Boxing
Future first: Ex-champ Ouma focused on new beginnings
Lyle Fitzsimmons


By Lyle Fitzsimmons,
Contributing Boxing Editor


Ocala, FL (Sports Network) - It seems a logical line of query.

A former world champion - generally ineffective and largely inactive since losing his title - plans a return to the ring and is penciled in as the first "name" opponent for a young, undefeated hotshot looking to establish himself in the ex-champ's home division.

"So, Champ," you begin, "tell me about the last four years. In your view, what's changed?

"How did it get from world champion to steppingstone in such a short time?"

You sit back, notebook at the ready, and wait for a reply that seems sure to contain equal parts frustration, motivation and redemption while serving as catalyst for an insightful and interesting interview.

Unless, that is...your foil for the session is Kassim Ouma.

Instead, the 31-year-old detours your road to enlightenment with an age-old roadblock.


The IBO has Kassim Ouma ranked 78th at junior middleweight.
"I don't really want to talk about the past. I only care about what's going on now.

"So, please don't ask me about anything other than the fight that's coming up."

Ouch. Not exactly the open-ended conversation starter you were hoping for, huh?

But still, you press on.

Quickly discarding the mental sequence of follow-up questions that had been planned, you try hard to concoct a coherent Plan B while simultaneously fending off the urge to verbally confront a fighter who's won only once since 2006.

If not to compare past to present, you muse silently, why would anyone have sought the phone number of a faded star who'd gone on to lose in North Little Rock, Cabazon, Salamanca and Newark while managing to beat only one foe - Martinus Clay - who entered that fight with an inglorious 13-18-4 slate.

Rather than make an enemy and miss a deadline, however, you choose tact over tension.

And just as quickly, Plan C springs into action.

"OK, Kassim, that's fair enough. Let's not talk about the past," you say. "Instead, why don't you tell me what it is that's going to separate you - a former world champion at 154 pounds and competitive title challenger at 160 - from the dozens of other ex-champions who insist continually that this time, this comeback, this opponent is going to be the one that gets me back into the game.

"Normally, as you and I both know, it doesn't work out that way. Why will it for you?"

Not a bad follow-up as far as follow-ups go...right?

And as luck would have it, he jumps at the bait. Sort of.

"Four years ago is four years ago. Now is now," Ouma says. "I'm concerned with what's going on now. I'm different now than I was. I take care of myself. I think I'm maturing as an older man and I'm ready to go with this guy. I've watched him and he's a good fighter that I wanted to fight. I'm ready for him.

"He's got to prove it. Talk is talk. He's talked. Now he's got to prove he can do it. He's saying things about me, so let him come and prove himself. I see it like that, too, only I see it going the opposite way."

"This guy" is Armenian-born Californian Vanes Martirosyan, an unbeaten slugger with 17 KOs in 26 wins, including a third-round starching of Willie Lee on a recent Kelly Pavlik undercard in Youngstown, Ohio.

The two will headline the new "Top Rank Live" series on Saturday.

The 23-year-old is clearly familiar with Ouma's past work, and said that he hoped to bolster his own resume by being the first to stop the former champ since journeyman Agustin Silva pulled it off in 1999.

Ouma bounced back from that three-knockdown stumble with 10 wins and a draw before snatching the IBF junior middleweight title from incumbent Verno Phillips in October 2004.

One successful defense came before a title loss to Roman Karmazin, which was then followed by four straight wins and a competitive, albeit unsuccessful, loss to Jermain Taylor in a title try at 160.

Since then, he's lost to Saul Roman, Cornelius Bundrage and Gabriel Rosado.

But remember, tread lightly when it comes to the past, mister.

"I've been out a long time and I have to reestablish myself, but I'm ready," Ouma says, resonating all the confidence of four years prior. "I've always had the hunger, but never the fight I was looking for. This is the fight. A young fighter up and coming and trying to prove himself, and he's ready to go do that.

"But I'm ready to give him a surprise."

Three weeks of full-speed preparation has gotten Ouma to the brink of the match with Martirosyan, a 2004 U.S. Olympian, which he hopes to follow with an even bigger event - anywhere from 147 pounds to 160.

He weighed a career-low 147 for Silva and a career-high 158 3/4 for Taylor.

He is unranked by all major sanctioning bodies except the IBO, which has him 78th on its computer at junior middleweight.

"There's a timeframe. I would say I don't really want to go past age 35 like a lot of fighters, but a lot of guys are doing it later and having success," he says. "I'd like to do a few more years and this fight could definitely be the one to open up the road to a championship.

"By next year, Kassim Ouma will be a champion of the world."

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This weeks title-fight schedule:

No fights scheduled.

Last week's picks: 2-1

Overall picks record: 159-58 (73.2 percent)

Lyle Fitzsimmons is an award-winning 21-year sports journalist, a full voting member of the Boxing Writers Association of America and a frequent contributor to sports radio talk shows throughout the U.S. E-mail him at fitzbitz@msn.com, follow him at twitter.com/fitzbitz and read more at fitzbitzonfights.wordpress.com.

Jabs, hooks or knockouts, Lyle Fitzsimmons can be reached at fitzbitz@msn.com.

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