Hyefighters.com shines new light on combatants

Glendale News Press

Just as "Hye Fighter" literally means Armenian fighter, the multi-faceted brand that bears the name has become synonymous with the heartbeat of the Armenian combat sports scene.

When Glendale's Araz Araradian started HyeFighters.com in 2007, the website's sole mission was to grow awareness and support for the rapidly growing Armenian presence, as well as oft overlooked history, in the international landscape of boxing, kickboxing and one of the fastest growing sports in the world, mixed martial arts.

With better than 10,000 unique visitors a month for a site Araradian acknowledges is a "niche within a niche," he's accomplished that and, in the process, seen his original vision flourish and grow into multiple offshoots.

"It started as a labor of love and it still is a labor of love," Araradian says. "We're at a stage right now where it's got a pretty decent foothold in the fighting community and it's started to grow."

The Armenian influence on the fight game is bigger and broader than at any time in history and HyeFighters has grown right along with it — from a no-frills website with little more than a message board and schedule of upcoming events, to a bustling interactive community of fans and fighters with a wealth of information and visual media to bring it all to life.

"I even go on there just to see what all the fighters are doing, look at the pictures," says World Extreme Cagefighting lightweight Karen Darabedyan, who lives and trains in Glendale. "When Armenian fighters want to know about other Armenian fighters, they just go to HyeFighters and they know. It's really cool."

Just in the last year, Araradian has revamped the website's interface, enlisted contributing writers and now, along with new partner Andre Haftvani, is hard at work on HyeFighters' most groundbreaking endeavor to date, a foray into documentary-style filmmaking.

The project, which has a to-the-point working title of "Hye Fighter," will feature extensive fight and training footage, but centers primarily around interviews with its MMA and boxing subjects aimed at conveying their personal stories and struggles.

Filming has wrapped and Araradian and Haftvani are preparing to shop around their 25-minute "sizzle reel" to prospective financiers with the notion of adapting it into either a full-length feature or a television series.

The draw of the film is the unfiltered access that the duo gained into the fighters' lives through training footage and in-depth interviews. It's taken Araradian much of the three years since he started HyeFighters to build the trust and relationships necessary to get to the heart of the story.

Araradian has never participated in a combat sport and the Beirut native, who emigrated to the United States in 1972, for most of his life admittedly had little awareness of or even interest in the sports and culture that are now his passion.

"Growing up, I watched boxing now and then, but it wasn't like I was a huge fan," he says.

His awakening began when he took his two young sons for beginning classes at the Glendale Fighting Club and began talking with the gym's proprietor, Edmond Tarverdyan.

A former World Boxing Council Muay Thai United States welterweight champion himself, Tarverdyan began to give Araradian an informal education in the finer points of Armenian pugilism.

"They brought up names like Arthur Abrahamyan and Vic Darchinyan and I was like, 'Who are they?' Araradian says. "When I found out they were undefeated champions, I was embarrassed."

Araradian began to research the names he heard at home on his own and in the process uncovered even more names and stories — such as those of established figures in boxing like Abrahamyan (aka Arthur Abraham) and Darchinyan and MMA legend Gokor Chivichyan and rising stars like boxer Vanes Martirosyan and cagefighters Gegard Mousasi, Karo Parisyan and Manny Gamburyan, just to name a few.

"We talked, he was a very nice guy," Tarverdyan said of Araradian. "He said he would do a lot for us, putting websites up for our fighters and doing things so that everybody can start recognizing our gym and our fighters. It worked out perfectly.

"He's doing a great job for the Armenian community. Besides the Armenian community, we've got different nationalities in our gym. He does a lot of websites for a lot of fighters."

Araradian says he began to design fighters' websites at no cost, as well as promote their careers through his own site, as a way to help out the hard-working athletes who were fast becoming his friends.

"Guys are training all day and they don't have time to market themselves," Araradian says. "Nobody really cared about the up-and-comers, [they] still don't. It's a tough sport. You have to train, but you also have to make a living."

Once the fighters realized Araradian's intentions, interest materialized rapidly.

"Everybody he met and he spoke to was so excited that they were gonna be on a website with all the other Armenian fighters," Tarverdyan says.

No Armenian fighter, big or small, goes uncovered by HyeFighters.com, whether its Martirosyan getting ready to defend a title live on HBO at Yankee Stadium on Saturday or recent immigrant from Armenia Artur Bernetsyan, whose welterweight boxing career is off to a promising 3-0 start.

"People [usually] only get to see Vic [Darchinyan], myself and Arthur Abraham, but with Araz, you get to see all the fighters," Martirosyan said. "A lot of people don't get the luxury to have that and Araz has done a great job of creating the website for all those fighters and getting their name out there so people can go out there and read about them rather than wait until they're 15 or 16-0 and say, 'Who the heck is this kid?'"

Seventeen years before he would meet Araradian and, by extension, many of his MMA heroes, Andre Haftvani was just a kid beginning a love affair with the then burgeoning Ultimate Fighting Championships.

"I conned my parents into letting me order UFC 2," Haftvani says of the sport's leading promotion's second installment in it's series of popular pay-per-view cards, the 114th of which aired on Saturday.

Despite growing up in Glendale, where he currently owns several businesses, Haftvani didn't fully realize the wealth of Armenian MMA talent on the rise in his own backyard until recently.

"These guys are all fighting right around here," Haftvani says, citing such MMA names as Parisyan, Gamburyan, Sevak Magakian and Andy Dermenjyan. "Here's this whole crop of phenomenal athletes who are right here. You've probably sat next to them at a restaurant and you don't know who they are, but in a year and a half, you will.

"[I thought] why don't we do a documentary? Let's do something about these Armenian fighters and get them some notoriety."

As he began to lay the groundwork for the documentary, Haftvani began calling around to hubs of fighting culture like the GFC and Main Event Gym to try to make contact with the would-be subjects of his film. Araradian's name often came up in those circles and Haftvani decided to approach him directly for assistance.

Because of the cachet built up between Araradian and the fighters through his pro bono work on their websites, the level of trust essential for getting the depth of access needed for the project was already established.

Still, Haftvani, who has no background in filmmaking, but numerous contacts in the film and TV production industry, didn't expect things to move as fast as they did.

Upon returning from a vacation earlier this year, Haftvani got a call from Araradian.

"Are your cameras ready," Araradian's voice said on the other line, "because Gegard Mousasi is coming to town."

A gaggle of other names from MMA were on hand at the Glendale Fighting Club to commiserate with the then-Strikeforce light heavyweight champion and Haftvani's camera crew showed up and worked for free just to meet some of the athletes.

"Some of the stuff we got has never been seen on camera before," Haftvani says. "We got incredible footage, just sat these guys down and interviewed them."

Before he knew it, Haftvani, alongside Araradian, was interviewing and even hanging out with his heroes, not to mention piling up hours of exclusive footage.

Haftvani's original idea involved little more than a flip cam and post production on Adobe Premiere, but with the professional-quality filming and raw material that had come together, the standards for the project were upped significantly.

"That's when I realized we were going to have to do this seriously," Haftvani says. "[I thought] let's do something a little bit nicer."

With the documentary in the wings, Hye Fighters is poised for a big year of branching out. Araradian wants to expand the brand into lines of apparel and ring gear, while working to get more sponsorship for the up-and-coming fighters.

"Araz is a great man and he's been doing this for a while now trying to get the name out there for Hye Fighters," Martirosyan says. "He's done a great job and it's a good thing that he's doing.

"Whatever we can do to get him out there and support him, we'll do it. I think it's a great idea."

Like the Armenian fighting movement itself, it seems as though Hye Fighters is here to stay and only getting bigger. But those who have been along for the ride from its earliest stages won't forget the sense of community and belonging that Araradian's vision created.

"It's the coolest thing," Darabedyan says. "When nobody really knows you and you see your stuff up there, it's the coolest feeling in the world."

— Grant Gordon contributed to this story.

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