Though the Burbank night sky may be fully lit with fireworks this Independence Day weekend, the Burbank Mariott Events Center will experience some dimness.
Headed by three-time All-Pro NFL linebacker Shawne Merriman, a mixed martial arts event “Lights Out Extreme Fighting” will make its way to the venue and will showcase two title fights and plenty of local fighters Saturday.
“This is our biggest card yet at the Burbank Marriott Events Center,” Merriman said. “We packed the house and it’s no show like this in town. When people come there for the first time and they see it, they’re like, ‘My God, we didn’t even know this happened up here.’”
In the event’s two title fights, Brazilian veteran Jay Silva (12-12-1) will challenge heavyweight champion Jack May (11-6) and featherweight champion Jared Papazian (19-13-1) fights against A.J. Bryant (10-3) for the vacant title.
The event also gives local fighters the opportunity to grow and expand their profile, with the right amount of exposure to hopefully get them to the next level of MMA contention.
“The premise of the entire company is to develop the next generation of MMA stars,” said Manouk Akopyan, who served as a color commentator for the first edition of LXF and is a Burbank resident. “A lot of the guys that are in the UFC today started here — people who are rising up the ranks, getting their records straight and fighting better opponents one fight at a time.
“Next thing you know, the UFC might pick them up. Or, as the case is with some of the fighters, if someone is coming off of a two- or three-fight losing streak in the UFC, and Dana White cuts them or doesn’t resign their contract, they send them back down. They can come and fight in a league like this.”
Among the local brawlers in LXF 2 will be former UFC fighter Alfred Khashakyan (9-4), who trains out of the Glendale Fighting Club. He will face Keith Carson (7-5) in a 135-pound bout.
“This was right up the alley of mixed martial arts,” Merriman said. “It’s in my backyard. What made me more excited was that I’m here. This is home. This is where I spend 85-90 percent of my time.
“Now we’re giving these local fighters a chance and an opportunity to showcase their talents and give them a television platform and the public relations stuff we’re bringing. Now people are seeing what kind of show we’re putting on.”
LXF was previously a staple of the Southern California MMA scene even though its upcoming event is its second edition. The first installment of LXF was also held at the Burbank Marriott Events Center and hosted a sold-out crowd of 1,500.
The event was previously known as the California Xtreme Fighting League, which rebranded into LXF earlier this year. The event’s name pays tribute to the former San Diego Chargers player’s moniker, “Lights Out.”
As Merriman’s NFL career came to a close, he partnered with CXF co-owners Steven Bash and George Bastrmajyan to revamp the new layout of the event.
The trio’s vision hopes to crossover former athletes into the MMA universe, as seen with former NFL lineman Chris McCain, who will make his debut in the upcoming event.
“Some of these guys retire early or stop playing for whatever reason and they’re so young,” Merriman said. “I retired at 28 and I played for eight years. It’s natural for guys to come over to the sport and give it a go anyway.”
Merriman is no stranger to combat sports, either. The former All-Pro linebacker trained in between the football offseason to improve his skills on the field.
Merriman has trained with the likes of UFC legends Randy Couture, Chuck Liddell and Tito Ortiz. Growing up in Virginia, Merriman was exposed to boxing, which made his transition to combat sports a much easier.
“I wanted to go in and help my hand-eye coordination and get really solid with my hands because I was playing outside linebacker and defensive end,” Merriman said. “What happened over the course of time was I really started to fall in love with the sport.”
Tickets for LXF 2 begin at $65 and can be purchased online or at the Burbank Marriot Events Center box office. The event will also be featured on Fox Sports West and Prime Ticket at a later date.