'Must-win' for Darabedyan

Glendale News Press

GLENDALE — Tucked away in suburban Van Nuys in the backroom garage of a handsome residential home is a rather modest-looking training ground of wrestling mats known as SK Golden Boys.

Absent of frills, it is a no-nonsense atmosphere in which the likes of rising combatants such as Andy Dermenjyan, World Extreme Cagefighting featherweight title contender Manny Gamburyan and Karen Darabedyan, just more than a week removed from his next — and most important — WEC bout, are refining their already lauded grappling games.

Sweat pouring from his head, a confident smile still marks Darabedyan's face as he rather matter-of-factly states the magnitude of Sunday's lightweight bout against Will Kerr.

"This is a must-win situation for me," the 23-year-old Glendale resident and Glendale High graduate states. "I have to win."

In the world of high-profile mixed martial arts, of which the WEC is no doubt a part of, a fighter is often only as good as his last performance. In addition, more often than not, especially with young fighters still making a name for themselves like Darabedyan (9-2) and Kerr (8-2), two straight losses often equates to a pink slip.

Thus, when Kerr and Darabedyan square off at WEC: Varner vs. Shalorus at Rexall Place in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, despite the fact that it will be part of the untelevised preliminary card, it will be a pressure-packed bout for the fighters.

"Absolutely," Kerr said of the pressure factor, "it's a big fight for both of us coming off losses. There's a lot of pressure on both of us."

It's an aspect of the impending battle that Darabedyan readily agrees with.

"There's always pressure, especially coming off a loss," he said. "There's a lot of pressure just to rebound and get back to where you were."

After making his WEC debut in November of 2009 with an impressive win over former company lightweight titlist Rob McCullough, Darabedyan, who took the fight on short notice as a replacement, garnered his share of interest and hype. In his second fight under the company banner on March 6, Darabedyan justified the hype against veteran Bart Palaszewski, rocking the latter with his stand-up and then pummeling him on the ground. But that was for roughly the first four minutes of the fight before Palaszewski caught an admittedly "overzealous" Darabedyan in an armbar and forced a tapout.

"I just rushed to finish the fight," the former Glendale Community College student said.

But the 23-year-old didn't rush to judgment to change things when he returned home to Glendale. He returned to training with Gokor Chivichyan at Team Hayastan, at Main Event Gym in Glendale and at the aforementioned SK Golden Boys. He's also still confident in his all-around game, including his grappling, though he's cognizant that many naysayers may now doubt his ground skills after the armbar defeat.

"Let people think what they want to think," he said. "I think I got caught.

"I have a good ground game, I just haven't shown it in MMA yet."

There are aspects of Darabedyan's game that he said have changed a bit, but they all center on his mental approach.

"I'm gonna be as aggressive, if not more," he said, "I'm just gonna be a lot smarter.

"This time around, I'm a lot smarter, a lot wiser."

Another part of the mental approach is not underestimating Kerr, who is seen by most as a rather sizable underdog in the bout. Darabedyan has been vocal about getting back on track, moving on and hoping for a rematch with Palaszewski down the line, but he stresses that he's taking his bout and his opponent on Sunday very seriously.

"I'm not underestimating him," said Darabedyan, who had a seven-fight win streak halted by Palaszewski. "I'm going in like I'm fighting [former Ultimate Fighting Championship lightweight champion] BJ Penn. I just need to win.

"It's a fight, you never know what can happen. I thought I had the Bart fight won."

The 27-year-old Kerr is seen as a relatively well-rounded fighter, also, which could bode well for an entertaining bout.

"It should be an exciting fight," Kerr said. "I think I'm a pretty well-rounded fighter too, so it should make for an exciting fight wherever it goes."

In addition, his career as of late has followed a similar path to Darabedyan's.

Both made their company debuts as late replacements on the same Nov. 18 card in Las Vegas.

Kerr replaced Alex Karalexis against Kamal Shalorus, who is headlining Sunday's card in the main event against former 155-pound company champion Jaime Varner. Shalorus floored Kerr, who had two weeks to prepare for the fight, early in the first round with a left hook. After escaping a Kerr leglock, Shalorus got the fight back to the feet where he once again took advantage, eventually landing a big right cross that floored Kerr and brought the fight to an end at 1:26 of the first round.

This time, though, Kerr has had a considerable amount of time to prepare for his opponent in contrast to his first bout.

"Obviously, two weeks' notice is not as good as two months," Kerr said.

Nonetheless, while both made their debuts on the same card and both are coming off losses, Darabedyan fought just over three months prior, while Kerr is sporting a layoff of roughly seven months.

"I'm not worried about it," said Kerr, who's fought just twice a year in each of the last three years. "I've been active in the gym the whole time."

Like Darabedyan, this will also be Kerr's first fighting venture to Canada. In fact, Kerr, who fights and trains out of New London, Conn., has fought primarily in Massachusetts and for Full Force Productions. He's 8-0 in Massachusetts with six of those victories coming under the Full Force banner. His two contests outside of the state were losses.

Both of Darabedyan's previous two WEC contests were part of the live televised portion of the card on Versus. He's hoping the bout will find itself on the televised portion, but is quick to admit that falling to the untelevised preliminaries was also a tough pill to swallow.

"It sucks, it does," said Darabedyan, who also said that a proposed bout with Varner as the possible main event was initially discussed but fell through. "You gotta work your way back up."

As much as anything else, being able to work his way back up is on the line Sunday for Darabedyan.

He's searching to reclaim the buzz that surrounded his burgeoning career and looking to make Kerr pay for simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

"I look at it this way: He is in my way of me having a good life and living my dreams," Darabedyan said. "I'm pretty confident I'll win this. I've worked too hard.

"This is an opportunity for me I can't mess up."

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