Mixed martial arts: Darabedyan takes on former champ, while training partner Gamburyan tries to climb to the top of title ladder.
By Grant Gordon – Glendale News Press
GLENDALE — One month.
One month is roughly the amount of time Karen Darabedyan has had to prepare for the largest opportunity of his life, an opportunity he gladly took, no matter the odds or the timing.
Wednesday night, he will step onto a World Extreme Cagefighting stage for the first time and he will step into the cage against “Razor” Rob McCullough, the WEC’s former lightweight champion, for a chance at further notoriety, stardom, title contention and, quite simply, an opportunity to make a name for himself in the world of mixed martial arts.
“It’s my first time being in a big show like this, I just hope everything goes my way,” the 22-year old Darabedyan, a Glendale resident and 2005 Glendale High graduate said of fighting at WEC 44, which emanates from The Palms Resort & Casino in Las Vegas. “You don’t get an opportunity like this too often, I’m pretty fortunate to get this.”
The Darabedyan-McCullough three-round lightweight (155 pounds) scrap is one of four standout matchups scheduled for the live portion of the televised card, which is headlined by a featherweight (145 pounds) title fight between champion Mike Thomas Brown and challenger Jose Aldo and also features a featherweight fight between Leonard Garcia and Darabedyan’s training partner, Manny Gamburyan.
As with all WEC events, Wednesday’s card airs live on Versus, beginning at 6 p.m.
Darabedyan (8-1) brings a well-rounded skill set that has seen him win three fights by technical knockout, another by submission and four by submission into a bout with the seasoned McCullough (17-5), whose known for his stand-up skills, possessing a vaunted kickboxing background.
McCullough is 2-2 over his last four fights, with his victories coming via split decision. His last fight, a split decision win against Marcus Hicks on March 1, saw McCullough break his hand. The first of those four fights was a TKO loss to Jaime Varner, in which McCullough lost his title. With a wealth of experience, however, McCullough is clearly the favorite.
Still, Darabedyan’s camp — he trains with the likes of current and former Ultimate Fighting Championship competitors Karo Parisyan, Gamburyan, Roman Mitichyan and Alberto Crane at the Main Event Sports Club in Glendale under Roman Kalanteryan and at North Hollywood’s Team Hayastan under Gokor Chivitchyan and Gene LeBell — is confident, right along with Darabedyan.
“The main plan is just have him ready, get his cardio ready, he has the rest,” Kalanteryan said. “[McCullough’s] a great fighter, he’s a very good fighter, but what we’ve got should be enough to get him.
“We’ve got plenty of tools.”
Schooled in boxing, judo, karate and jiu jitsu, Darabedyan’s well-rounded game has become an early trademark in his burgeoning career, in which he’s won six straight fights, and a base for his confidence going in.
“I’m pretty confident, even though he’s good,” Darabedyan said. “I know he’s tough, but I see myself winning, that’s the only reason I’m taking this fight. I wouldn’t take a fight if I didn’t think I could win it.”
McCullough’s original opponent was Anthony Pettis, but he was forced to withdraw due to an injury, which opened the door for Darabedyan. It was an opportunity too good to pass on for Darabedyan despite the short notice and the caliber of opponent. It was a chance to fight for the WEC, which is owned by Zuffa, LLC, which also owns the UFC, on a televised card.
“It’s a huge opportunity, a lot of times it takes guys three or four fights to get on the televised portion of the card,” said WEC General Manager Reed Harris.
The one glaring difference between the fighters is the aforementioned experience factor.
McCullough has won nine fights by knockout, which is as many fights as Darabedyan has fought period. And, while the big stage is nothing new for McCullough, Darabedyan is admittedly nervous about this fight, but he’s nervous for everyone of his fights, he said. Nonetheless, it’s clearly a huge intangible leading up to the bout.
“Rob’s mentally tough,” Harris said. “I think that’s the challenge for Karen is can he be mentally tough. He’s got the skills, but Rob’s got a lot of experience in that cage.”
Added McCullough in an interview with www.wec.tv: “I definitely say being the veteran of it gives me a little bit of an advantage. I think due to the fact he’s never fought in a big show, he’s gonna have a little bit of the big-show jitters. …I’ve seen him fight, he’s a tough guy, so I’m planning on a really good matchup.”
Darabedyan and local fight fans are also likely to have a vested interest in Gamburyan’s tilt, which features a clash of former UFC lightweights who dropped to the WEC’s featherweight division and are both vying for contender status.
“At the level they’re fighting at right now, they’re in contention,” said Harris, adding that the victor would likely be in line for a title shot down the line. “Whether that’s the fight after this [one] or the fight after that, I’m not sure.”
Garcia already received a title shot, losing against Brown. A stand-up fighter who’s developed a fan base due to his exciting, all-out style, Garcia is 17-4 and 4-1 in the WEC.
The 11-5 Gamburyan, who’s 1-0 in the WEC, has a phenomenal judo background and is regarded for his splendid ground game.
“My expectation is one of them is going to have to inflict his will on [the other],” Harris said. “Whether that’s Leonard Garcia’s striking and takedown defense or Manny’s takedowns and ground and pound, one of them’s style is gonna win that fight.”
Kalanteryan is quick to commend his fighter’s ground game, but as Gamburyan’s striking coach, he’s also quick to add that his pupil is comfortable anywhere the fight goes.
“If [Manny] gets someone to the ground, trust me, he’s not gonna get up,” Kalanteryan said. “Manny has a very heavy punch.
“Leonard has very strong striking skills, but we’re not that scared.
“This is gonna be a big fight. The win is very important because he’s gonna be right next to the title. After this win, he’s gonna be right next to the title.”
Darabedyan and Gamburyan’s bouts will be back-to-back, with Darabedyan’s bout scheduled to be the second of the live televised card, preceding Gamburyan’s co-main event matchup.
For more information about the card, visit www.wec.tv.