a follow up left. Postol gathered himself in the fourth as Rodriguez’s output diminished, but the Dominican came out reinvigorated in the fifth, swelling Postol’s right eye, sneaking in power left hands behind his jab and staggering his foe with another right hand.

The sixth round was the beginning of the end, Postol wilting under Rodriguez’s constant pressure. A right hook dropped Postol to his knees at the end of the round, and when Rodriguez battered Postol to the ropes at the start of the sixth, referee Celestino Ruiz wasted no time in stepping between the fighters and stopping the bout at 0:23 of the round.

After starting his career 28-0 and seizing a world title with an impressive stoppage of Lucas Matthysse in October 2015, Postol has since 3-5, and has now suffered two stoppage losses in a row. Although he vehemently protested the stoppage of his previous bout, against Gary Antuanne Russell, he had no complaints this time. 

For Rodriguez, it was the fourth win in a row after an upset loss to Kenneth Sims Jr in May 2021; afterward, he said, “I am ready for a world title.”

In the broadcast opener, welterweight prospect Freudis Rojas moved to 11-0 (11 KOs) with a seventh-round stoppage of Diego Santiago Sanchez. The 24-year-old Rojas dominated, working behind a stiff southpaw jab and landing 159 of 422 punches, including 99 of 210 power punches, whereas the shorter Santiago Sanchez (19-3, 16 KOs) was only able to land 51 punches in total of 202 thrown. After the soxth round, Santiago Sanchez’s trainer warned him he would stop the fight unless he won the following frame, but when his fighter instead started taking more punches, he threw in the towel, prompting referee Tony Weeks to call a halt to the contest at 58 seconds of the round.