A fighter’s essence can often be summarized in one word. For Karen Darabedyan, “chill” seems most fitting.
No mental switch needs flipping when this maven of mellow steps into the cage. The Californian’s flat-line demeanor stands out because he wears it equally both inside and outside of competition. Unlike many of his peers, the 155-pound WEC fighter can steamroll an opponent with the same nonchalance that he displays while grocery shopping or talking on the phone with a reporter.
“I’m never fired up,” conceded Darabedyan, who will fight veteran Bart Palaszewski on March 6 in Columbus, Ohio. “I never say, ‘Time to smash,’ ‘Time to destroy.’ I’m calm in the cage and I’m never wild. Whenever you get mad you get tired pretty fast, your body tenses up. So I try to keep really calm.”
For the uninitiated, Darabedyan is a dangerous, Karo Parisyan-style grappler who curiously prefers to settle matters with his fists, as he did during his WEC debut when he exhibited some seriously polished boxing skills while outclassing “Razor” Rob McCullough. Making the split decision victory all the more impressive, Darabedyan was a replacement fighter who had only one month to prepare for the former WEC lightweight champion.
As he braces for yet another seasoned veteran – Palaszewski has 32 wins and 45 fights – the soft-spoken Darabedyan is promising fans a much improved version of himself. By the time he arrives in Columbus, he will have endured nine weeks of grueling two-a-day practice sessions, including regular sparring sessions at renowned boxing trainer Freddie Roach’s Wild Card Gym.
“I spar with pro boxers a couple days a week,” said Darabedyan, who owns the distinction of holding black belts in three martial arts: judo, tae kwon do and karate. “I mostly go over there to get the rush of being in a different place and not knowing the people so it feels like a fight.”
Darabedyan has a 9-1 record (three knockouts, one submission), but doesn’t feel the gap in experience will be a factor against Palaszewski, who is coming off a big win over rising lightweight prospect Anthony Pettis. Palaszewski is a talented striker, a brown belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu and owns a sturdy chin.
“He’s a tough guy and he’s got 15 knockouts and 9 submissions, so he’s pretty well-rounded,” Darabedyan said flatly. “But I truly believe I have the edge anywhere the fight goes. I have the better wrestling game, ground game and my striking is better.”
Palaszewski also has a fondness for standup exchanges, but Darabedyan refuses to make any presumptions about how the fight will likely play out.
“I have a pretty strong ground game but I feel like I need to keep it a secret for now,” he said. “I would love to keep it standing and if I need to take him down then I will. But it’s a fight and things can change at any second. One punch could change the entire fight. But I want to keep it standing. For this fight I’ve had a full training camp … I believe I could stand with a striker, I could grapple a grappler and wrestle a wrestler.”
Fighting out of Glendale, Calif., Darabedyan is a training partner of Manny Gamburyan and protégé of WEC 11/18 Karen Darabedyan vs Rob McCulloughhighly-regarded coaches Gokor Chivichyan and Roman Kalantaryan (who were instrumental in making Karo Parisyan a UFC star). Though he won his last fight, Darabedyan said he came away regretting how he played it safe in the third round against McCullough. It didn’t hit him until it was time for the judges’ decisions to be announced and one judge scored it 30-27 in favor of McCullough.
“I was kind of shocked and thought, ‘Holy crap, I’m about to lose here,’” Darabedyan recalled. “There were a lot of leg kicks that he landed that I probably should have checked. But most of the kicks he landed there was not too much power behind them … I felt kind of tired toward the end of the second round. I felt like I could have exploded more and done more. I came into the fights with two cuts on my eyes that I suffered in training and I was afraid of them re-opening. I got cut during the fight and that messed me up mentally.
“The reason why I held back is because I thought I had clearly won the first and the second round. That’s why I held back in the third round and played it safe. I thought I had the fight already won. But then once I started hearing the judges’ decision …”
To bolster his stamina, and to try and produce a less suspenseful outcome against Palaszewski, Darabedyan is working with a new strength and conditioning coach.
“I’m going through hell,” he said. “I’m coming in prepared. I’ve never trained this hard for a fight. In this fight I really want to push the pace, I don’t want it to go to a decision. If it is a decision I want it to be unanimous. It’s always good to have a short night.”
“This time around I have enough time to get my weight down. This will enable me to push the pace more and not hesitate. I’ve never done strength and conditioning but now I’ve incorporated it into my workouts. I feel a lot better. Now I don’t have to hold back when I’m fighting, I don’t have to worry about the third round. My gas tank will be really good.”
That is as close as Darabedyan gets to talking smack, and he doesn’t plan on changing his chilled-out ways.
“I have a lot of expectations for myself but I never let out stuff, I always stay pretty humble,” he said. “I never say, ‘I’m going to go and destroy somebody.’ I keep it nice and quiet and let my talking happen in the ring. Because no matter how hard you train anything can happen in a fight so I never try to talk big. But I’m coming into this fight so confident and prepared.”