INGLEWOOD - In the end, the beginning of Marina Shafir's professional mixed martial arts career proved most difficult in the weeks leading up to her debut trying to find an opponent.
Once Shafir set foot inside the ring at Lights Out Promotions' "Chaos at the Casino 4" event Saturday night at Hollywood Park Casino, it took her 117 seconds and two armbar attempts to introduce herself victoriously to the professional mixed martial arts world.
Making her professional debut, Shafir, the "Supernova from Moldova," coaxed a tap from Chandra Engel in 1:57 of the first round via armbar in the featheweight (145 pounds) bout.
It was one of a cavalcade of local highlights on the night, which featured muay Thai, boxing and MMA action.
Despite the quick and dominant fashion of Shafir's win over Engel (0-2), the debuting judoka was left a bit dissapointed.
"When you're around perfectionists all the time, you become one eventually," said Shafir, who trains at GFC along with undefeated Ultimate Fighting Championship women's bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey, Shafir's longtime close friend and training partner. "I knew I was gonna get the win, but I was expecting something else.
"I guess it's my goal to just be amazing everytime. I want every performance to be amazing."
There were some amazing performances on the night locally even if Shafir didn't consider hers to be as such.
Main Event Gym in Glendale saw both its MMA fighters win via first-round knockouts, while the Glendale Fighting Club went 4-1-1 on the night, capped by Art "Lionheart"Hovhannesyan claiming an eight-round decision over Miguel Zuniga in an absolute war of a boxing main event.
Hovhannisyan improved to 17-1 (nine knockouts) with his win over Zuniga (12-5, seven KOs) by scores of 79-73 twice and 78-74. The News-Press scored it 78-74. Though the bout was one-sided on the cards, it was a savage back-and-forth saga in which both fighters landed heavily to the body and head. Save a slow first round, the fighters made the wait worth it, as the card saw its last two fights contested technically on Sunday with the card taking nearly five hours to complete.
"His opponent was a durable, tough guy," said Edmond Tarverdyan, the Glendale Fighting Club head coach, who cornered six fights Saturday, including the second bout and the 16th and final for Hovhannisyan. "[Hovhannisyan] performed well.
"It was a tough fight."
Tarverdyan, who also trains UFC fighters Shayna Baszler, Jessamyn Duke, Jake Ellenberger and Manny Gamburyan, was pleased with both Hovhannisyan and Shafir.
"She ended the fight how she always does," said Tarverdyan of Shafir, who went 5-0 as an amateur with five first-round submissions, including four via armbar. "It was an OK performance."
Shafir took the center of the ring and the two would come together for a clinch. Though Engel had an underhook, Shafir switched her hips and notched the takedown. Shafir went to sidecontrol and started in for the armbar. It was against the ropes and Shafir was inverted and the game Engel would struggle to work free and ended up on top in Shafir's guard. Shafir threw punches from the bottom, but Engel landed as well.
"I never did [get worried]," said Shafir of losing position. "I was totally cool.
"She was throwing really big bombs, but she didn't hurt me."
Shafir, who weighed in 10 pounds heavier than Engel, who took the fight on less than a week's notice, ended up reversing positions and took mount before landing some big right hands that opened up another armbar attempt. Engel struggled mightily once more, but Shafir wasn't to be denied.
"If I could've changed anything, I was a little too relaxed," Shafir said.
Moments after the tapout, Shafir received hugs from her corner, including Rousey, and then turned and wore a thin grin as cameras clicked away moments before her first professional victory was announced to a cheering crowd.
"I just want to have enough fights under my belt to get a championship," Shafir said of going forward. "I just want to keep training really, really hard and go after a belt. I guess I'm never gonna be satisfied until I have that."
Former muay Thai kickboxer Alfred Kashakyan turned in one of the most impressive performances of the evening, blitzing the debuting Cameron Harris for a first-round TKO in just 44 seconds. The Glendale Fighting Club trainee, now 2-1 in MMA, caught Harris' left leg on a kick and landed with a left hook that sent Harris rolling over backwards. Kashakyan pounced with right and left hooks and Harris staggered around the ring. With Harris grounded, Kashakyan used some kicks to the legs before going in for the kill and landing with more punches before Harris covered up and the referee intervened to stop the bantamweight tilt.
"He's an exciting fighter," said Tarverdyan of Kashakyan, who has rebounded from a loss in his debut to win two straight. "Now he knows how to wrestle, so he lets his hands go more."
GFC's Vardan Shiloyan used downright smothering grappling to earn a unamious decision over Tremain Lewis in a welterweight tilt by scores of 29-28 twice and 30-27. Shiloyan (2-1) garnered early takedowns in all three rounds and stuck like glue to Lewis (1-2) in the first and third. Though he did little damage, he easily controlled the rounds and flirted with a north-south choke a few times when not in side control. The second was relatively even, but when Lewis gained top control he landed the most effective punches of the bout.
Arsen Galastyan of Roma Kalentaryan's Main Event Gym won an all-out brawl over Danny Lockhart in a battle featuring 536 pounds of fighter. Galastyan (3-1) got the technical knockout at the 1:35 mark of the first when he floored Lockhart (2-4) with a right. Lockhart slumped to the ropes and was on all fours as Galastyan poured it on. Lockhart briefly staggered up and Galastyan, who gave up a mammoth 76 pounds in weight to the 306-pound Lockhart, put him back down with another right to prompt the stoppage.
Another Main Event product, Armen Bakanian got his first MMA win in savage fashion, lighting up the more experienced Matt Doyle with a big right cross and pouring it on with lefts and rights to notch the knockout win in just 27 seconds. Doyle (2-3) was out on his feet as the referee intervened and Bakanian (1-2) celebrated.
In one of the card's most exciting and shortest bouts, Team Hayastan's Ara Muradyan, cornered by Glendale's Karen Darabedyan and Sevak Magakian, claimed victory after he took a huge right hand from Southern California fan favorite John Robles that sent him to the canvas. Robles (7-3) pounced and stunned Muradyan (5-1) with follow-up left hands, but that led to Muradyan cinching in an armbar and getting the tapout at the 48-second mark of the first.
In the second bout of the night and the first involving a local, Glendale Fighting Club's Levon Sargisyan earned a split draw with the debuting Ming Freeman. Sargisyan (0-1-2) went down and was hurt badly in the second round after eating a Freeman right. However, for the most part, the GFC fighter won the punching battle, especially when he threw combinations, but Freeman (0-1-1) won the kicking battle, turning Sargisyan's left thigh into a discolored mess. The scores were 39-37 for each fighter once and 38-38.
Following a 4-0 muay Thai tenure, GFC's Melsik Baghdasaryan made his MMA debut, but Jay Bogan's experience and ground game shined through in winning via first-round armbar submission at 1:26. Bogan (3-4) secured a takedown immediately with a double-leg. Baghdasaryan briefly reversed it, but Bogan was back on top in full mount and landed some decent ground and pound. After a restart in the center of the ring, Bogan landed some more punches and with Baghdasaryan pushing both arms up to defend, Bogan transitioned into an armbar. Baghdasaryan held out for a while before reluctantly tapping.
In a middleweight MMA upset, Damien Marzett, cornered by Glendale's Alberto Crane of Burbank Gracie Barra, was submitted in 1:18 of the first round by Sellah Williams. Williams (2-1) landed a wild right hook that sent Marzett (2-1) reeling into the ropes. Williams followed and got the takedown, then took Marzett's back and locked in a rear-naked choke.