November 5, 2009 By admin
Karen Darabedyan’s engineer father might not have quite imagined the scene when he first enrolled his then-4-year-old son in karate lessons in the family’s Armenian hometown.
About 16 years later, Darabedyan entered Araneta Coliseum in Quezon City, Metro Manilla, Philippines, for his third professional mixed-martial-arts fight.
It was the same venue where Muhammad Ali met Joe Frazier in the 1975 Thrilla in Manilla heavyweight boxing bout. And even though Darabedyan didn’t have much MMA experience, he had a lifetime of martial arts training.
He had been a karate and tae kwon do black belt before he was old enough to drive. He had then moved on to boxing and Muay Thai. Then, he noticed the popularity of MMA and asked a coach at his gym to get him a fight.
He had been an immediate hit in his backyard professional debut, and two fights later, he was in the Philippines.
“It was a team thing,” Darabedyan told MMAjunkie.com (www.mmajunkie.com). “I only had two fights, there was seating for about 20,000 people, and I’m walking out there thinking, ‘What did I get myself into?'”
A successful MMA career, it seems. After suffering a unanimous decision loss to Koji Oishi in the Philippines in December 2007, the 22-year-old Darabedyan (8-1) has won six straight fights and will make his WEC debut in a 155-pound bout against “Razor” Rob McCullough (17-5) at WEC 44 on Nov. 18 in Nevada.
The Oishi matchup did more for Darabedyan than inspire him with a loss. It taught him one of the main differences between MMA and many other forms of martial arts: conditioning. Since working up his cage stamina, he has been able to win three of his past five fights in first-round stoppages and continue his transition from traditional martial arts to MMA.
“I would say, from what I’ve done, I’m a true mixed martial artist,” Darabedyan said. “I’ve done just about everything, and now I’m trying to improve in MMA.”
Coming to America
Darabedyan’s martial arts career had already begun by the time he and his family moved to Glendale, Calif., when he was about 5 years old.
They had come from Armenia, where his parents had a comfortable life with friends, but the job outlook was a little more difficult in the country. Hoping for a better life, they moved.
The family had to change to meet the new culture.
“Here, everyone has their own thing going; they don’t really care about their neighbors,” Darabedyan said. “There, neighbors are like family. Everyone is very close. But, as far as a place to work, it’s not the best, there aren’t a lot of jobs, and there’s a lot of poverty.”
Like many parents, Darabedyan’s father enrolled him in classes to keep him out of trouble, and his son flourished. It wasn’t just martial arts. Darabedyan also tried swimming, gymnastics and many other athletic opportunities.
He excelled almost immediately, and martial arts has been one of the biggest thing in his life since.
“I couldn’t live a week without training,” he said.
Things soon changed to help him concentrate more on family and training. About three years ago, Darabedyan’s father died, so he moved back in with his mother and focused on martial arts.
He continued his concentration on judo and boxing until friends and instructors at his gym helped get him into a relatively small-time MMA show in July 2006.
“There were 10 fights scheduled,” Darabedyan said. “But the cops broke it up after the first six. Luckily I got mine in, and I won. It was a different feeling, being in a cage, a different intensity.”
Greater intensity, bigger fights
Desiring more of the feeling that he got in the backyard cage, Darabedyan continued looking for MMA opportunities.
His second fight came more than a year after his first, and he won a decision at an Extreme Fighters World Championships show. Then, his coach put together a team to participate in the Philippines event, and Darabedyan headed into a famous stadium for what would be a career-changing fight.
“He caught me off guard,” said Darabedyan, who, despite his extensive martial arts background, still had little MMA-specific training. “I had no conditioning training, and I wasn’t used to it. What I did, I pretty much did with sheer heart. I stayed in it, even though I was so fatigued I could barely get up when he knocked me down.”
The decision loss didn’t stop Darabedyan from fighting. About 20 months later, more focused on training for MMA, he started what would become a six-fight winning streak with a victory at a Long Beach Fight Night event.
Darabedyan still doesn’t feel he has reached the top of his potential.
“I don’t think I’m even at 50 percent of what I could be,” he said.
About five months ago, Darabedyan met the man who would become his manager, Darin Harvey. Then, a few weeks ago, behind Darabedyan’s performances and with Harvey’s help, the WEC came to him when it faced a short-notice opening for the fight against McCullough.
With the focus on training for the cage and motivation from the death of his father, he is working to capitalize on the opportunity.
“I think now that I’ve got this contract, I know it’s time to put everything I’ve got into it,” Darabedyan said. “I was a pretty good kid in school, but after my dad passed, this is all I’ve got. I let go of all my schooling, so the main thing making some type of foundation in MMA. That’s what I have to do now.”