Both Karen Darabedyan and Jared Papazian have seen career-changing victories and deflating losses.
Both are veterans of the regional mixed-martial-arts circuit who have also tasted the big leagues of MMA.
And on Friday night, though to vastly different degrees, both will fight in bouts at the National Fighting Alliance MMA Valley Invasion 4 at the Warner Center Marriott in Woodland Hills, looking to rebound from defeat and reignite their promising careers.
“This is do or die for me,” said Glendale’s Darabedyan. “I’ve got to get back in there. I’ve been training my whole life for this [sport].”
Papazian (17-11) will fight in the main event against Ara Muradyan (5-1) in a three-round bantamweight (135 pounds) bout.
Earlier in the card, which also features World Extreme Cagefighting veteran Chad George and an intriguing matchup between Mike Jasper (7-1) and Nick Barnes (7-0), Darabedyan (9-5) will return to action against L. John Borges (1-5) after a more-than-two-year hiatus in a lightweight (155 pounds) tilt.
The 26-year-old Papazian, a three-time Ultimate Fighting Championship veteran and former King of the Cage champion, is coming off a fourth-round knockout loss to Russell Doane at a Tachi Palace Fights card in November of last year.
“I did a lot of things differently for this fight,” said Papazian of the aftermath of his loss to Doane, who’s gone on to win a pair of fights in the UFC. “I made a lot of changes and a lot of tough decisions.”
The toughest decision for Papazian likely came with where he trains. He no longer trains at Burbank Gracie Barra under Alberto Crane, who was Papazian’s lead cornerman throughout his UFC tenure and his ascent to winning the KOTC title. Papazian was also often cornered by the Glendale Fighting Club’s Edmond Tarverdyan, but that is no longer the case, either. Papazian is now at Blackhouse MMA and Gracie Barra Northridge and will take on an opponent in Muradyan he knows well and has trained with at times over the years.
“No bad blood or anything like that, just two guys who want to go to the next level,” Papazian said. “I have no problem with it.
“We’ll handle business and then go back to being friends.”
Muradyan, who trains with the likes of Darabedyan, Sevak Magakian and Manny Gamburyan at Team Hayastan in North Hollywood, is coming off the biggest win of his career in a roller-coaster ride of a fight that lasted just 48 seconds. Taking on John Robles at Chaos at the Casino 4 in April, Muradyan was floored by a Robles right hand and then further rocked by follow-up punches on the ground, but the Gokor Chivitchian pupil kept his wits and sank in an armbar for the submission.
After losing his MMA debut back in 2006, Muradyan returned to MMA in October of 2010 and has won five in a row.
So Papazian and Muradyan will collide with the mutual goal of moving on to bigger shows and, in Papazian’s case, getting back to fighting under the bright lights.
“My whole goal is to get back to the UFC, or maybe Bellator,” said Papazian, who after losing three straight in the UFC is 3-2 with his losses coming to opponents with a combined 26-4 record. “The only way to do that is fight legit guys.”
A Glendale High graduate, Darabedyan was seen in the eyes of many hard core MMA fans as an emerging player in the 155-pound class, having notched victories against future UFC and Bellator foes in Papazian, Saad Awad, Tony Ferguson and Estevan Payan before he was signed by World Extreme Cagefighting, then the sibling promotion to the UFC under the same Zuffa LLC banner.
In his WEC debut on Nov. 18, 2009, Darabedyan showcased his all-around game, in particular his outstanding boxing, in defeating former WEC lightweight champion Rob McCullough. The win came via split decision, though every MMA website had the bout scored for Darabedyan, with the puzzlement of how one judge could see the bout for McCullough the only distraction from all-out praise for Darabedyan and his future.
But then disaster struck when Darabedyan was submitted by Bart Palaszewski in March of 2010, having dropped the shoe-leather tough future UFC fighter and looking for a finish before getting caught by an armbar. A shocking upset loss against Will Kerr followed three months later. Darabedyan looked to rebound out of the WEC, but a tight decision loss to future Bellator champion Daniel Straus was the Glendale resident’s last bout for nearly two years before a stunning upset loss to relative unknown Mike Brazzle via first-round TKO in 2012.
“Sometimes I would go into fights doubting myself after [the losses] happened,” Darabedyan said.
Darabedyan left competition, but never MMA, building a reputation as a valuable cornerman and training partner. Now, however, he’s done biding his time outside the cage.
“It’s been a long time in the making,” said Darabedyan, who will end a fight hiatus of roughly 25 months. “It’s about time. I’m getting older; I’m 27. I really can’t sit around anymore.”
Darabedyan continues to train at Team Hayastan and Main Event Gym in Glendale, but ventured north to briefly train at Team Alpha Male, with UFC luminaries Urijah Faber, Chad Mendes and UFC men’s bantamweight champion TJ Dillashaw.
“It just motived me when I got in there and trained with the best,” Darabedyan said. “I was out of shape and I figured, if I can hang with the best like this, what can I do if I get back in shape? I think that just motivated me.
“It was an awakening for me.”
Though Borges’ 1-5 record would hardly lend credence to him being a fearsome opponent, he’s coming off his first career victory in December, when he upset Matt Comeau via first-round technical knockout. Comeau currently owns an 8-5 record. Borges had been stopped in his five previous bouts, never getting beyond the second round.
The 11-fight card is set for a 7 p.m. bell time Friday, with doors opening at 6. For more information, including tickets, visit www.nfamma.com.