When boxer Art “Lionheart” Hovhannisyan walked into the Glendale Fighting Club on Monday morning, his eyes popped wide open, his usual grin widened and he shook his head.
The Brand Boulevard corner gym was packed with reporters and cameras clicking and shooting away. They were all there for an open workout and press conference with Ultimate Fighting Championship women’s bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey, who’s fast become a superstar with big-time endorsements, magazine covers, movie roles and a laundry list of busted arms left behind during her championship run.
Media attention has grown over the years at the GFC thanks in most part to Rousey. But while myriad media members were there for Rousey, she was there because of Edmond Tarverdyan, her longtime trainer who’s far from a secret in Glendale, but who might now be getting the recognition his world champion, for one, believes he richly deserves.
“I’m a little weary about talking about how great he is as a coach because more people might be coming here and taking my time from him and I’m selfish like that,” said Rousey on Monday in advance of her UFC 170 title defense against undefeated challenger Sara McMann. “He’s amazing. He’s my secret weapon that’s quickly becoming my not-so secret weapon.”
Rousey, who’s 8-0 with eight armbar submissions, has been cornered for everyone of her fights by Tarverdyan, who owns and operates the Glendale Fighting Club and began running a gym of his own when he was just 16 and attending Glendale High.
Tarverdyan has been noted as of late for how Rousey’s striking, following a decorated career in judo that saw her appear in the 2004 and 2008 Olympics, has progressed. First came her footwork and defensive skills before her jab progressed and, most recently and particularly evident in her last fight, her power punching has opened eyes.
“She’s great. She’s looking good right now,” Tarverdyan said of Rousey’s striking. “We put a lot of foundation on her legs, not just to throw crazy punches out there.”
In Rousey’s Dec. 28 title defense against archrival Miesha Tate, the UFC champion staggered Tate with a straight right that sent the challenger backward against the cage and led to an eventual submission win via armbar as all of Rousey’s fights have concluded.
“She’s learning,” Tarverdyan said. “You look at the Tate fight, she looked great and she caught her with a nice right hand that Tate was about out on her feet.”
Currently, there’s been talk of Rousey’s striking to the body becoming a lethal weapon in the gym.
“We get boxing world champions in here, girls, she’s dropping people with 14-ounce gloves,” Tarverdyan said.
It’s not just Rousey, however. And it’s not just his ability to coach striking, as Tarverdyan, a former champion muay Thai fighter who has a 2-0 MMA record, has been able to corner fighters with different MMA backgrounds to victory whether it’s with wrestling, grappling or striking styles.
Throughout his career, Tarverdyan has either led or assisted in the training of, among others, boxers Hovhannisyan, Gapo Tolmajyan, former three-division world champion Vic Darchinyan and Vanes Martirosyan, as well as MMA fighters Alberto Crane, Jared Papazian, Roman Mitichyan, Manny Gamburyan and, most recently, a developing stable of female fighters in Shayna Baszler, Jessamyn Duke and Marina Shafir.
Gamburyan was 1-1 in the UFC in 2013 with Tarverdyan as his lead corner man, Baszler will make her long-awaited UFC debut in April, Duke made a successful UFC debut in December and Shafir went 2-0 in amateur fights in 2013 under Tarverdyan, won her latest fight Sunday and appears headed to the pro ranks.
“Edmond’s really been putting in a lot of time with them,” Rousey said of Baszler, Duke and Shafir.
Hence, in the aftermath of the World MMA Awards on Friday crowning Team Alpha Male’s Duane Ludwig as “Shawn Tompkins Coach of the Year” among a field that also included Henri Hooft, Ray Longo, Andre Pederneiras and Duke Roufus, there’s some who believe Tarverdyan warranted a nomination.
“I feel like he should’ve been nominated for everything and more,” said Rousey, who was named female fighter of the year at the awards. “I really think he definitely doesn’t get enough credit.”
Of course, trying to balance training a growing crop of fighters is time consuming given the personal attention a high-level competitor needs to succeed.
“You have to put in the individual attention if you want to have a top-level athlete,” said Tarverdyan, who added Darchinyan is likely to make his MMA debut and train under Tarverdyan to do so.
Adding a hiccup to training, Tarverdyan was gone for roughly three months last year to lead Team Rousey in the 18th season of “The Ultimate Fighter,” and then worked around Rousey filming “The Expendables 3” and “Fast and Furious 7.” She also has film roles already lined up for the future, including “Entourage” the movie, which is set to begin in mid-March.
“It’s cool, I like it, but when it’s camp time, we don’t talk about it,” Tarverdyan said of Rousey’s movie career.
As for the media attention, which has seemingly grown every year since 2011 when Rousey began her pro career, Tarverdyan has done well dealing with it, as it’s likely Hovhannisyan, who’s been training at GFC longer than any other fighter, will walk into some more surprisingly packed gyms in the future.
“We try to keep the media away as much as we can, but it is what it is,” Tarverdyan said. “It’s something new.”
Thus, with so many eyes on Rousey, there’s bound to be some on Tarverdyan. But Rousey believes among Tarverdyan’s best attributes is his selflessness, especially when it comes to dealing with his fighters and the rewards he gets in returns.
“I think one of the reasons he’s such an amazing coach is he doesn’t give a damn about any credit,” Rousey said. “He really invests his time and … he’s so invested in his athletes that the return on himself is not even a big deal at all. It was a long time before I could even convince him to take any money from me. He’s one of those people that he’s passionate about what he does and he does it because he loves it, not because he needs the money or he wants the recognition, it’s because it’s what his passion is and that’s what makes him the best.”