Burbank-trained Jared Papazian faces friend John Robles in return to cage

Jared “the Jackhammer” Papazian is quick to toss out thank-yous to people.

People like his trainers and training partners, such as lead corner man Alberto Crane of Burbank Gracie Barra, where Papazian trains among other Southern California locales. He’s always quick to pay thanks to his manager Darin Harvey and, on Wednesday, he went out of his way to give thanks to his mom for all that she’s done for him, along with her friends.

Papazian is also thankful for an opportunity that came to fruition due to his friend John Robles. On Saturday, though, Robles will be Papazian’s foe, as the two square off in a World Series of Fighting preliminary bout at the Citizens Business Bank Arena in Ontario.

“This is the first time I’ve fought somebody I’ve trained with and consider a friend,” Papazian said.

Papazian (15-10) and Robles (7-1) will go to battle in a three-round, bantamweight (135 pounds) bout in which both enter with plenty of familiarity, having formerly trained together at PKG (Punch-Kick-Grapple) Training Center and developed a friendship that still stands today.

“They were my brothers, they were my first family that brought me into this,” said Robles of the likes of Papazian, Chad George, Mac Danzig, Jeremy Umphries and Dominic Clark at PKG. “There were plenty of times that I looked up to [Papazian] and picked his brain.

“We really had a tight-knit group. It was a big part of where I’m at.”

Thus, when Robles’ initial opponent, Joe Murphy, was forced to withdraw due to a rib injury and Papazian was presented as an opponent, Robles was hesitant to accept.

“When it came to fighting a friend, it’s just never been my vibe,” Robles said. “You develop a bond with these guys.”

Robles had a conversation with Papazian and then Robles talked to his manager and father. Eventually, his thought process changed, realizing a great opportunity was at hand and that he could put the friendship aside and fight as aggressively as he would against any opponent. So he called Papazian back up.

“He called me and said, ‘You wanna have some fun?’” Papazian said.

Said Robles: “No matter what, we’re gonna shake it out, have a drink together after it’s over.”

And so, the former training partners will toe the line with Papazian looking to realize the form that previously earned him a roster spot with the Ultimate Fighting Championship, while Robles looks to cash in the biggest opportunity of his career.

“My goal is to get my stock up,” Papazian, 25, said. “I’m at the bottom now and I need to work my way up.

“I feel like I’m the toughest and the most experienced opponent he’s fought.”

Papazian, taking the fight on just more than two weeks’ notice, has lost four of his last five fights — three coming consecutively in the UFC. His last bout was a first-round submission loss to the undefeated Brandon Bender on May 11.

Another story line to the bout is that it comes during a period in which Papazian, a three-time UFC veteran and former King of the Cage champion, had planned to take time off from mixed-martial-arts competition to refine his skills following the disappointing Bender submission. He had scheduled a professional muay Thai fight for Aug. 24, along with participation in jiu jitsu tournaments.

But when opportunity knocked for a high-profile return to the cage, Papazian decided to open the door.

“Once you get a call, things happen,” Papazian said. “I didn’t go looking for a fight or anything, I was just training, trying to get better.

“I was like, sure, I would love to take that opportunity.”

A popular, promising and exciting fighter in the Southern California circuit, Robles, 30, has won six bouts via form of knockout, but said he’s capable and willing to take the fight wherever Papazian wants it to.

“I love the art of striking, I love the dynamics of striking,” said Robles, who’s won two straight, “but believe it or not, most of my finishes have been on the ground. I think all of my finishes have been on the ground.”

Known for his propensity to slug it out on his feet, Papazian has been on a quest to improve his overall game and showed glimpses of it during his last victory — on March 15 against Terrion Ware — when he mixed his wrestling and striking en route to an impressive unanimous decision.

“I’m just gonna play it by year and see what happens,” said Papazian, who had two of his UFC losses come against fighters currently ranked in their division’s top 10. “Obviously, my love and passion is to stand up and bang, but obviously things change.”

Robles said he’s well aware that Papazian’s game is evolving.

“We all know what he brings to the table, but I know he’s been working on things,” Robles said. “There’s been whispers of him working to take me down, there’s whispers of him training muay Thai.

“I’m cognizant of all that.”

No matter where the fight is fought and friendship aside, both are promising an action fight consistent with their resumes.

Robles has finished his opponents in six of his seven victories, while Papazian earned UFC Fight of the Night honors in his last UFC bout and had previously earned another fight of the night bonus after a vocal fan base spoke out when the bout wasn’t initially recognized.

“I think it’s a fairly dynamic fight and I’m excited to see where it goes,” Robles said. “I’m ready for everything.

“We’re a fight of the night candidate for sure.”

The WSOF 4 main card, featuring a heavyweight main event between renowned kick boxer Tyrone Spong and Angel Deanda, along with notables such as Ray Sefo, Tyson Griffin and Nick Newell, airs on the NBC Sports Network beginning at 7:30 p.m. PST. First bell for the card is 5 p.m., with Papazian and Robles set to be the second fight. The preliminary card can be viewed on www.wsof.com and www.mmajunkie.com.

“It’s a new organization that’s gonna be on the map,” Papazian said of World Series of Fighting. “To have other organizations out there is great for us fighters.

“I feel like I’m back in the big show. I’m very, very excited.”

For more information, visit www.wsof.com.

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