Second String: Putting Glendale on the fighting map

Glendale News Press

"What would be better than walking down any street in any city and knowing you're a champion." — Rocky Marciano

One could likely trace them all the way back to Armenia.

Now they extend into North Hollywood, Van Nuys, Pasadena and Encino.

They extend back to legends in the fighting world like Gokor Chivichyan and "Judo" Gene LeBell.

They are the roots of the Glendale fighting world.

While dotted in years past by this boxer and that boxer, the direct fighting past of Glendale pales in comparison to its present and future.

In roughly the last three years, the Jewel City has become a burgeoning hotbed for rising mixed martial artists and boxers.

Those who train and reside in Glendale have popped up in the Ultimate Fighting Championship, World Extreme Cagefighting and as some of boxing's most promising contenders.

While the roots of Glendale's fighting history are long, it's rise to current prominence has happened rather quickly. And it seems as though nothing's slowing its ascent.

"We've got a lot of good fighters now," says Edmond Tarverdyan, a former champion kickboxer who owns the Glendale Fighting Club and trains aspiring fighters. "It's getting big."

Leaving his past mixed-martial-arts triumphs behind in New Mexico, Alberto Crane made the trek to Glendale to make a life with his wife and start a family.

Along with the move came burning questions, however.

"I didn't know where I was gonna train," Crane recalls. "That was a big problem."

That was the spring of 2007. Not long after, Crane was preparing for his Ultimate Fighting Championship debut at the Glendale Fighting Club.

Having fought professionally himself, former boxer-turned-promoter Kahren Harutyunyan knew plenty about fighting and plenty about overcoming obstacles. Perhaps his biggest fight was one he started when he went to the Glendale City Council in the hopes of lifting a 62-year city ban on boxing.

That was the fall of 2008. Not long after, as spring turned to summer the following year, Harutyunyan was preparing Glendale Glory, the first sanctioned boxing card in Glendale in more than six decades.

Whether in the squared ring of boxing or the often caged octagon of MMA, fighters with Glendale ties are rising in the ranks, claiming notoriety and furthering their skills.

There is none more popular among the local community currently than undefeated boxer Vanes "The Nightmare" Martirosyan, who is just a day removed from his most prominent fight yet, which will be broadcast into your living room on HBO.

Perhaps it was his involvement in the 2004 Olympic Games that was a starting point for locals, particularly Armenians, to wrap their hands in gloves and begin a fight for stardom.

It was likely one of many landmark moments in the surge of fighting interest locally.

Though he only trained locally, the ascension of welterweight fighter Karo Parisyan into UFC title contention seemed only to open the doors for others.

Parisyan's older cousin Manny Gamburyan, currently ranked as the No. 2 featherweight fighter in the world, and longtime friend Roman Mitichyan were both eventually cast on respective seasons in 2007 as part of the groundbreaking UFC series "The Ultimate Fighter" on Spike TV. Up-and-coming Glendale fighters Sevak Magakian and Sako Chivichyan both recently tried out for the show and could very well be a weekly presence on the small screen in the fall.

While it's unlikely that there's one particular moment that stands as a harbinger for the current combat boom in the city, in a relatively short span of time, Glendale and its fighters have garnered notice in the fight world. And more and more, the fight world is garnering notice, particularly MMA.

"It's gonna get bigger," Crane says. "I think everywhere, not just in Glendale."

Crane's initial worries of having a place to train in his new hometown have certainly been alleviated.

Training facilities, like the GFC and the Main Event Gym, have put themselves on the map and allowed fighters in Glendale and surrounding cities to have a place to train that's close and offers tutelage in every aspect of the fight game.

"It wasn't organized, it's not like it is now," Crane says. "It's really exciting. Everybody's getting better, everybody's making each other better."

Crane, like a great deal of MMA fighters, was once a training nomad, having to venture far and wide to train boxing here, jiu jitsu there and wrestling here.

But with Glendale having plenty to offer in terms of training, in addition to a close proximity to the likes of Crane's Legacy Mixed Martial Arts in Pasadena, Freddie Roach's world-famous Wild Card Gym in Hollywood and Gokor Chivichyan's Hayastan MMA Academy in North Hollywood, the city has become a worthy starting point for all things fighting.

"We can go here, we can go there," says Karen Darabedyan, a Glendale High graduate and current WEC fighter lauded for his all-around game. "It's like 10 or 15 minutes away."

From his youngest days on, Karen Darabedyan was preparing himself to be the definition of a mixed-martial-arts fighter — he just really didn't know it.

He started in karate and moved on to myriad other disciplines such as boxing, kickboxing, judo and submission grappling.

Right around the time he graduated from Glendale High, the lightbulb came on.

"Since I've done everything, I thought I might as well put it all together," Darabedyan says.

Thus, Darabedyan began his mixed-martial-arts career at the age of 18 in the summer of 2006. Fast-forwarding roughly four years and he is 9-2 and seen as a rising prospect in the WEC, one of the MMA world's largest organizations.

For now, Darabedyan is very much symbolic of the new-age MMA fighter, possessing a multi-tooled skillset that allows him to be a dangerous combatant in every avenue of the fight game.

But the future fighter will grow up training not just in every discipline, but training in MMA.

"I think so," Crane says, before changing his answer. "I know so."

Crane knows because he runs MMA studios in Pasadena and Encino and has at least one student already whose overall game is astounding.

It's something that's shaping into form in Glendale and beyond.

"Now you can see kids that don't start doing one thing, they just start off doing everything," Darabedyan says.

But in Glendale, whether in MMA or boxing, it seems that while the fighters are getting better, the numbers are increasing, as well. It is as simple as the recent trend of success breeding more and more wishful warriors.

"When I started, you wouldn't see too many guys fighting out of Glendale on TV," Darabedyan says. "Now, there's a lot of them."

Darabedyan is one of them, following in the footsteps of Mitichyan and Crane and joining the ranks of Gamburyan and Martirosyan.

As quickly as Glendale's fighting scene has gained notoriety, Tarverdyan believes a patient approach will only berth more success.

"It doesn't happen overnight, it takes time," says Tarverdyan, who's currently leading the charge of up-and-coming boxing prospects Art Hovhannesyan, Gapo Tolmajyan and Artur Bernetsyan. "We've got the top athletes in our gyms and we've got the top trainers."

The likes of Tarverdyan, also a Glendale graduate, and Crane have experienced combat inside the arena and as trainers. Like many of those involved currently, they've seen it grow.

More than anything, however, they're helping it grow, they're paving the way.

Now more than ever, kids in Glendale have fighters to cheer for and athletes whose lead they can follow.

"It's good we have fighters like these," Tarverdyan says. "[The kids] look up to them.

"It's totally different that it was before.

"Now it's gonna get bigger and bigger and bigger."

It wasn't all that long ago that Alberto Crane wondered just where his MMA career could go living in Glendale. Now, Crane wonders aloud how much the popularity of the fight game will grow in the city.

"It's really exciting," Crane says. "I can't wait to see it in a couple years."

In only a couple of years, Kahren Harutyunyan led the charge in changing Glendale from a city that hadn't sanctioned a boxing event in more than 60 years to one that has hosted two events, the last airing live on ESPN.

Glendale's throwing jabs and hooks and crosses. It's landing leg kicks and securing takedowns and locking in submissions. It's becoming a place where fighters can train, can progress and can run down their dreams.

"The cool thing now is that we have a lot of MMA fighters, a lot of boxers," Darabedyan says. "Having all this talent coming from this city, it's pretty cool, and these kids get to see that now."

Before we know it, those kids will be aspiring to be the next Vanes Martirosyan or the next Karen Darabedyan.

And Glendale has quickly become the place for them to do just that.

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