It was just the end of another training session on Wednesday afternoon, the last hard sparring session of fight camp before the big fight on December 2. The fighter who was in the shark tank was none other than 145lbs. Bellator veteran and top contender for the Tachi Palace Fights featherweight title, “Insane” Georgi Karakhanyan (17-3). Having defeated eight of his last ten opponents including Shooto, EliteXC, and Strikeforce veteran “The Taz” Bao Quach (17-10-1) via first-round knockout, Georgi has now put himself in line to take on Isaac DeJesus (9-3) for championship gold in the Tachi Palace Fights 11: Redemption main event this Friday. Karakhanyan is known for his come-forward style of fighting and lethal knees paired with a slick submission game that earned him the bulk of his career wins, but despite his aggressive demeanor in the cage, Georgi answered his phone with a friendly tone, welcoming a chat with MMA Gospel writer Cole Moorman about the biggest fight in his professional career thus far – and much more.
Let’s start at the beginning. You hail from Moscow, Russia, where you spent much of your life. What are some significant ways in which life is different in the US as compared to your homeland?
The people [in Russia] are very cold-hearted. In the United States, when you go to the store and see people that you don’t know, they still say “hi” and “bye” to you. Over there the people are cold, they just do their own thing. The summer lasts only around two weeks in Russia and then its snowing again. It kinda sucks.
Your father is a third dan black belt on Shotokan karate as well as a Judo expert. Did he play a big role in getting you into the martial arts?
Yes, in the beginning I was doing karate just for fun. To be honest with you, I hated doing karate – I couldn’t stand going to practice. Finally I got out of it and started playing soccer. Karate was more like a hobby but it taught me a lot about discipline and respect. It’s a good base to have in martial arts.
Aside from martial arts, at a young age you also found a true passion for soccer and apparently were pretty good at it, as you played professionally. What position(s) did you play?
I played soccer for 12 years and it still means a lot to me. I played for the San Diego Sockers, an indoor soccer team, and I also played for the National Team for the USA. The positions I played were Attack in Midfield and Forward. Attack in Midfield was a lot of running and being in the center, and being Forward was scoring goals and moving a lot.
What is it that ultimately caused you to walk away from soccer and pursue MMA full-time?
The San Diego Sockers went out of business and a lot of players went to different countries to make money and I went to Mexico where I tried out for a Division I team. Everything went good there but there was some illegal stuff going on that I didn’t want to be a part of so I came back home. I went back to college and started working full-time doing construction and waking up at 4 in the morning. I had no intentions on becoming a pro MMA fighter; I planned to go to school and get my degree to become a cop or work in business. A friend of mine was practicing Jiu-Jitsu and said I should try it out, so I did. My first day I got smashed – I was submitted so many times. Then I signed up and started doing Jiu-Jitsu regularly. I had been training for six months when one of our fighters got injured and I was asked to step in for him, at King of the Cage. My first fight was at 160lbs. and my opponent had one win and several losses. The only move I knew then was the Guillotine Choke! I went in there and won by that submission in the second round. I have been fighting ever since.
Is your family supportive of your decision to compete in mixed martial arts?
My parents didn’t know about it until my third fight; I really didn’t want to tell them anything. I decided I would wait and get a couple of wins before I told them. My dad is okay with it and really supports me. My mom supports me too, she just can’t watch my fights.
Early on in your career, where did you train?
I started training at a place in Riverside at a place called UBJJ but I left there after my first fight and went to Millenia MMA. I have been there ever since and they take really good care of me. One thing you don’t wanna do in MMA is get too comfortable with your training partners. I’ve been training with Millenia for four or five years but what I like to do is travel around to different gyms and get that different feeling with different training partners because I don’t know what they’re gonna do and what their style is. I travel a lot but my main gym is Millenia.
Do you feel as though having previous experience as a professional soccer athlete in any way helped prepare you for a career in MMA?
Of course. In soccer we ran for 90 minutes. Since I played for 12 years, I have that mentality that whether or not I’m training for a fight, I’m always in shape. I’m always in the gym trying to learn. That was one thing that soccer really helped me with. It also helped me with my kicks – I love to throw kicks and knees.
You have been dubbed “Insane” Georgi Karakhanyan. When, how, and why did you acquire the nickname?
When I was little, I (laughes)…maybe had anger management problems or something. I would do all kinds of crazy stuff like run around and hit my head on the wall and on the TV. My mom started calling me that, but when I first started fighting they asked me if I had any nicknames. I said, “Yeah, I got a couple nicknames I was called from back home”. When I would fight I would get so comfortable that I would start talking to my opponent and to my corner, or talk trash to my opponent while I was fighting. The nickname just stuck with me.
Your fight style is very aggressive. Is it part of your game plan to overwhelm your opponent, or is it more a matter of you just being eager to fight?
I guess it just describes the way I am, actually. That’s just how I fight. I want to be aggressive but I also want to be smart because if you’re too aggressive sometimes you get caught. That’s why I’m trying to be more smart than aggressive and not acting crazy.
The vast majority of your wins have come by way of submission but your come-forward style makes for good stand-up fights, too. Do you use your striking to set up the submission or do you go in for the kill no matter how it’s given?
I like to go with the flow. A few times I went into a fight with a game plan, like against [Bellator Featherweight Champion] Joe Warren, and I lost. I like to go in, stand up, and pressure my opponent, but if the submission is there I go for it. To me you have to work for the submission. Knockouts can be lucky but with a submission you always have to work for it.
You’re a four-time veteran of Bellator Fighting Championships, one of the fastest-growing MMA promotions in the country. Can you describe your mindset when you got the call asking you to join Bellator’s featherweight roster?
My mindset was to train hard, go in there, and win the first fight. My first opponent was Bao Quach. He’s a veteran and he’s fought a lot of tough guys in his career. I wanted to go in there and make a statement, let people know who I am, and win impressively, and that’s what I did. I think Bellator is a great organziation to fight for and I am happy I got to fight for them and that I was able to get my name out there in the media.
Losses are bitter to the heart but also beneficial to the mind of a fighter in that they allow the fighter to repair any deficits in their game. Your Bellator bouts against eventual tourney winners “Pitbull” Patricio Freire (9-1) and current Bellator Featherweight Champion Joe Warren (7-2) didn’t go as you planned – did you learn anything from those fights?
My first loss [in Bellator] was to Joe Warren, who of course just put the blanket on me so I couldn’t get up. I ended up on my back for the whole three rounds. My wrestling was one of the things I had to work on and before that was something that was never really an issue. The day of the weigh-ins I was 13lbs. over; I don’t know what happened or how I gained all that weight, but I had to cut the 13lbs. that day. From that fight I learned to work on my wrestling and to not go in there with a game plan. My second loss was to Patricio [Freire]. He was doing really good the first two rounds. He was attacking me and I was defending really stupidly, backing out with my hands down and popping right up after a takedown. After the second round my corner told me I was losing and I had to go for the knockout. I didn’t want it to be another Joe Warren fight that went to a decision. I always say that if I lose I want to lose by knockout or submission – I don’t want to lose by someone laying on top of me for three rounds. So that’s when the aggression came without being smart: my head popped up and he caught me with a nice hook and it dazed me but I wasn’t all the way out. I remember talking to [referee] Jason Herzog while I was on my back and telling him I was fine but he had to stop it. [Patricio] caught me with a really good shot and it was a good learning experience. When you win you just go party and you don’t think about [your performance], but when you lose you think about it for weeks. You think about you should have done differently, so you work on your mistakes.
Next up on the slate for you is a December 2 featherweight championship bout against Issac DeJesus for the vacant Tachi Palace Fights 145lbs. title. What are you doing to prepare for perhaps the biggest fight of your career thus far?
I never underestimate my opponents; I take everyone seriously, even if the guy is an underdog. It’s a five five-minute-round fight. I have no problem with my conditioning and I’m glad we are going five rounds. I have 25 minutes to pick him apart, figure him out, and go for a finish. I’d want to keep the fight standing but if it hits the ground I’m going to attack with a submission. If he goes for a takedown I will put him on his back. It’s going to be a good fight and I’ve been training really hard. It’s a great promotion and I’m really thankful for them giving me this fight.
Any thoughts on what you think Isaac brings to the table? Are there any aspects of De Jesus’ skill set that you think may prove particularly challenging for you?
He has really good Muay Thai, he’s a southpaw, and he has really good right hooks, left kicks, and superman punches. He’s really well-rounded I’m really looking forward to the fight.
Your upcoming opponent is coming off of a turbulent year. Following two consecutive losses in non-title affairs, he was stripped of his belt for missing weight in a title defense match, then was suspended for six months after testing positive for a banned substance. Do you think that the extra pressure DeJesus has to win this fight will work in your favor?
Yes, I think all the pressure is on him. We’re in his hometown and here he brings out the crowd. I’m just going out there as the guy from Southern California and I’m sure he’s going to have all his people there, so all the pressure is on him.
Georgi, MMA Gospel would like to say thank you for taking time for this interview and we all wish you the best of luck in your December title fight at Tachi Palace Fights 11: Redemption. Is there anything you would like to add, or anyone you would like to thank?
Yes, first off I’d like to thank you guys. Thank you Cole and MMA Gospel for doing this interview on me. I’d like to thank my team Millenia MMA; my sponsors OTM, Amy & Brian Coconut Juice, and HyeFighters.com. If anyone wants to check up on me they can go to my website GeorgiMMA.com and follow me on Twitter at @GeorgiMMA.
Tune in Friday, December 2 to see Georgi fight Isaac DeJesus for the Tachi Palace Fights Featherweight Championship.